PAWS NOT PILLS: It's Time for the VA to Approve Service Dogs as a Treatment Option for PTSD

Can veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder benefit from service dogs?

The answer is yes.

A recent breakthrough in PTSD research from Purdue University found that participants with service dogs produced significantly higher levels of cortisol, a hormone involved in processing stress.

“While not a cure for PTSD, we found service dogs are an effective complementary treatment that have significant effects on multiple areas of life,” said Kerri Rodriguez, co-author of the study.

We now have data that Service Dogs:

  • Reduce clinical PTSD symptoms

  • Reduce anger & anxiety

  • Improve psychological & physiological well-being

  • Improve abilities to participate in social activities

  • Lower levels of depression

  • Increase life satisfaction

What does all this look like in real life?

  • Veterans reunite with their families.

  • They go to their kids' sports games and music recitals.

  • They re-enter the workforce.

  • They graduate from college and pursue more education.

  • They plan date nights with their significant others again.

  • They can go to concerts, amusement parks, and even the grocery store by themselves.

  • Most importantly, Service Dogs are dramatically reducing our graduates' suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation.

So Why Won’t the VA Fund the Program?

This is where things get complicated.

Veterans who have responded poorly to conventional treatments have had to improvise, sometimes by paying thousands of dollars up front to acquire service dogs, then covering the significant costs of feeding and caring for them.

So, a couple years ago, Puppies Assisting Wounded Service members (PAWS) Act was introduced – bipartisan legislation that established a grant program pairing veterans with psychiatric service dogs.

But almost a year and a half later, the program had provided dogs to only 19 veterans.

In fact, the PAWS Act now faces resistance from V.A. officials who said the bill could “result in unintended and negative consequences” for veterans entrusting their well-being to “this unsubstantiated treatment regime.”

So what happened?

According to Dr. Michael Fallon, the V.A.’s chief veterinarian, “I would say there are a lot of heartwarming stories that service dogs help, but scientific basis for that claim is lacking.”

Chaplain Jeffrey Bizzarro of Veterans Base Camp, tells another story:

“The problem is that The VA conducted their study not understanding the proper canine selection process, while just randomly choosing unproven and ineffective "fly-by-night" organizations that because of an unregulated industry adheres to zero common proven strategies and standards.”

Chaplain Bizzarro’s solution, "Evidence Based Medicine": Canine Assisted Therapeutic Intervention”.

  • Review studies from numerous higher institutions of learning like Cornell University and Bergin College of Canine Studies, just to name a few.

  • Go visit, study, observe and connect with authentic service dog organizations like ECAD, NEADS and Paws for Purple Hearts.

  • Engage with Veterans that have been matched with highly trained service dogs that exhibit the proper temperament and intelligence to perform tasks without hesitation in order to assist with intervention techniques that mitigate symptoms when they occur.

“If the major concern is funding the mentioned grants then that argument holds no weight because some organizations like Paws For Purple Hearts provide trained service dogs at no cost to the veteran with a documented disability that involves Mobility Impairment, PTSD and MST and they (PPH) receives no government funding. The VA should commit to become good shepherds to the flock they promised to protect! The Solution: "PAWS NOT PILLS!"

Enter Representative John Rutherford

In June, Representative John Rutherford, a Florida Republican, reintroduced the PAWS Act, to establish a $10 million grant program through the V.A., which would give qualified nonprofit organizations up to $25,000 for each veteran they pair with a service dog.

Rep Rutherford.jpg