By Debbie Gregory.
Inspired by the story of former Corporal Cole Thomas Lyle, USMC, and his service dog Kaya, Rep. Ron DeSantis (FL) has introduced the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act to expand access to service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress.
The PAWS Act would establish a pilot program within the Veterans Administration that would provide a trained service dog to veterans who have severe PTSD. Under the bill the VA would pay third-party dog training organizations to provide the dogs to the veterans in the program.
“Thousands of our post-9/11 veterans carry the invisible burden of post-traumatic stress, and there is an overwhelming need to expand the available treatment options,” said DeSantis, a Naval Reserve Officer.
The bill would authorize $27,000 for the VA to spend on each dog from an organization accredited by Assistance Dog International. In total the PAWS Act allocates $10 million to fund the pilot program.
“The VA should use every tool at their disposal to support and treat our veterans, including the specialized care offered by service dogs,” said DeSantis.“The PAWS Act is a simple bill that could have a dramatic – and potentially life-saving – effect on the lives of many. As we face an epidemic of veteran suicides, we must make sure that all of our returning servicemembers are honored and taken care of, no matter the wounds they bear.”
To maintain eligibility, including VA-provided veterinary health insurance for the service dog, the veteran must see a VA primary care doctor or mental health care provider at least quarterly.
Corporal Cole Lyle, a major proponent of the bill who served six years in the Marine Corps, said Kaya helps him overcome the struggles of PTSD on a daily basis.
“The difficulties I had transitioning back into civilian life stemmed out of roughly the last two months of the deployment, when I was volunteering at an understaffed trauma hospital in my spare time on base. When I got home, I would have recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks.”
Kaya is specially trained to wake Lyle up when he is having a nightmare, or lick him to calm him down when he is in the early stages of an anxiety attack. Lyle has a Change.org petition you can sign here.
The Government Accountability Office will be charged with conducting a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.