A bipartisan bill to help connect veterans with service dogs in their communities has been introduced with the help of Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin.

The 8th District Democrat, along with Ohio Republican Congressman Steve Stivers, co-led the introduction of the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers, or PAWS, for Veterans Therapy Act. It would create a pilot program within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to give veterans access to treatment involving service dogs. Specifically it would partner with nonprofit organizations working with veterans and service dogs to create work-therapy programs where veterans also learn about training dogs. Upon completion of the program, the veterans may adopt their dogs to provide continuing therapy. One organization that could benefit from the PAWS Act is Pinckney-based Blue Star Service Dogs, a nonprofit that rescues and trains shelter dogs, pairing them with combat veterans diagnosed with invisible wounds like PTSD. Executive Director Christine Myran said they were “excited to see this veteran-focused pilot program to support service dog training” and that it was important to make support and resources available, “wherever veterans may need it – and this bill will help veterans heal.”

An average of 20 veterans die by suicide every day, and post-traumatic stress impacts between 11 and 30% of veterans who served. Slotkin said that considering the “staggering” rates of suicides among veterans, the responsibility “couldn’t be more clear and urgent” to provide the needed support for the men and women who have served the nation in uniform.

The bill, which was referred to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs for consideration, comes as the Veterans Administration has yet to fully embrace a service dog's ability to help veterans with PTSD. A statement on the VA's website states that there is currently not enough clinical research to definitively demonstrate that dogs help treat PTSD and its symptoms.

However, research conducted by Kaiser Permanente and Purdue University has shown that working with service dogs alleviates the symptoms of PTSD, leading to better interpersonal relationships, lower risk of substance abuse, and overall better mental health. (JK)

Picture from Blue Star Service Dogs Facebook page