PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act Signed Into Law
August 27, 2021

PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act Signed Into Law

Acts Allows the VA to Provide Service Dogs to Veterans with PTS

The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act was signed into law, which marks a huge win in helping U.S. service members access the life-saving support that service dogs can provide.

Canine Companions shared the exciting news yesterday in an email:

The act allows the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide service dogs and provisions for their care to assist veterans with PTSD. According to the VA Suicide Prevention Annual Report, nearly 18 service members take their own lives each day as a result of these internal scars.

Canine Companions partnered with the VA to provide service dogs in a four-year study on the efficacy of trained service dogs for PTSD. Canine Companions placed a total of 59 service dogs1 and 40 emotional support dogs2 with study veterans, totaling 45% of all dogs placed through the study. The results were staggering – veterans paired with service dogs showed less suicidal ideation and more improvement in mental health than those paired with emotional support dogs.

“The importance of the results of the study – and its impact on the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act – cannot be understated,” said Canine Companions CEO Paige Mazzoni. “Service dogs provide a significant therapeutic benefit for veterans with PTSD.”

The results of the previous study laid the groundwork for future legislation – like H.R. 1448 – to further assist veterans utilizing service dogs to mitigate symptoms of PTSD.

The VA now has the authority to use trained service dogs as a treatment option for veterans with PTSD – an option that was not available despite the profound results of the previous study.

The act will allow veterans with PTSD and other mental health diagnoses to be eligible for VA service dog veterinary insurance benefits, which also covers equipment and travel expenses associated with service dog ownership.

Although the VA has long provided health insurance support for service dogs for veterans with certain physical conditions, service dogs trained to mitigate symptoms of PTSD did not garner its support until now, with the exception of a handful of former VA study participants.

For service members relying on a task-trained service dogs for PTSD, H.R. 1448 is a giant leap towards supporting veterans and their service dogs in an equitable way.

According to Canine Companions, service dogs are trained in tasks specific to individuals with PTS. These tasks include anxiety and nightmare interruption, turning on lights, retrieving items and supporting their handler in crowded public situations that might provoke anxiety for individuals with PTS. These service dogs are trained in a specific skill set like guide dogs or seizure-detection dogs, and provide a more comprehensive level of care than emotional support animals.

The Rees-Jones Foundation has supported organizations like Canine Companions and Patriot Paws, which train then match service dogs to veterans and individuals with disabilities.

1Service dogs: Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. Service dogs are trained to assist individuals with visual or auditory impairments, or physical limitations navigate their surroundings, detect and lessen the effects of a psychiatric episode, and recognize seizures and fetch help.

2Emotional support dogs: The ADA describes emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals as animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. According to the American Kennel Club, these dogs ease anxiety, depression, some phobias, and loneliness. In order to be considered an emotional support dog, it must be prescribed by a mental health professional for a patient with a diagnosed psychological or emotional disorder, such as anxiety disorder, major depression, or panic attacks.

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