Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) cosponsored legislation introduced by Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to help service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The bill, known as the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members (PAWS) Act, would help improve the quality of life for veterans suffering from PTSD through grants to non-profit organizations that provide veterans with access to service dogs.

“For many veterans suffering from PTSD, service dogs help reduce symptoms and improve mental health. I’m glad to support legislation that will expand the VA service dog program to include veterans not only battling physical challenges, but invisible ones as well. All veterans who would benefit from a service dog should be able to find the comfort and companionship they need to readjust to civilian life.”

BACKGROUND:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD in a given year. Research indicates that PTSD is notoriously difficult to treat, and many veterans do not seek or continue treatment.

Service dogs can provide several identifiable benefits to people suffering from PTSD or other combat-related illnesses. Studies have shown that animal-assisted therapy for trauma may lead to a reduction in PTSD symptoms, as well as reduced depression, anxiety, and dissociation symptoms. This therapy can also lead to better sleep quality and a decreased need for medication. While the VA provides service dogs for physically disabled veterans, it does not provide service dogs for veterans living with PTSD.

The PAWS Act directs the VA to implement a five-year pilot program to provide service dogs to veterans who were diagnosed with, and continue to suffer from, PTSD. Under the pilot program, the VA would connect veterans with eligible organizations that train service dogs, and provide a grant to the organizations on behalf of the veteran for a service dog pairing. Veterans would receive follow-up support from the service dog provider for the rest of the dog’s life. To remain eligible for the program, veterans must see a primary care or mental health care provider at a VA medical facility every 180 days. Following completion of the pilot program, the Government Accountability Office would conduct a program evaluation and submit a report to Congress.

Senator Cortez Masto has introduced numerous bills to help improve veterans’ mental health, including the SERVICE Act to address the epidemic of veteran suicide by expanding access to mental health services for veterans. She also introduced the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act to identify opportunities to expand access and usage of public lands for outdoor therapy and rehabilitation treatments.