Senator Fischer hopes PAWS Act will help veterans suffering from PTSD

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The VA estimates about 11 to 20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF), experience PTSD each year. Senator Deb Fischer hopes to help these veterans, through the PAWS Act.

The bill, known as the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act, would help veterans suffering from PTSD to access innovative treatment methods to improve their quality of life.

In a press release from July Senator Fischer's office said, "Service dogs are thought to provide several identified 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."

Fischer said the bill's inspiration came from Marine veteran Cole Lyle and his service dog Kaya.

Tuesday Fischer told 10/11, "Cole's story was really moving, because he said his dog would wake him up if he was having a nightmare and his dog would sense that he was stressed and would come over so he could reach down and touch her and comfort him."

The PAWS Act directs the VA, through its Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, to implement a five-year pilot program to provide service dogs from certified providers as well as veterinary health insurance to those veterans who: (1) served on active duty on or after September 11, 2001; and (2) were diagnosed with, and continue to suffer from, PTSD. Veterans paired with dogs would receive follow-up support service from the certified 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 least quarterly at a VA medical facility. The bill authorizes $10 million for each fiscal year from 2017 to 2022 to carry out the pilot program. Following completion of the pilot program, the Government Accountability Office would conduct a program evaluation and submit a report to Congress.

Fischer is working on the legislation with Cory Booker (D-N.J.). It was introduced in July.