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Feb 5, 2020

WASHINGTON – Today, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act, sponsored by a bipartisan coalition led by Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH) passed the House of Representatives with a unanimous vote.  The bill’s lead cosponsors include Representatives Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Michael Waltz (R-FL), and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), John Rutherford (R-FL), and Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ).


The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act would establish a pilot program at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide veterans coping with post-traumatic stress (PTS) work therapy by learning the art and science of training dogs for service.  After graduating from training together, the veteran can build on the bond formed during training by adopting their newly certified canine partner.  Dogs who complete training will have a unique set of skills to help treat PTS, including “blocking,” which helps a veteran maintain personal space in public, or waking a veteran experiencing a nightmare.


Depending on the conflict era, anywhere from 11 to 30 percent of veterans who served are impacted by PTS, and an average of 20 veterans die by suicide every day.  The therapy offered by the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act is backed by research from Purdue University and Kaiser Permanente that has shown that working with service dogs alleviates symptoms of PTS, leading to better interpersonal relations, lower risk of substance abuse, and overall better mental health.


“Our veterans fought for our freedom, and I’ve heard from many veterans who say that’s exactly what their service dog gives them – freedom.  They’re free to go to restaurants, to fly on planes, to go to the movies, things that post-traumatic stress had made impossible,” Rep. Steve Stivers said.  “Today’s vote is a huge step towards getting veterans the care they’ve earned and need.  I’m incredibly grateful to the cosponsors of this bill and look forward to it passing the Senate and becoming law.”


“With an average of 20 veterans dying every day by suicide, this bill isn't just about improving lives, it's about saving them,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice. “The research has proven how helpful service dogs are for those living with post-traumatic stress, and the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act will ensure veterans have access to this vital mental health resource. I thank Congressman Stivers for leading this legislation through the House, and I look forward to it becoming law. We must provide our veterans with the care they need and deserve.”


“The connection humans have with dogs is special – and for our veterans, that connection can be lifesaving. Our veterans have put their lives on the line for our country and our freedoms, so it is imperative we give them all the tools they need to recover and adjust to civilian life,” said Rep. Michael Waltz. “I’m proud to see the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, one of the first bills I helped draft, pass the House today. This legislation will put our veterans one step closer to getting every available option to lead happier, healthier lives.”


“When we make the decision to send young men and women to fight for our country, we make the decision to support them for the rest of their lives,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin. “This is a non-partisan responsibility, which is why I am proud to co-lead this bill in the House, and why I'm thrilled there is such strong bipartisan support for this legislation to help connect veterans with service dogs in their communities, and both through training and adoption improve veterans’ mental health and wellbeing. In particular, this legislation could support the efforts of organizations like Blue Star Service Dogs and Veteran Service Dogs, both based in Michigan’s Livingston County, who are doing incredible work to pair veterans with service dogs right here in the 8th district. In December, I had a chance to visit Blue Star Service Dogs in Pinckney, to see the dogs in action, and to hear directly from veterans about how these service dogs are helping them heal from depression, PTSD, and other ‘invisible’ service-related wounds. Passing this legislation couldn’t be more clear or urgent as we recognize the staggering rates of suicide among our veterans, and I couldn't be more proud to see it pass the House today.”


“I’ve seen firsthand the positive difference a service dog can make in the life of a veteran with PTSD,” said Representative John Rutherford. “The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act makes good on the promise to our veterans that we will be there for them when they return home from protecting our freedoms overseas. Thank you to everyone who worked hard to get this important piece of legislation over the finish line.”


“Researchers, doctors, and veterans report the same thing: service dogs are a transformational form of therapy for our veterans with PTSD,” said Representative Mikie Sherrill. “Service dogs help create bonds of trust and love with veterans, soothing the mental wounds of war. I’m proud that the House came together today to support our bill, and would like to thank Representative Stivers for his tireless leadership on this issue.”


The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act is a true bipartisan collaboration, reconciling two widely supported bills from the 115th Congress, the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act and the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act.  It was cosponsored by 325 Representatives and was brought to the House Floor for consideration expeditiously due to its overwhelming bipartisan support. 


The bill is also supported by numerous organizations, including Purina, Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, Blue Star Service Dogs, and the Veteran Service Dog Organization of Livingston, Michigan, among others.  


“We at Purina want to thank Representative Stivers for his leadership on this important piece of veteran legislation, and we applaud the passage of this bill, along with all the Sponsors that supported it.” said Steve Degnan, Vice President & Chief HR Officer at Purina, and U.S. Army veteran. “Purina has a long, proud history of hiring and supporting military veterans, and because we know that service dogs can help veterans in ways other therapies can’t, Purina Dog Chow has donated more than $600,000 in the past two years to help train service dogs for veterans, working closely with our partners at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) and Got Your Six Support Dogs.”   


“Every day, Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s (ARF’s) Pets and Vets program witnesses amazing transformations in veterans training rescued dogs as psychiatric service animals, truly Saving Both Ends of the Leash®,” said Elena Bicker, ARF executive director. “This legislation would change lives and provide hope for thousands of isolated veterans in need.”


Now, the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act heads to the Senate, where companion legislation has been introduced by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC),Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE).


Contact: AnnMarie Graham
Office - (202) 225-2015