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The PAWS Act


By U.S. Senator Deb Fischer

Most of us don’t think twice about turning the corner of a busy street or standing in a long checkout line at the grocery store. But for veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), everyday events like these can trigger devastating flashbacks. A sudden sound or a noisy crowd can summon a sense of danger and instantly produce a battlefield mentality. Sleepless nights, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts are some of the many challenges facing veterans with PTSD.

 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD in a given year. This condition is notoriously difficult to treat. Antidepressants and therapy do not always work, and when treatments fail, a feeling of hopelessness can creep in. Out of nowhere, a veteran can find him or herself in a very dark place.

 

This was the case for Marine Corporal Cole Lyle. A six-year Marine Corps veteran, Cole’s PTSD severely affected his quality of life after returning from Afghanistan in 2011. Medication did not help; sleeping pills could not stop his nightmares. As a last resort, he decided to try a therapy rarely prescribed for PTSD.

 

Cole bought a dog.

 

Kaya was an energetic little puppy when Cole first met her. He paid out of pocket for her training as a service dog, and soon, Kaya became Cole’s loyal companion. She was his front line, keeping him calm in public places. Kaya even learned to wake him during nightmares.

 

With Kaya, Cole was able to manage his PTSD. He was able to live a more normal life.

 

I recently met Cole and Kaya when they visited the Senate. Their bond was clear and beautiful. Kaya never left his side. Now fully grown, she is a wonderful dog with a big smile; tall, pointy ears, and a truly touching devotion to Cole.

 

Kaya is also Cole’s partner in a new mission: to bring relief to other veterans with PTSD by increasing their access to service dogs.

 

A growing body of research shows animal-assisted therapy can lead to reduced PTSD symptoms, better sleep, and a decreased need for medication. These dogs are offering a new lease on life for veterans like Cole who suffer, often silently, from severe PTSD. The VA currently provides service dogs for physically disabled veterans, but it does not provide them for veterans with PTSD.

 

That’s why, this month, I worked with my friend Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey to introduce a new bill to help veterans like Cole. Our bipartisan legislation, known as thePuppies Assisting Wounded Service members (PAWS) Act, will offer veterans the same hope that Cole found in Kaya.

 

The PAWS Act directs the VA to begin a five-year pilot program, which would provide eligible veterans with certified service dogs. These veterans would receive follow-up support services from certified providers for the rest of the dog’s life, as well as veterinary health insurance. To remain eligible for the program, these veterans would be required to see a primary care or mental health care provider quarterly at a VA medical facility.

 

A similar version of the PAWS Act was introduced in the House of Representatives with nearly 100 bipartisan cosponsors. Bipartisan support for both versions of this bill has grown quickly, and I am hopeful it will pass the respective committees this fall.

 

Veterans with PTSD may have left the battlefield, but they are still in a tough fight. Service dogs like Kaya can provide much-needed support, peace, and joy. Through the PAWS Act, American heroes struggling with PTSD can find hope and experience the love of “man’s best friend” as they heal from the scars of war.

 

Thank you for taking part in our democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

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About katcountryhub
I am a graduate of Northeast Community College with a degree in journalism. I am married to Jeff Gilliland. We have two grown children, Justin and Whitney and four grandchildren, Grayce, Grayhm, Charli and Penelope. I will be covering Lyons, Decatur, Bancroft and Rosalie and am hoping to expand my horizons as time progresses!

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