The House of Representatives approved a bill allowing the Department of Veterans Affairs to launch a pilot program to treat veterans with PTSD by pairing them with therapy dogs.
The bill passed Wednesday by voice vote, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act, would have the VA award grants to nonprofit organizations that would not only provide veterans with puppies to become therapeutic service dogs but would also cover the cost of training the puppies.
“A soldier under my command during Operation Iraqi Freedom recently told me what his service dog means to him: he was able to fly on a plane for the first time in 10 years and he took his fiancée to dinner,” Republican Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, the bill’s lead sponsor, said when the bill was introduced.
Currently, the VA does not coordinate with nonprofit programs that provide veterans with therapy dogs or training sessions for the puppies and owners. The task of finding therapy and service dogs usually falls to the patient, making the process more arduous.
“I recently met with veterans in my district who told me they had significantly reduced their medications or no longer needed them because of the love and support of their service dog,” Republican Florida Rep. Michael Waltz said.
Service dogs must undergo training programs, whether conducted by nonprofit organizations or the veterans themselves, but the requirements for training programs vary. A VA program would streamline the training process and ensure that all training programs have met certain quality standards.
While the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder says there has not been enough research to show that therapy dogs can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, veterans who have them say the dogs alleviate many of the symptoms. Veterans say their service dogs help them by turning on lights and waking them if they show signs of having night terrors, improving sleep, and sweeping rooms for safety before they enter.