President Biden signed the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act of 2021 into law. The law requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to implement five-year pilot grant program for the purpose of pairing service dogs with eligible veterans. The bill had overwhelming bi-partisan support in congress and was pass unanimously by the U.S. Senate earlier this month.
Service members eligible to participate in the program are those enrolled in the VA healthcare system and who have been evaluated and treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and remain diagnosed with PTSD. If it is determined that a service dog may benefit those individuals, then they must agree to successfully complete a training program provided by an eligible organization. Veterans are required to see a VA healthcare provider at least once every six months to determine whether they are continuing to benefit from the service dog. Any improvement in PTSD symptoms as a result of being provided a service dog does not affect the veteran’s eligibility for other VA benefits.
According to a recent meta-analysis of risk factors, as many as 35% of veterans suffer from PTSD and veterans with PTSD are at a much higher risk of committing suicide. Veterans with PTSD that have been paired with a service dog report lower symptoms of PTSD, depression, and better interpersonal relationships. The new PAWS Law will have an immense benefit to those veterans who have previously been under served and there is now hope that all veterans in need may eventually be eligible for a service dog as part of their VA benefits as a result of the implementation of the pilot program under the PAWS law.
If you are a veteran suffering from PTSD or know someone who is, you can find out more information from the VA website on PTSD. If you need help right away, please call the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.