WASHINGTON – The Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act, sponsored by Congressman Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN), passed the House of Representatives Tuesday as part of a larger veterans health services bill. This legislation would establish a therapeutic dog training and handling pilot program for veterans struggling with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“It is estimated that 22 current and former service members commit suicide each day in our country. This tragedy requires immediate action,” Stivers said. “We owe it to our service men and women who risk their lives for our freedoms to help them when they return home. I have personally met veterans whose lives have been dramatically improved through working with a service dog, and I am glad we are one step closer to giving more veterans this opportunity.”
The pilot program would be established at three to five V.A. facilities, as selected by the V.A. Secretary. These facilities would connect veterans to local therapeutic dog training organizations, which would be responsible for the dogs’ housing and care. Veterans would learn useful occupational skills while training the dogs, and after training, each dog would be provided to a disabled veteran – thereby enabling veterans to help other veterans. Once the program is started, it would be studied and considered for expansion to additional facilities.
This is nearly identical to the service dog training program conducted by the non-profit organization Warrior Canine Connection at several Department of Defense medical facilities and one V.A. Hospital location. Many veterans who have participated in the Warrior Canine Connection have seen significant improvements in both PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury symptoms. Additionally, preliminary research from Kaiser Permanente has shown that veterans who have these service dogs show fewer symptoms of PTSD and depression, have better interpersonal relationships, a lowered risk of substance abuse and better overall mental health.
The Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act, originally introduced on January 15, 2015, was included as part of H.R. 3016, the Veterans Employment, Education and Healthcare Improvement Act.