WASHINGTON, D.C. — The PAWS Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
The legislation directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a program to provide service dogs and training to veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“The first step in a five-year battle we've had to convince the VA that they should be part of this process of getting warrior service dogs if they have really severe post-traumatic stress,” said Rory Diamond, the CEO of K9s for Warriors.
K9s for Warriors is the largest provider of service dogs for veterans. They've helped put together more than 700 warrior teams. In some cases, they pulled dogs from high kill shelters and paired them with veterans on the brink.
“The downward spiral of post-traumatic stress is terrible – depression, isolation and keeping it home. A service dog just opens up the world again. I've seen it hundreds of times now. We see a warrior starts going back to school or going back to work, they start to be a good mom or good dad again, go to the kids’ school. It’s unbelievable. They start to become the people they used to be before they went off to war,” said Diamond.
“We found that veterans with service dogs had a cortisol awakening response, so that's the response of cortisol when you wake up in the morning, similar to individuals without PTSD,” said Leanne Nieforth.
Nieforth is a doctorate student in the studies of human and animal interaction at the Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine. They've presented several studies showing trained service dogs can improve life for a veteran experiencing PTSD. That's by decreasing anxiety, anger, depression, and social isolation, and increasing life satisfaction, participation, and resilience.
“So, service dogs are trained to alert a veteran when they are having an anxiety attack and this task is actually the most used in a day and helps with the most PTSD symptoms,” said Nieforth.
Again, these are trained service dogs recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act, not therapy pets.
A VA study found veterans with post-traumatic stress who were paired with service dogs showed less suicidal ideation and more symptom improvement, compared to veterans paired with an emotional support dog.
The PAWS Act creates a five-year pilot program to pair veterans diagnosed with PTSD with service dogs for training unique to their symptoms. At the end of the training, veterans will have the opportunity to adopt the dog.