Last Thursday, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act (or PAWS Act) was passed by the Senate. It was already passed by the House of Representatives in May, making this bill likely to be passed.
The PAWS bill will make many veterans eligible to receive service dogs in their therapy against mental health issues that were deemed combat-related. Previously, only veterans who suffered physical injuries in combat were eligible to receive service dogs as a form of treatment. Not only will veterans be eligible to have the service dogs, but the bill also includes a 5-year setup treatment plan with the dogs to help veterans through their process. This bill is an important victory for the many veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as vets with PTSD make up a large percentage of the group who will be eligible for service dog treatment.
Although this bill is met with widespread bipartisan support now, this bill was not easy to pass initially. Proposals to pair veterans battling mental illness with service dogs in the past have been met with speculation from the Department of Veteran Affairs itself, which stated that there was uncertainty as to the impact service dogs would have on mental health. A study released in March of this year, however, reversed much of this resistance and the bill was finally passed by the Senate.
The PAWS bill comes under the context of new awareness towards the mental health issues that veterans in America face. A 2016 report revealed that an average of 20 veterans a day die from suicide. In addition, more veterans seek mental health treatment in the country than ever before. The new bill, which is expected to be completed through a signature from President Joe Biden, will be an important victory to countless veterans amid this climate.