Pairing service dogs with veterans

April 6, 2020

Lawmakers are pushing to pair service dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD. Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not provide service dogs for mental health conditions.

Puppies Assisting Wounded Service members (PAWS) Act of 2019, introduced by U.S. Representative John Rutherford (R-FL), would create a competitive grant program through the VA for organizations to pair service dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD.

“Three years ago, the VA began its study into the effectiveness of service dogs to treat PTSD. Since then, nearly 22,000 veterans and service members have taken their own lives,” said Rutherford. “We cannot afford to wait any longer. Anyone who has ever owned a dog can speak to their emotional support and therapeutic benefits. In fact, I often hear veterans who use a service dog tell me: ‘But for that dog I would be dead today.’ That’s why we need this legislation to move forward.”

If it passes, the PAWS Act of 2019 says the Secretary of Veterans Affairs would distribute grants, not to exceed $25,000, to eligible organizations. The program is currently capped at $10 million from Fiscal Year 2019 through Fiscal Year 2022.

As part of a pilot project, the VA is providing service dog benefits for veterans with PTSD who have a mobility disorder, consistent with current VA policy. A spokesperson said the results of the study will inform future decisions whether mental health diagnoses will also be directly covered. The results are expected to be released publicly in 2020.

Right now, the VA provides veterinary care for service dogs deemed medically necessary for the rehabilitation or restorative care plan of veterans with permanent physical injuries.

“The VA is based on evidence based medicine. We want people to use therapy that has proven value,” said Dr. Michael Fallon, the V.A.’s chief veterinary medical officer;

Nick Bennett is a retired staff sergeant of the U.S. Marine Corps who now lives in Franklin. Bennett said he served for 11 years after he was medically discharged in 2007.

While serving in Iraq, he said a 107 mm Chinese rocket hit his unit. Several members of his team died. He survived but the warhead took off the back part of his right leg. It took him more than a month to get out of bed and walk. He’s had nearly 30 surgeries.

“In addition to all of the physical wounds, I was hit with anxiety,” said Bennett.

It’s hard for Bennett to talk about how far he has come since his time in Iraq. He said his marriage of 16 years disintegrated.

“I got divorced and walked away from my 3 kids because how can I be a dad when thunderstorms hit and I just want to crawl underneath the table,” he said.

Afterward, he worked to get a service dog to help treat his PTSD. Festus ended up costing him more than $1,000 because he said the VA could not help.

“They said you do not have any mobility issues, you do not need a dog,” Bennett said.

Indiana Canine Assistant Network, or ICAN, helps provide service animals for children and adults with disabilities. The organization helped Bennett get Festus.

“They have a lot less flashbacks, night terrors and things like that,” said Sean Diamond, Director of Training for ICAN.

Diamond said ICAN wants to see more organizations help veterans.

“We want to be a part of that. They have served our country. We should be there for them,” he said.

Bennett said the Marine Foundation of Indiana gave him money to pay for Festus. The group is made up of men in the unit he fought with overseas.

Research led by the Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine said service dogs might be able to offer both behavioral and physiological benefits to help counter some of those symptoms for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. The findings published in 2018 said veterans may benefit physiologically from having a service dog.

  • Most Recent News

    Former Victoria man’s diabetic alert dog helps him get back to life

    June 2, 2021

    When Luke Hengen’s diabetes worsened in his early twenties, it stripped him of the outdoor activities where the country kid felt at home. Countless wilderness adventures and years of hard-fought football games took a toll on his body, to the point where he could no longer sense when his blood sugar was too high or […]

    Read more

    Students Get Therapy Dog

    January 8, 2021

    When middle school students return to class on Jan. 11, they’ll find a new face at the door: Daisy. Daisy is a therapy dog and the personal pet of Rob Kreger, principal of the Rock L. Butler Middle School. The five-year-old golden retriever is not a school pet or mascot, but rather a working dog […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dogtor

    January 8, 2021

    Last March, Caroline Benzel, a third-year medical student, began to notice the stress and discomfort her nurse friends were feeling from the pressures of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “[Personal protective equipment] can be really rough on the skin,” Benzel, 31, tells PEOPLE. Benzel and her 3-year-old Rottweiler, Loki (who’s also a therapy dog) hatched a […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dog Pups

    January 8, 2021

    When Stanley the miniature fox terrier’s owner passed away, the little dog started a ‘paw-some’ new role – bringing puppy love to some of the Gold Coast’s oldest residents. After Carinity Cedarbrook Diversional Therapist Julianne Staff adopted Stanley, he began visiting the aged care community at Mudgeeraba as a therapy dog. Therapy dogs help to […]

    Read more

    Puppy Cams

    January 7, 2021

    A nonprofit is providing an unusual form of therapy for those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic – puppy cams! “You spend five minutes with a puppy and try not to smile,” said registered nurse Robin Lingg Lagrone. Lingg Lagrone says watching little furballs wag their tails and prance on their paws helps […]

    Read more

    Pet Committee

    January 7, 2021

    When Moore County’s school doors were abruptly closed earlier in 2020, two- and four-legged volunteers from the Moore County Citizens’ Pet Responsibility Committee (PRC) were in their 12th year of presenting a six-session Pet Responsibility Education Program for fourth-graders. The PRC quickly shifted gears and placed its program materials online as part of a home […]

    Read more

    The Right Rescue Dog

    January 7, 2021

    If your New Year’s resolution is to add a canine family member, good for you. Somewhere out there is the perfect puppy or adult dog for your family. You have a lot of things to think about when you begin to look for that new family member, puppy or dog? Large or small? Purebred or […]

    Read more

    Police Dog Attack

    January 7, 2021

    A resolution headed to the Duluth City Council on Monday could put to rest a lawsuit filed by Teri Lynn Ehlers, an employee of the Patch Motel, who was bitten by a Duluth police dog named Oakley. Former Duluth Police Officer Marc Johnson was a registered guest of the Warroad establishment May 28, 2018, when […]

    Read more

    PAWS With A Cause

    January 7, 2021

    Pebble Hill Plantation and the Thomas County Public Library are pleased to announce the upcoming Enlightening Bites program, “PAWS With a Cause,” on Friday, January 8, 2021 at noon in the Flipper Room of the Library. The program is being presented by Jeri Anderson, field representative. Anderson is recently retired from the City of Monticello, […]

    Read more

    Police Canine Team

    January 7, 2021

    Kingston Police revealed in a news release late Wednesday afternoon that they’ve been keeping a four-legged secret for roughly three months. The force announced it added a second canine unit, with the arrival of police service dog Dak this past October. He is working with Const. Jeff Dickson, while police service dog Bask is working […]

    Read more

    More Recent News