CIRCLEVILLE — Veterans suffering from post traumatic stress could soon have the ability to have a furry friend to help improve their lives.
Earlier this week a bill, The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, sponsored by Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and is now in the Senate.
The act would establish a pilot program with the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide veterans coping with post traumatic stress work therapy by training dogs for service and after graduating from the training the veteran can adopt their canine partner. Among the skills the dogs will learn include “blocking” which helps a veteran maintain personal space in public, or waking a veteran experiencing a nightmare.
In a call with The Herald this week, Stivers said a study was conducted years ago but nothing came of it and that study was re-started again in 2017. He said he’s been pushing for the legislation due to the number of veterans that it could help.
“The science is clear that it works and it not only reduces the symptoms of PTS but it decreases the need for drugs,” Stivers said. “We have an epidemic of suicide, we lose an average of 20 veterans a day, and that’s why I’ve pushed the bill so hard.”
Stivers said there’s been some pushback on the bill by some senators who want to wait for the study to complete but that’s too many potential lives to put in the balance.
“I’m unwilling to wait and lose 600 vets a month on a study that may or may not be completed,” Stivers said. “If we can prevent one of those suicides a day, a week or a month why wouldn’t we do this. Lives are at stake here.”
Walter Parker, a veteran who served in Vietnam and his therapy dog, Jackson, was a guest of Stivers for the State of the Union address.
“For 40 years he suffered in silence without any help and he had PTS,” Stivers commented. “At the end of it he was homebound and had suicidal thoughts because he couldn’t leave his house due to having so many flashbacks. He got Jackson, his golden retriever, six years ago and he now goes out to the movies, goes to dinner and shopping. If he feels stressed Jackson can sense it and Walter knows to get down and talk to Jackson. It just melts his stress away. He went to the movie for the first time and saw the Intern. It was the first movie he’d been to in 45 years. Jackson went with him and made that happen.”
Should the bill pass the Senate and be enacted into law, local VA hospitals will be able to sign up veterans as part of the program.
“I know there are potentially 50,000 veterans that might want in this program,” Stivers added. “I guarantee you that there are veterans that have PTS and there are folks right now that we don’t even know about that could benefit from this. I’m excited to get it done.”
The bill will need to be approved in the Senate and signed by President Donald Trump into law before it can be enacted but Stivers is confident that will happen.
“This time we have a bipartisan team in the Senate who are working hard to get this bill passed,” he continued. “I’m starting to meet with senators to make it happen. It’s a big deal to me. Nobody is saying it’s a bad idea, they just want to wait on the study but why do we need to wait on a study when the clinical evidence is very clear. I’m going to work tirelessly to make this happen.”