The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act of 2019 (HR 3103, 116th Congress) was introduced by Representative John Rutherford (R-FL-4) on June 5, 2019. This Act calls for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish a grant program to support providing service dogs to certain veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through private corporations. These grants are set to $25,000 or less for each veteran who would be paired with a service dog, and the total appropriations authorized for these grants is $10 million for fiscal years 2019 through 2022. Any veteran with a service dog at the program’s termination – three years after the Act’s enactment – would be permitted to keep the dog until the end of its life.
Additionally, the Act calls for a report through the Government Accountability Office to better understand how the program helps veterans with PTSD reacclimate to civilian life, how this program potentially reduces veteran dependence on prescription medications, and how the program might reduce PTSD symptoms among those veterans involved.
The VA would facilitate these grants through eligible groups, which are nonprofits that meet certain criteria (e.g., provide service dogs to veterans with PTSD, fulfill the National Standard of the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans, among others).
According to the VA’s National Suicide Data Report, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide annually from 2008 to 2016. This corresponds to a 1.5 times higher death rate by suicide among veterans compared to non-veterans. Suicide rate among veterans has captured the attention of both Congress and the President, who issued an Executive Order in March 2019 titled “National Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End Suicide.”