BREAKING NEWS: U.S. House approves bill to pair veterans with service dogs

Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on February 5, 2020 with 61 Comments

The U.S. House has just approved a bill that would expand opportunities for veterans to get involved with training and adopting service dogs, leading to better lives for both the animals and the people helping them.

The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, H.R. 4305, will create a pilot program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help individuals with post-deployment mental health disorders by pairing them with dogs to train as service animals. The bill directs the VA to provide grants to nonprofit entities that teach veterans how to train service dogs. Once the program is completed, veterans can, if they wish, adopt their dogs for ongoing therapy.

The measure passed the House by a voice vote. The issue has such strong bipartisan support, the bill arrived on the House floor with 324 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle.

There are few who would deny that we owe a special debt of gratitude to those men and women who have served in our nation’s armed forces, especially in combat. This is particularly true given our current understanding of the significant emotional challenges associated with conflict and its aftermath. An alarming number of veterans and current service members face an invisible and formidable enemy in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health challenges.

The legislation relies upon some of the best mental health interventions available. Working with service dogs has been shown to enhance mental health. Among other benefits, it helps participants focus attention and energy toward training the dog. Moreover, the positive emotions they experience when the dogs perform their tasks well can produce demonstrable social and psychological benefits, too.

Therapy centered on productive and satisfying employment has also been shown to successfully lower depression, anxiety, anger, sleep disturbances and alcohol and substance abuse, as well as enhance interpersonal relationships.

Once the service dogs are trained, they can be invaluable companions for veterans. They often alert their owners to PTSD triggers, such as crowded areas or unanticipated risks. They can also help to reduce their handlers’ anxiety by providing security and a calming effect. And any dog breed is fit to serve, including Labradors, golden retrievers, mixed breeds and animals rescued from shelters.

No society can afford to neglect the post-deployment well-being of its service members. Our thanks to Reps. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., John Rutherford, R-Fla., Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., Michael Walz, R-Fla., Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., Neal Dunn, R-Fla., and Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., for recognizing the social, psychological and medical benefits that the human-animal bond provides to improve the health and well-being of veterans, and for their leadership in bringing this measure so far in such a short time. We now urge the Senate to swiftly act upon a companion bill, the K9s for Veterans Therapy Act, S. 2948, sponsored by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. This well-crafted, urgently needed legislation is worthy of every American’s support.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

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61 Comments

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  1. suzanne Kiggins says:

    Please do this for the brave wonderful service men and women who serve us. It’s a win/win for people and animals and would do so much good.

  2. Becky Brown says:

    Yay please use Shelter dogs they need the veterans as much as veterans need them. We at Brown Paws Rescue have a beautiful story about Red a shelter dog that was adopted by a young serviceman and it warms my heart to see them together :)This is awesome !

  3. marilyn boehm says:

    GREAT news! So glad this passed.

  4. nancy says:

    I do hope consideration is given to careful wording and guidelines for veterans to qualify for a service dog, otherwise an onslaught of possible side effects are possible for the dogs wellbeing. There is no question about mental health benefits, but service dog language itself needs to undergo some changes and be updated and unified across all federal platforms. Otherwise this could escalate further confusion and cause an unprepared veteran problems out and about in public possibly unfamiliar with their state and county laws much less federal. The Veterans Administration has their own federal guidelines and each local administration has been allowed through their own policy to police their own. This has caused problems with access allowing veterans into medical facilities, etc. All of this needs to be taken into consideration for the health and wellbeing of both the Veteran and the wellbeing of the service dog. Establishments need training not just the dog and handler!

    • Elizabeth Ormerod says:

      Thank you for your very considered points. Very careful planning and protocols are indeed required, Dr Elizabeth Ormerod, SCAS UK

    • Vincent says:

      Absolutely agree!

    • Gary Reick says:

      Your. Points are good but let us not put so much red tape and regulations on things that nothing can get done or delayed for 10years

      Yes watch out for problems but help our vets and dogs

      • nancy says:

        Agree Gary. I speak from a place of supporting Veterans. We need them carefully paired for the best outcome. I have groups on FB and Linkedin that supports this discussion around service dogs for veterans.

      • Mindy says:

        I have a husband who is a veteran. I think he needs a service dog and all other veterans too!

    • Marilyn Hernandez says:

      I agree. Our wonderful Vets deserve all the help there is. Dogs are also wonderful but are USED so often by humans but not protected by humans. Dogs must never be placed with anyone who becomes violent, emotional trauma is also harmful. Dogs must be protected also. They will give and give but can be traumatized by violence and emotional abuse.

    • Carol J Livingstone says:

      Agreed! I think this program is heading in the right direction, but this description of it really muddles the difference between true service animals — who are trained to a specific task — and emotional support animals — whose presence is calming to the owner. It sounds to me that this program is to train emotional support animals, not service animals.

    • Lee Ann Lasher says:

      Well said Nancy. Let’s not forgot our other Veterans that needs Service Dogs (SD) for medical and physical reasons. They to need to be trained and given the same as our Veterans with Behavior Health issues such as PTSD.

      Truly,
      Lee Ann Lasher
      Veteran
      Co-Chair K9 PTSD Program American Legion Kuttawa KY

    • Mary says:

      Policies need to be in place to protect the dog and make sure the vet can provide for the animal. In our local community, there is housing for Veterans and they bring in dogs all the time. Dogs who roam the streets, who are short-chained in front of the residence without food, water or shelter, dogs who receive no veterinary services, who are not walked or socialized. There is NO effort made to oversee the conditions the dogs are placed in. Most of the vets want pit bulls and do not make sure they are “family” friendly. Any animal chained up on a short chain and ignored will become angry and frustrated. The many dogs come and go. It is heartbreaking for an animal lover to see this lack of compassion or care. NO, local authorities will NOT step in. First, make sure the Vet is capable of responding to the needs of the animal. Education is the key. Second, put a plan of care in place for the dog, make sure vaccinations are kept up to date, inspect regularly {scheduled as well as unscheduled} to ensure the dog is being treated well and can interact with the Vet -not chained up – dogs are wonderful companions and our service people deserve all the help they can get.

    • Penelope Jupiter Zela says:

      Oh God are you really more concerned about the Dogs than our Veteran HUMANS? OMG. Is this bill for dogs or people?

      • Nancy says:

        No Penelope at least in my comment I support the two as a team. Service dogs are partners of the person and that is how the union needs to be unless it’s just emotional support which is valuable also, but the dog is based at home without public access. We (my company Service Dog Nation) just want to make sure those unions are the right fit with protections for both the dog and the person. What I am referring to is the current language as written into the different Federal Agencies now vary and that variance can be very difficult when out in public. It’s wonderful news to hear this is happening, it’s something many of us have worked hard for, we just want it safe for all. Not just the dogs but the two as a team.

    • Cynthia McGuire says:

      Many things need to be addressed, certainly, but it’s a step in the right direction. Many veterans will be getting the dogs and benefitting from that but the dogs will be big winners also.

  5. Joaquin Juatai says:

    According to Congress.gov, this bill has NOT passed. Rep. Stivers made a motion for it to be placed on the House calendar on Jan. 9, 2020.

    This bill needs a lot of work. I am a disabled Veteran who uses a task trained Service Dog, and the PAWS Act does not meet MY needs, or the needs of many of my fellow Veterans.

  6. Sharon says:

    This is sooooo wonderful.thanks for passing bill, it means so much for all our service people .

  7. Pam Fogt says:

    Tuesday and Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan
    Would say its about time and thank you
    Pam Fogt

  8. Bob says:

    I retired in ’98. Been trying to get a service dog for over 10 years. Multiple TBI’s resulting in epilepsy. PTSD. Totally disabled.
    Yes. I contacted lots of the Vet Service Dog trainers/providers. Wait another 3-5 years? I spent a long time with one organization, in the beginning, filling out and mailing my way through their layers of screening questionnaires. In the end they wanted a video. I had no way to make a video. I quit.
    I’m not holding my breath for this to happen in my lifetime. 🇺🇸

    • Nell says:

      Agreed! This bill needs alot of refining to be realistic. There are so many restrictions, requirements etc. that ppl really needing a service dog can’t obtain one in a free, timely manner. Before you say “this is amazing” read the bill. It’s an election year…

  9. Kate says:

    As a female Veteran with severe PTSD, I would love to have this here in Kansas

  10. Suzanne says:

    Yes PTSD is one of the most recognized need for a service dog. But more help for other reasons for need for a service dog shud be included! My husband needs one for migraine detection,(like stroke) depression, and stubillity .But has been turned down for help because PTSD was not main reason!

    • Amy Trickett says:

      My husband served in Vietnam. He has a lot of health issues. We are renting but can’t have a dog. I told him several times to get one, but he didn’t want to go through all the drama with the landlord concerning it.

      • CHAROLETTE ANDERSON says:

        there should be no drama, all you should need to obtain is a letter from doctor that the dog is instrumental in assisting your husband maintain the optimal health benefits, and under FAIR Housing Act, the landlord HAS to allow the animal. Not sure where you live but in Washington State, the landlord cannot even charge a pet deposit either.

      • Mt says:

        What would a dog do to help anyway?

  11. Anthony Cesario says:

    Well said
    I have been on a list for years.
    Never received a call back after many attempts.
    I decided to try on my own.
    Everything seems to get me in trouble for doing this on my own.
    I lost a good friendship with Lon Hodge and Gander his service dog because of how I’m training ECHO The Illinois law allows service dogs in training the same rights as service dogs. They mentioned PAWS the waiting list and finding the right dog could take years.
    You have brought up some very important issues. How can we solve problems before they happen I believe the true test is being involved 110 present and having training with experts and keeping your dog with during the training. The bond is amazing but I need help and soon that has been very difficult. The cost of training is coming out of my disability checks. The cost is nothing compared to what I am receiving. My Anxiety is up and ECHO helps but I worry that I’m not doing everything correctly and I need help.
    If you have anyone that is willing to help me train ECHO for my PTSD, BI-POLAR and high blood pressure etc contact me at
    847 751 1212
    Anthony Cesario USMC
    1139 Thornwood court
    Lake Zurich, illinois 60047
    Email: artistictile.ac@gmail.com
    ECHO is a year old has already been socialized. I have been drug free for over 28 years. I bring ECHO to AA meetings.
    LOL Echo has 1 year of sobriety
    He has already helped others and myself.
    I just would love to have a professional Service Dog Trainer take the rest of the way to making him a Service Dog.
    I will explain the problem I had with Lon Hodge and Gander his service dog or we can let that go but I believe its important we know our rights. My cost in court was $2,600 just to prove I have the rights to bring a service dog in training to the same places service dogs are admitted. The person that took me to court was Lon Hodge we no longer talk and I can’t even trust him anymore.
    I raised thousands of dollars for operation Fetch over the years.
    My sharing this could be used against me.
    I hope everyone who reads this will understand when you stand for the law
    Your not standing alone.

  12. Markus says:

    Yes. First, there is a lot more to being a service dog than just tasks involved with PTSD! The law should include other types of service such as mobility, sight, hearing, etc tasks that service dogs are currently trained for. If you get a PTSD Only trained dog but you can’t see, what good does that do for you beyond PTSD?What about training and access for those service dogs?

    Second, let me give a shout out to Victory Service Dogs in Colorado Springs. If a vet lives near there, they can help you train your own dog for PTSD, mobility, etc. Word to the wise, don’t go out and get a dog to train NOT completely understanding WHAT characteristics you NEED in a service dog. A lab who is real birdy or has a strong prey drive isn’t it. So do your homework first!

    Finally, Talk to some trainers and organizations that actually train service dogs before you get a puppy or dog to train. And ask yourself are you ready for a dog who will be attached to your hip?Do you have a fenced yard? How many dogs do you have already? Are you serious about training yourself and the dog for probably 1-2 years AND refresher training? Can you afford the dog with vet bills, food, etc? Trust me, it’s like having a child. In the end, it is worth it!

  13. Robert Fourniadis says:

    Please keep posting on the progress. I am a member of a philanthropic organization that has, as one of its many endeavors, a program that raises funds to sponsor service dogs for veterans. Ahepa-service dogs.org. Thanks for proving this information.

  14. Diane says:

    How so? What is the program missing?

  15. BILL SUDDUTH says:

    How would a veterans such as my self be abke to sign up for this program i have severe PTSD so a service dog woukd be great to have , other wise i have ti resort to being medicatied and staying in my own house, im not able to travel or go.out into public places do to my PTSD.

  16. Pam Barnett says:

    Pam Barnett
    Pawws.org
    Info@pawws.org
    Learn seven years ago to start training the veterans before they got a dog then once they get a dog to your program once a week continuing education. Works great!
    Gives the veterans time to become a family of their own with the other veterans in the club

  17. Tianna says:

    I’m really confused… I was already a part of a service dog pilot through the VA and received a service dog. They did this already! I’m glad to hear they’re still advocating for it though– my service dog changed my life in the just positive way!!

    • Caryl Swain says:

      Was this the study that Canine Companions for Independence was involved in? I am a puppy raiser for the organization & one of the dogs I raised graduated in this study. So happy to hear that it all turned out great for you.

  18. Lori says:

    It’s nice that this way of Veterans learning training with potential service dog is being recognized. Our MI based company has been doing this for 5 plus years. As well as getting veterans a dog when needed at no charge. The VA does not recognize us as we are nonprofit but not accredited due to the hugh cost, and we won’t charge our clients in anyway unless they break their contract. Smaller company trainers aren’t recognized, only the larger who charge exuberant amounts….this is so wrong.

  19. Cathie says:

    Meanwhile, Vietnam War Veteran who lives with his PTSD dog, Diamond, at Freedom’s Path on the Chillicothe VA Medical Center campus in Ohio. Recently, the 73-year-old veteran received a threatening anonymous letter that asked him to move out. The letter said:

    “Willie, it’s time for you and your dog to go. You will no longer be tolerated. Move out.”

    He’s been told by officials and their lawyers if he doesn’t get rid of the dog he will be homeless.

  20. Saunnymeyer says:

    Thank you. How do you get one.

  21. Lynn Martin says:

    Check out The Laws Under the American Disability Act and read about service animals. Last time I checked it said you can train your own dog.

  22. Lee Ann Lasher says:

    Well said Nancy. Let’s not forgot our other Veterans that needs Service Dogs (SD) for medical and physical reasons. They to need to be trained and given the same as our Veterans with Behavior Health issues such as PTSD.

    Truly,
    Lee Ann Lasher
    Veteran
    Co-Chair K9 PTSD Program American Legion Kuttawa KY

  23. Frances Leard says:

    God`bless`all`our`veterans`for`their`service`and`it’s`a`sin`they`have`to`wait`years
    to`get`a`service`dog`to`help`them`deal`with`their`stress`and`other`conditions.`
    This`should`have`been`a`#1`priority`for`these`brave`men`and`women`and`not`leave`them`hanging`on`for`years.`It’s`a`disgrace`to`these`heroes.

  24. Kevin Graves says:

    Better write your Senators or it will lie dormant (Due) in the Senate

  25. Kimberly Luce says:

    I think this is well over due. A clear and concise “title” with all its rights must be designated for those Veterans needing a dog for PTSD. The American with Disabilities Act only gives full rights to dogs who “complete tasks” for individuals with disabilities. For example the Veteran is blind, mobility impaired, hearing impaired etc.
    It is a very touchy subject for Veterans needing a dog for the “invisible wounds” such as PTSD.
    I have been cursed with this awe full diagnosis and many more. Looking at me you would not label me as disabled – but I am. I went out and got a dog after my third deployment. She was a natural as far as caring for my needs. I sought help through my physician but was guided to getting my dog registered as an emotional support animal. This does NOT give my dog the same rights as a true service animal. The Vet Centers have denied soldiers the right to bring emotional support dogs to counseling appointments. I don’t know about anyone else in this forum but when I do my sessions I end up a ball of emotions during and after my appointment. This is when I need her the most!
    Veterans with PTSD should have their own category title for their use. Meaning the dog is for Psychological purposes and being given the rights as a full service animal.
    I 100% agree it is the handler who needs to know how to give a command to their dog. Education is key here! Also the handler must also be educated in caring for their dog – what is acceptable and what is not (ie leaving them chained up, as stated in an earlier post).
    I would love to become a trainer, I would love to help other Veterans learn how to train their dogs.
    My dog even though registered as emotional support has gotten me through a lot of situations such as:
    Being able to leave my house
    Helping me socialize with strangers
    Wakes me up when I’m having nightmares
    Likes my face and wakes me during bouts of sleep apnea
    Comforts me when I am upset or crying and has done the same for others in my company
    And so much more……..

    In my eyes, she does conduct tasks and does service me in many different aspects of what PTSD has done to me.
    I hope this can be put into motion quickly to help many Veterans with PTSD. We need it 💗

  26. Julia Ramirez says:

    Hey…DON’T PAT YOURSELVES ON THE BACK SO FAST “HOUSE”…YOU also MUST PASS LAWS that enforce Homeless Shelters to ALLOW VETERANS and HOMLESS to KEEP THEIR PETS with them IN THE SHELTERS.

    This legislation MUST provide funds for the shelters to provide the necessary kennels for the pets. The kennels MUST be cleaned by the pet owner making it safe for the next user. The ckeanibg supplies can also be figured into this legislation. Simple white vinegar is a non toxic anti bacterial cleaner and inexpensive.

    ABOVE ALL…VETERANS SHOULD NEVER, EVER be required to “abandon or give up” their family member (their pet).

  27. Barry Engle says:

    I rescued a Belgium Malinois but the truth is he rescued me if I have a bad dream he wakes me up if I have too much anxiety he comes and pushes on me so I think more about him than myself it really is great he’s a great dog trained as a service dog he’s very protective he’s changed my life greatly and I love them

  28. L. Thompson says:

    Thank you!! While our service men and women are the greatest, giving of themselves to help keep our country free, we applaud you! What I’m about to suggest is no where near to the great need of our services men and women, but….. could we also include the men and women of public service example, police, fire fighters, emergency rescue workers, ect, that has also given of themselves, on a much smaller scale, that is afflicted with PTSD,depression, and other mental handicaps. As with our military, you would have to be there to understand. Thank you, again.

  29. Jack Mills says:

    Can we all please set aside partisanship to help our veterans and man’s best friend?

    Please contact your Senator and ask for FAST TRACK APPROVAL of K9s for Veterans Therapy Act, S. 2948. This provides a way to help veterans and help man’s best friend.

    We could literally see dogs rescued from shelters that are fully capable of helping a veteran that needs a service animal.

    JBM, CMSGT(ret)

  30. Brenda Robinson says:

    I have shared this information with the Canadian Veterans Association. I hope they introduce a program like this in Canada. A definite win/win situation! Thank you for sharing!

  31. Bill Sherman says:

    I’m a disabled Vet and picked out a rescue dog at10 weeks old. Trained him and I through Dogs4Vets (American Service Animal Society) in Gilbert, AZ. My quality of life has improved, my marriage has improved and no longer suicidal or depressed. ASAS is truly amazing for disabled Vet’s and there is NO cost to the Vet either. I’m blessed beyond words.

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