It’s our duty to pass the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act

Walter served in the Vietnam War. For decades, he was unable to leave his house most days.

Becca deployed to Iraq. When she returned, she spent seven years addicted to heroin.

Bill was under my command in Operation Iraqi Freedom. All he wanted was to be able to take his fiance to dinner.

Unfortunately, the stories of these three soldiers are not unique. As a Major General in the Ohio Army National Guard and the Representative for over 43,000 veterans in Ohio’s 15th District, I know that there are tens of thousands of veterans who struggle every day with the invisible wounds of service. But these three soldiers are three of the lucky ones: Walter, Becca, and Bill, were paired with service dogs. By working with Jackson, Bobbie, and Athena, they got their freedom back they got their lives back.

To date, the only treatments recognized by the Veterans Administration (VA) for post-traumatic stress (PTS) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) are medication or talk therapy. But for many, medications and traditional therapy do not help veterans return to normalcy. We owe it to our veterans to pursue creative options that make a real impact, including working with service dogs. Today, far too few of our nation’s veterans have had the opportunity to benefit from this type of therapy in the way that Walter, Becca, and Bill have. Congress has the opportunity to change that. It’s time to pass the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act.

This bill would create a pilot program at the VA that will allow veterans to participate in work-therapy programs, where they would learn the art and science of training a dog for service. Upon completion of the program, the veteran will have the opportunity to adopt their new canine partner to provide continued relief from the symptoms of PTS, TBI, and other mental illnesses.

We’ve seen the peer-reviewed evidence from institutions like Purdue University and Kaiser Permanente, and, more importantly, the anecdotal evidence from veterans; we know that service dogs work. And finally, in February of this year, the VA released preliminary findings of its own decades-long study that further advances the body of research surrounding this type of treatment. There are no more reasons to delay.

Last month, the House passed this legislation with an overwhelming vote, and a bipartisan coalition of Senators are already working to pass it through the upper chamber and get it to the President’s desk. Every day that we delay, we lose 22 veterans to suicide. That is unacceptable, it is time that Congress does everything in its power to rectify it. It is time to pass PAWS.

• Former U.S. Representative Steve Stivers represented Ohio’s 15th Congressional District from January 2011 to May 17, 2021, when he retired to accept a new role as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. A recipient of the Bronze Star, Stivers is a Major General in the Ohio Army National Guard and has served in Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and Djibouti.

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