Why Was the PAWS Act of 2019 Denied? Again?

During the week of July 22, the House Veterans Affairs Committee denied support of the PAWS Act of 2019, HB3103. Again. This is another blow to service members getting the PTSD treatment that some of them desperately need: a service dog. For years, K9s For Warriors, a Ponte Vedra organization, has pushed to get the PAWS (Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members) Act passed. There is published scientific research that proves service dogs work. We are losing 20 veterans a day to suicide. What are you waiting for, members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee?
K9s For Warriors CEO, Rory Diamond, said, in response to the latest news: “For the last three years we’ve been pushing PAWS because the VA refuses to acknowledge what we all know: Service Dogs are dramatically improving the lives of disabled veterans suffering from PTSD. Most importantly, these dogs are helping keep our heroes alive. Yet, each year we go and meet with the House Veterans Affairs Committee staff, and each year they find a new way to say “No.” This past week, we sat down with the Majority and Minority staff and, again, they said “No.” No to Service Dogs for veterans with PTSD. No to our mountain of evidence that these dogs are saving lives. Instead, they told us to wait. Wait until 2020 or 2021 until after the VA completes a study to tell us what we already know. The VA has spent tens of millions of dollars and over ten years “studying” what one of the 550 K9s For Warrior graduates can tell you in ten seconds: the dogs work. We can’t afford to wait any longer. We are losing at least 20 veterans a day to suicide.”
Joe and Lilly, K9s For Warriors Graduates.
Adam and Blaze, K9s For Warriors Graduates.

Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, please look at these two photographs. Would you deny that Lily, a service dog, helped save Joe’s life? Would you deny the treatment that Blaze, a service dog, is providing for Adam? And, by the way, most of the dogs trained by K9s For Warriors as service dogs, were previously shelter dogs. Think about that.

The dogs are trained, then matched with a veteran in need. The team then goes through a training program. All of this is provided at no cost to the veteran. K9s For Warriors depends on corporate sponsorships and donations from the caring public.
THE NEW BARKER is asking its readers to please contact your local state representatives. Type in your zip code and your representatives will be displayed. Here is a sample letter you may want to consider sending to you representatives:
Hello Mr./Mrs. (representative’s name),

I’m writing to voice my support of the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members (PAWS) Act, H.B. 3103.

It was introduced by Congressman John Rutherford on June 5th, but was halted by the House Veterans Affairs Committee. With more than 20 veterans a day dying by suicide, it simply doesn’t make sense that the committee tasked with protecting them denies what is now proven to be a life-saving option to mitigate their PTSD: service dogs. Service dog organizations like K9s For Warriors have already scientifically proven that service dogs are highly successful in recovery of PTSD and Military Sexual Trauma, yet the VA healthcare system still refuses to recognize this. We must do more to save the lives and honor the sacrifice of our military heroes.

Service dogs help veterans heal. When they heal, their families heal, and they return to their communities as productive citizens, pursuing higher education and re-entering the workforce, rather than living in isolation, or worse, seeing suicide as the only way out. However, high quality service dogs come at a high price, one which most veterans could never afford on their own. The average cost of a service dog is $27,000.

Medication is not always the answer. The servicemen and women who voluntarily fought for our freedom should not have to suffer even more after their service because they can’t afford the treatment that is best for them. Please support this life-saving initiative that will give veterans the option of choosing a service dog to heal from their invisible wounds. Please vote “Yes.” Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

(Your name)

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Is That Any Way to Support Our Troops?

A preliminary report by the Department of Veterans Affairs states that benefits for service dogs will be provided to the vision, hearing and mobility impaired. But benefits will not be provided for those with Post Traumatic Stress Disease (note…it is a disease, not a disorder). This ruling will become final in 30 days.

In the spring issue of The New Barker dog magazine, we featured a story by Heidi Joy Howard on K9s for Warriors out of Ponte Vedra Beach. Today, we asked Shari Duval, president of K9s for Warriors for her thoughts on the Department of Veterans Affairs report. “The new ruling is extremely disappointing and a setback for our Veterans suffering from PTSD.  Since 9/11 there are more than 500,000 disabled veterans. One in five suffers from PTSD. One in six will attempt or commit suicide. Service Dogs are medical equipment for PTSD, and should be regarded as such, the same as a wheelchair, or walker. Service canines are proven recovery aids for PTSD, often reducing the need for massive medications.  Until the VA recognizes the enormity and severity of PTSD we are moving backwards, certainly not towards recovery for our veterans.  The VA will pay for equine therapy, but not service dogs?  This ruling will not effect K9s For Warriors efforts as we are a non-profit organization and our resource is free to our warriors.  We are also in compliance with the ADI (Assistance Dogs International) .”

Also, this week in Jacksonville, veterans who were enrolled in the K9s for Warriors program were asked to leave a business in Jacksonville Beach while out on a training session. The owner of Surf and Skate Shop asked the veterans and their dogs to leave his business, claiming disruption of the business. Again, we asked Shari for her thoughts.

“The situation at the Surf and Skate Shop involving three of our warriors, and our Trainer was a very upsetting and disappointing day.  My warriors felt humiliated and demeaned when asked to leave.  A huge problem with those who suffer from PTSD is isolation.  Service canines offer the warrior the freedom to return to civilian life with dignity and independence.  Service canines give the warriors the security and confidence to step out of their comfort zone, isolation.  When the Shop owner told them to leave, the warriors felt humiliated , singled out; all the symptoms they struggle with.  Afterwards, we talked long and hard about what happened, and we went back as a group, together to accept the owner’s apology.  We are about second chances at K9s; our shelter dogs, our broken warriors, even those who have wronged us.  Giving the owner a chance to say “I’m sorry”, gave our Warriors respect.  They deserve that.”

Who in their right mind, has the guts or the heart to mess with these guys? Photograph by Heidi Joy Howard for The New Barker dog magazine.

Please visit K9s for Warriors and Canine Companions for Independence Wounded Veteran Initiative (a national organization with an Orlando center). We have witnessed firsthand the good these two exemplary organizations are doing for our veterans. Again, these organizations are privately funded. They rely on donations in order to provide their services and the dogs at no charge to the veterans. Now that’s the way to support our troops.

Keep this conversation alive by sharing this blog with others. Visit the social media sites of each of these two organizations. Many of the graduates stay in touch via these networks. Send them words of encouragement.