As if fighting the battles of war was not hard enough, some soldiers return home fighting a completely different battle as they return to civilian life – post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Representative Ron DeSantis (R), of Florida, has presented the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act. The bill, otherwise known as PAWS, or HR4764, is a $10 million pilot program that pairs post 9/11 veterans with stark PTSD with service dogs. Published in a guest column for The Florida Times-Union DeSantis wrote, “The threat to our service members does not end when they return home, as evidenced by the tragic rates of veteran suicides. We must make sure that all veterans are honored and taken care of.”
The inspiration for the bill comes from Cole Lyle, a Marine who served overseas for six years, and his service dog, Kaya. According to the piece DeSantis wrote for The Florida Times-Union, when Lyle returned home from Afghanistan in 2011, he received a post-deployment health assessment. The assessment showed that Lyle was suffering from a slew of illness, like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Although he was prescribed medication, Lyle did not feel as if it were helping him. “In fact, I thought they were exacerbating my symptoms,” Lyle told Fox and Friends.
Unfortunately, two of Lyle’s friends who also suffered from PTSD killed themselves, and Lyle decided, after a year and a half of treatment it was time to quit his medication. In fact, Lyle quit without weaning himself off it. After asking the VA about a service dog, Lyle was informed service canines were only granted to veterans who had a physical disability, such as blindness, not for those who had PTSD.
Through the financial support of his family, Lyle, was able to obtain, Kaya, a German shepherd and have her certified as a service animal through an Assistance Dogs International accredited trainer. Because Kaya has helped Lyle greatly, he is now attending college and is an advocate for solider rights.
While in Washington with Kaya, Lyle was approached by a senator who asked about his dog. Lyle explained that the VA does not provide service dogs to veterans with PTSD, because it is not a physical disability. “[The senator] said, ‘Well, what do you think we should do about it?’” Lyle told Fox and Friends. “And I said, ‘Well, you’re the policymaker, you tell me.’”
As the pair continued to talk, that is when Lyle realized that being able to provide service dogs to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, very well may be a worthwhile resolution that someone would end up supporting. While the senator Lyle originally spoke with did not support his idea, Lyle continued to meet with members until DeSantis took on the problem and conscripted a bill.
“Thousands of our post-9/11 veterans carry the invisible burden of post-traumatic stress, and there is an overwhelming need to expand the available treatment options,” DeSantis said in a press release “The VA should use every tool at their disposal to support and treat our veterans, including the specialized care offered by service dogs.” As part of the legislation, veterans would receive a service dog from an Assistance Dog International- accredited organization or private party provider, and the VA would cover the veterinary insurance for the animal.