Sherrill, Stivers Deliver Unanimous Passage of Veterans Service Dog Bill

February 7, 2020 by Dan McCue
Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, and Rep, Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., who championed passage of a bill in the House creating a pilot program to teach veterans service dog training as a form of therapy. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – Proving that acrimony wasn’t the only emotion felt on Capitol Hill this week, Reps. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J. and Steve Stivers, R-Ohio delivered a unanimous House vote Wednesday in favor of granting access to treatment derived from working with service dogs.

Though the name of the H.R. 4305 is a mouthful — the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act — Sherrill told reporters gathered in the Rayburn Room of the Capitol Wednesday, the need being addressed is easy to understand.

“Too many of the men and women who serve our country return home with unseen trauma,” the  former Navy pilot said.

“Service dogs soothe the invisible wounds of war,” she added.

Standing alongside Sherrill was Rep. Steve Stivers, the Ohio Republican who was the main sponsor of the bill.

The night before passage of the Paws Act, Stivers had hosted Vietnam veteran Walter Parker and service dog, Jackson, at President Trump’s State of the Union address.

Parker suffers from PTSD. Stivers, a brigadier general in the Ohio National Guard, saw military service in Iraq.

“A soldier under my command during Operation Iraqi Freedom recently told me what his service dog means to him: he was able to fly on a plane for the first time in 10 years and he took his fiancée to dinner,” Stivers said. “That is the impact this bill can have on the lives of our veterans.”

Stivers went on to say he believes therapy dogs will have a profound effect on reducing the number of veterans’ suicides, which he said average 20 a day.

“Researchers, doctors, and veterans report the same thing: service dogs are a transformational form of therapy for our veterans with PTSD,” Sherrill agreed.

“Service dogs help create bonds of trust and love with veterans, soothing the invisible wounds of war. Right now, it is incredibly expensive and difficult for veterans to access the care that service dogs can provide,” she continued.

Turning to Stivers, beaming, she added, “I’m proud that the House overwhelmingly supported this mission-based therapy and I thank Representative Stivers for his tireless leadership on this issue. We were able to get more than 300 co-sponsors for this bill — proof that we can work together to make sure veterans get the treatment they deserve.”

The Paws Act directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to partner with non-profit organizations working with veterans and service dogs to create work-therapy programs wherein veterans learn the art and science of training dogs. 

Upon completion of the program, the veterans may adopt their dogs to provide continuing therapy.

Both Sherill and Stivers were tireless in their efforts to garner as much bipartisan support for the bill as they could.

In November, Sherrill hosted a screening at the U.S. Capitol of “To Be of Service,” a documentary that highlights the transformational relationship between veterans and their service dogs.

Afterwards, she had the veterans featured in the film speak about their experiences and call on Congress to pass the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act.

To engage her House colleagues, Sherrill would approach them with a card featuring a picture of a Golden Retriever puppy.

She would then explain how the bill would provide real help to many veterans, and would close by saying “it’s something we really owe them.”

The Senate version of the bill is currently pending in the chamber’s Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Stivers said he hopes it will be approved without delay, though he noted that when a similar bill passed the House two years ago, the Senate failed to follow suit.

Not that the bipartisan duo would let up if the same thing happened this time.

“As veterans, we’re very mission-focused,” Sherrill said.

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