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Amata cosponsors bill to pair Veterans with service dogs for mental health

Congresswoman Aumua Amata
Source: Office of the Congresswoman

Washington, D.C. — Congresswoman Aumua Amata announced she has cosponsored H.R.4305, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act, introduced by Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH).

The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act will create a special pilot program within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to give veterans access to treatment for mental illness through working with service dogs.

In this effort, the VA will partner with non-profit organizations working with veterans and service dogs to create work-therapy programs. Veterans will learn the art and science of training dogs, giving them a new mission and learning new skills while gaining personal health benefits. Upon completion of the program, the veterans may choose to adopt their dogs to provide continuing therapy.

“This is a wonderful idea that can make a difference in the lives of Veterans one life at a time while also training these valuable dogs to be ready for more service,” Aumua Amata said. “I want to specially thank my friend Congressman Stivers for his leadership on this bill.”

This legislation builds on the best of two related bills from the 115th Congress: Rep. Stivers’ earlier legislation, the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act, and the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act, which Aumua Amata cosponsored at the time.

“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 ten years and he took his fiancée to dinner.  That is the impact this bill can have on the lives of our veterans,” Representative 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.”

With veteran suicides reaching epidemic levels, and post-traumatic stress (PTS) impacting between eleven and thirty percent of veterans who served in various conflicts, action must be taken to provide treatment that works.

According to studies by Kaiser Permanente and Purdue University, working with service dogs alleviates symptoms of PTS, leads to better interpersonal relationships, lowers the risk of substance abuse, lowers the risk of suicide, and leads to overall better mental health.