Help for veterans on the ‘lonely journey’

A bipartisan group of lawmakers and veterans’ advocates came together outside the Capitol building on May 13 to celebrate the significant advancement of a bill that will help connect veterans with service dogs.

The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act was passed by the House of Representatives the day before. The passage was cause for celebration, but those present stressed that the work is not done. The legislation now moves to the Senate. Lawmakers and advocates hope to see the legislation passed and signed into law by the president before Memorial Day.

“Memorial Day is a symbolic holiday where we honor our war dead,” Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, told The American Legion. “But the invisible wounds of war are still killing people today.”

The American Legion supports the bill through Resolution No. 134: Service Dogs for Injured Service Personnel and Veterans with Mental Health Conditions and Resolution No. 160: Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

“It is essential that we get this legislation all the way through,” said Mario Marquez, director of the Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division for The American Legion. “It provides an alternative treatment for veterans struggling with mental health conditions, such as PTSD.”

Marquez noted that offering a variety of treatments can encourage veterans to seek help, while also helping those struggling regain a sense of control by giving them more freedom in choosing treatment methods.

“Our organization is proud to support the efforts to bring this valued resource to the veteran community and we hope that this will make it through the Senate,” he said.

Marquez, who retired from the Marine Corps in December after 31 years of service, stressed the importance of the legislation.

“Sometimes it’s a lonely journey,” he said. “And I can tell you that my 7-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever has been a life-changing little buddy in my life.”

Stivers, who has been advocating for this legislation for more than six years, thanked The American Legion for its unwavering support.

“The American Legion has been an amazing advocate for this bill,” he said. “I hope that the Legion and all the service organizations will continue to push this legislation in the Senate and all the way to the president’s desk.

“It feels good to know that on my way out the door, I’m going to help our veterans that have post-traumatic stress get access to service dogs and get their lives back.”

The bill already has strong support in the Senate.

“The recent VA study proves the efficacy of dogs with this kind of training and the therapeutic effect it has,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. “This is not just improving quality of life. This is an opportunity to save lives.

“I’m going to work hard in Congress to make sure it gets passed,” he concluded.