On August 25, President Biden signed the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act into law. The legislation aims to connect veterans with mental health treatment through work with service dogs. Counties applaud this bipartisan measure, which will fund an evidence-based strategy for treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and reducing veteran suicide in our communities.
The high rate of veteran suicide remains an urgent public health crisis in the U.S., with an estimated 17 veterans dying by suicide each day. This tragic epidemic requires a comprehensive prevention strategy encompassing all levels government as well as partners in the community. The PAWS Act seeks to mitigate this crisis by instructing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish a five-year pilot program in which veterans will be able to train aspiring service dogs for other veterans. VA must launch the program by 2022 in at least five VA medical facilities, which will then partner with community non-profits.
Previously, the VA only covered some costs of service dogs for veterans with certain physical disabilities, but not mental health conditions. Counties support increased federal resources to promote mental health among veterans, as we are often the first point of contact for veterans as they access services in the community. Counties help veterans access health care, housing and transition assistance programs by funding county veteran service officers (CVSOs). Additionally, counties may partner with local organizations, such as the Warrior Canine Connection (WCC), whose programs may receive funding through the PAWS Act pilots. Click here to watch NACo’s Veterans Affairs and Military Services Committee host WCC during the 2021 Annual Conference.
Counties applaud the new bill and look forward to working with our federal partners to connect veterans with the mental health resources they deserve. NACo will continue to monitor implementation of the new legislation.