“We know service dogs are a proven life-changing and life-saving form of therapy for our Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress,” said Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), who is a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot, attorney, and federal prosecutor. “With this new law, we are addressing the high-cost barrier that prevents many (Veterans) from accessing these incredible dogs”.

The law Rep. Sherrill is referring to is the HR 1448, PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, sponsored by a bipartisan group of Members of Congress and signed into law last summer. Until recently, millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent by the VA to gauge the benefits of a trained PTSD Service K9 – with no results and no forward movement. Thanks to countless testimonials from Veteran recipients and bipartisan support, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs will run a grant program that will supply veterans with the funds needed to obtain a Service Dog.

To provide some background information: The reason K9s on The Front Line and other members of the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans (ASDPMV) exist is the brutal toll PTSD exacts on 20-30% of combat Veterans returning from their overseas deployments. The PAWS Act was introduced to the House in previous years, but the VA kept maintaining that more proof was needed to illustrate the use of Service Dogs in mitigating symptoms related to PTSD. A short, but well researched article is worth reading: “Why the V.A. won’t pay for service dogs to treat PTSD”. Ultimately, evidence demanded by the VA came from outside the VA, in a well-executed study by researchers at Purdue University in collaboration with ASDPMV members.

The cost of pairing a Veteran with a Service Dog is variable ($5,000 to $25,000) and depends on the specific training program modalities, needs of the individual Veteran, follow-up services, and additional support. To date, non-profit member organizations of ASDPMV have raised and covered these costs for our Veterans, in addition to setting and maintaining national standards for service dog training and performance, and providing crucial education, guidance and leadership that ultimately had the PAWS Act delivered in 2021.

The PAWS Act requires the VA to implement a five-year pilot program to provide canine training to eligible Veterans with PTSD as an element of a complementary and integrative health program. The VA must enter agreements with accredited nongovernmental entities that have demonstrated the ability to provide Service Dog training. The bill also authorizes the VA to provide Service Dogs to Veterans, regardless of whether they have a mobility impairment. We remain cautiously optimistic, because the VA’s track record in this arena is not the strongest. Our Veterans will undoubtedly be the arbiters of success and report back to us.