Cisneros and Stivers introduce bipartisan bill to pair veterans and service dogs to support their mental health

Representative Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-CA), joined Representatives Steve Stivers (R-OH), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), John Rutherford (R-FL), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Neal Dunn (R-FL), Michael Waltz (R-FL), and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), to introduce H.R. 4305, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act.

The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act will create a pilot program within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to give veterans access to treatment derived from working with service dogs. Specifically, the VA will partner with non-profit organizations working with veterans and service dogs to create work-therapy programs wherein veterans learn the art and science of training dogs. Upon completion of the program, the veterans may adopt their dogs to provide continuing therapy.

“Partnering our veterans that are combating PTSD through a therapeutic medium of training service dogs has had proven emotional and psychological benefits,”said Representative Gil Cisneros. “Service dogs are chosen for their innate ability to understand and intuitively respond to our veterans when dealing with the effects of PTSD. Our veterans deserve to live happy and healthy lives and our four-legged heroes are ready to make a real difference for them.”

“A soldier under my command during Operation Iraqi Freedom recently told me what his service dog means to him: he was able to fly on a plane for the first time in 10 years and he took his fiancée to dinner. That is the impact this bill can have on the lives of our veterans,” Representative Steve Stivers said. “I’m incredibly grateful to our coalition for their efforts to create this program, and I look forward to getting this bill signed into law so that our veterans can receive the care they need.”

An average of 20 veterans die by suicide every day, and post-traumatic stress impacts between 11 and 30 percent of veterans who served in various conflicts. Research conducted by Kaiser Permanente and Purdue University has shown that working with service dogs alleviates the symptoms of PTSD, leading to better interpersonal relationships, lower risk of substance abuse, and overall better mental health.

Rep. Cisneros is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and House Veterans Affairs Committee. The bill text can be found here.

This article was released by the Office of Congressman Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr.