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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Semper Fido: House Passes Bill to Help Vets & Pets

Much of the attention in Congress is focused on deficit reduction and partisan gridlock, but some bipartisan bills are still making progress. Yesterday the House unanimously passed a package of veterans' health care legislation (H.R. 2074), and included in the final bill was the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act (H.R. 198), introduced by Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., which will help pair vets with pets and is good for both soldier and canine.

The legislation would create a pilot program for training dogs as a form of therapy to help treat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other post-deployment mental health conditions. The dogs could come from shelters, and after training, they would become service dogs to assist veterans with disabilities.

Nicole
U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., introduced the Veterans
Dog Training Therapy Act.
photo: Office of Rep. Michael Grimm

Rep. Grimm, a Marine combat veteran from Operation Desert Storm, said in a press release, “As a veteran, and an American, I am thrilled that this legislation has passed the House, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass it without delay, so that it can be signed into law and allow us to begin providing assistance to our returning veterans.”

The bond between people and animals is a strong one—and can even be a healing one. Pets are good for our emotional and physical health, and studies show that having a pet can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Caring for a companion animal provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment and lessens feelings of loneliness and isolation in people of all ages.

For wounded warriors and disabled veterans, caring for a pet can help them re-enter society and minimize stress and depression. Service dogs can also reduce the suicide rate among veterans, and provide other critical help—such as letting them know when it’s time to take medication, waking them from terrifying nightmares, or detecting changes in their breathing, perspiration, or scent to ward off panic attacks. Such benefits can decrease the number of hospitalizations, and lower the cost of medications and human care.

Rep. Grimm’s legislation, importantly, directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to “consider dogs residing in animal shelters or foster homes for participation in the program.” This is not only good news for homeless dogs who might otherwise be euthanized, but it also has the potential to bring a more fiscally sound approach to the program and save tax dollars, as purpose-bred dogs cost as much as $50,000 per animal.

Our veterans need and deserve every opportunity to heal. This innovative legislation gives the wonderful dogs in shelters a chance to live and to serve by helping to heal the stresses and wounds so many soldiers battle when they come home. The Senate should swiftly pass this important measure—it’s a way to support the men and women who served our country, and give a second chance to the animals who ended up in shelters through no fault of their own.

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