President Biden recently signed into law the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members for Veterans Therapy Act (“PAWS”). The Act requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to fund a program designed to assist veterans suffering from mental illness and, particularly, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, it amends existing law to allow veterans to have a service dog even if they do not have a mobility impairment.
Under the terms of the PAWS Act, the VA is expected to commence a $10 million, 5-year pilot program on January 1, 2022. Grants will be provided to non-profit organizations in five yet-to-be selected locations. The organizations which are awarded grant funding will be tasked with training and matching service dogs with veterans.
Other features of the PAWS Act include:
- eligible veterans will receive dog training instruction from non-governmental accredited 501 (c)(3) non-profit service dog training organizations
- eligible veterans will learn positive reinforcement training in skills unique to their individual needs in order to address and/or alleviate their PTSD symptoms
- veterans participating in the program will have the opportunity to adopt a dog that they actively assisted in training, providing the veteran and their health care provider determine it to be in the veteran’s best interest
The objective of this program is to address and alleviate symptoms of PTSD and reduce the average suicide rate of veterans, of which PTSD is a huge contributor. Service dogs have demonstrated the ability to wake an individual up from night terrors or help find an exit in a crowded area, for example.