President Biden signed the PAWS Act into law Wednesday.
The PAWS ACT, or 'Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members for Veterans Therapy Act,' authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot program on dog training therapy that will provide dog-training skills and service dogs to veterans with mental illnesses.
"This has been a five-year battle to try and convince the federal government that what we do every day is valuable and helps veterans," Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s for Warriors, said to First Coast News. "They're finally agreeing and we're getting a big breakthrough here."
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the bill earlier this month after the House passed it in March.
Once signed, Diamond said the $10 million, five-year pilot program would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022. For the first time in American history, he says the VA will pay for service dogs for veterans with PTSD.
"We commend the White House for supporting this bill as a critical step in combatting veteran suicide, and we're confident in the path ahead for Service Dogs ultimately becoming a covered VA benefit to veterans with PTSD," Diamond said in a news release. "In communicating with veterans and their healthcare providers, it's more imperative than ever to embrace the lifesaving impact of a Service Dog and to raise awareness for this treatment option as a proven method for mitigating debilitating symptoms of PTSD and suicidal ideations."
The news release says the new law will also:
Designate eligible veterans to receive dog training instruction from nongovernmental accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit Service Dog training organizations (i.e., K9s For Warriors)
Allow eligible veterans to learn positive reinforcement training in skills that are unique to their own needs to help address or alleviate their PTSD symptoms.
Provide veterans participating in the program with the opportunity to adopt a dog that they actively assisted in their training, provided that the veteran and their health provider determine it to be in the best interest of the veteran.
"There are over 100,000 veterans, we think, who need a service dog because of their post-traumatic stress. Right now, K9s for Warriors can help a couple of hundred a year. What this will do is to take that little tiny hose pipe and turn into a whole avalanche of service dogs, eventually down the road, we'll see that happen," Diamond said earlier this month. "Twenty-two veterans a day taking their lives every day by suicide. This is one of the best ways we can fight it."
The pilot program will involve organizations across America.
Navy veteran John Tappen completed the K9s for Warriors three-week program in April with Henry's new companion. Tappen says Henry gave him a new lease on life - and saved his life.
"I needed help and I didn't know where it would come from. I didn't know what form it would be in. I never thought in a million years a service dog would be the answer," Tappen told First Coast News.
"We know we are going to be able to save so many more warriors," Diamond said. "Of course, K9s for Warriors being the largest and best known for doing it, we will be leading the way."