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Pet project: Biden signs bill providing service dogs for struggling veterans

The bipartisan PAWS Act calls for the VA to provide service dogs for military veterans who have PTSD.
Image: Service dog Millie
Michael Kidd and his service dog, Millie, try to avoid obstacles during training at the Paws of War office in Nesconset, N.Y., on June 10, 2019.Johannes Eisele / AFP via Getty Images file

President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed into law a pilot program to connect veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder with service dogs.

The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act — PAWS — requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a five-year program to provide service dogs and training to veterans with PTSD.

A co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., a Navy veteran, was at the White House for the signing. She said in a tweet that similar programs have shown "great results" with veterans and that "we want to give that access to even more people."

She said the signing was "the culmination of years of hard work to bolster services to address our veterans' mental and physical health from so many people."

Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s For Warriors, a nonprofit organization in Florida that provides service dogs to veterans, commended the White House for its support for the bill, which was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support this year. Diamond said it was "a critical step in combating veteran suicide."

From 2005 to 2018, nearly 90,000 veterans died by suicide, according to the most recent report from the VA.

As many as 20 of 100 veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have PTSD, according to the VA. The coronavirus pandemic has caused even more stress for veterans, with calls to the veterans crisis line surging by more than 15 percent last year. And experts agree that PTSD is underreported.

A report released last year by the VA found that participants paired specifically with service dogs trained for PTSD had fewer suicidal behaviors and ideations within the first 18 months compared to people with emotional support animals.