PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act passes

VA will now pay for service dog expenses

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PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, sponsored by Sen. Thom Tillis, has recently passed the Senate and the House, allowing insurance benefits to cover service dog expenses for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder as a primary diagnosis. President Joe Biden, late last month, signed the bill into law, which will provide benefits and will allow even more veterans with mental health conditions to receive badly needed service dogs.

“We endorse the newly passed bill, which keeps the VA at the forefront in funding the insurance benefit,” said Canine Companions spokesman John Bentzinger

The new law orders the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop and launch a program to provide service dog training to benefit veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Prior to the bill, the VA only covered some costs of service dogs for veterans with certain physical disabilities including blindness, hearing impairment and mobility issues.

“This bill will now allow placements for service dogs to be covered for those with invisible wounds,” Northeast Region executive director Debra Dougherty said of the achievement for service members with post-traumatic stress. “This is a great day; Canine Companions has been supporting the PAWS Act, and a recent VA study using Canine Companions service dogs scientifically proved how veterans with PTSD benefited from a highly trained service dog.”

Navy Airman Jason Snook, of New Hampshire, was one of Canine Companions in Medford’s recent August graduates, receiving his PTSD-trained yellow Lab/golden retriever cross to help with a number of commands, including night-terror waking.

Right out of high school, Snook was shipped out to the Mediterranean Sea shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Upon returning home, he fell into substance and drug abuse, before finding his way and eventually becoming a substance abuse counselor with a master’s in social work.

Though he said he wasn’t worried about being able to take care of his new dog prior to the bill, he’s proud of what it will do for other veterans with PTSD who will now be able to afford the care of their much-needed service dog. 

“Now that so many more people are eligible, I think that is just a miracle,” he said.

Diagnosed with PTSD, his pup will be able to help with night-terror prevention by waking him up during episodes and then providing comfort.

In a similar situation, Airman Joshua Gage, of Massachusetts, will be medically retired as a C5 regional isochronal inspection dock coordinator in November. Diagnosed with several physical disabilities, including neurological issues and a back injury, Gage also has PTSD, anxiety and depression.

His new yellow Lab/golden retriever cross Maverick has been trained to help him function during day-to-day tasks by picking up dropped items, opening doors, medicine retrieval and night-terror prevention as well.

“He will help me from impeding on my wife having to do it all the time,” he said, happy to gain back some of his independence. “This dog is really going to change my life.”

He and his wife also have a 2-year-old son named Calverton, who was coincidentally almost named Maverick. His family is also grateful for the program as well as the new coverage provided by the government, as it will provide great financial relief.

“It’s nice to know all his needs will be taken care of,” he said, stating he no longer has to think about the cost.

“As a member of the state Senate’s Veterans & Military Affairs Committee, ensuring our veterans receive the services they need has been my top priority,” added Sen. Alexis Weik, proud of the bill passing. “I have seen firsthand the profound impacts service animals can have on helping and assisting our veterans, and I am pleased the federal government passed legislation to expand veterans’ insurance benefits to cover service animals.”

Canine Companions has placed 240 dogs with veterans with PTSD as a primary diagnosis since 2014.

Canine Companions for Independence is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and founding member of Assistance Dogs International (ADI), a coalition of nonprofit assistance dog organizations that are committed to the highest standards in the training, placement, utilization and education around assistance dogs. 

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