WASHINGTON — Flanked by veterans and their obedient dogs, two Republican lawmakers made the case that for those who have served their country, “a man’s best friend can also be a man’s best counselor.”
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) on Wednesday introduced the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act — a new veteran legislation that creates a five-year pilot program which pairs veterans with the most severe levels of post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury with a service dog.
According to the bill’s text, veterans would have to complete an evidence-based treatment and “remain significantly symptomatic by clinical standards” in order to qualify for the program.
“I think we have a chance to save lives,” DeSantis, a Naval Reserve Officer, told TheBlaze Wednesday. “When you look at some of these veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress, the counseling, the drugs, it doesn’t work for everybody.”
"We must make sure that all of our returning servicemembers are honored and taken care of, no matter the wounds they bear," he said.
The lawmaker pointed to a group of veterans who still lingered after a morning press conference in front of the U.S. Capitol Building, service dogs by their side, and said the service dogs have helped them lead productive lives and alleviate their PTSD symptoms.
“A lot of them question if they would even be here if it weren’t for their service dogs,” he said, adding that the way PTSD is handled for post-9/11 veterans is different than how “these invisible wounds” were treated with combat veterans in past wars.
DeSantis’ explanation of the gravity of just what the legislation calls for echoed what Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.) told reporters during a press conference just moments before.
“Sometimes man’s best friend can be man’s best counselor,” Rothfus said.
And for Cole Lyle, that sentiment is true. The PAWS Act is the project that Lyle, who served overseas in the Marine Corps for six years, has dedicated much of his life to over the past several months as the Texas resident has traveled to Washington, D.C. numerous times and met with countless elected officials.
With Kaya, his own service dog, by his side, Lyle applauded the legislation and told reporters that without her, who he obtained with the help of his family through a third-party source, he would not have been standing there Wednesday — just mere steps from the U.S. Capitol.
"I do believe that this [program] will help reduce the number of veteran suicides which is still a horrible, horrible thing that veterans deal with every day — the loss of their own brothers," Lyle said. "It's something I continue to struggle with, but with Kaya, she really helps me in transitional periods of my life, difficult moments in my life, and without her I don't think I would be where I am today, so I have a personal interest in this policy solution and making it happen."
In an interview with TheBlaze in November, before the legislation had even been created, Lyle had said, “One thing that a dog does that a pill doesn’t do is give you a sense of purpose again.”
And it’s no question that Lyle’s purpose, his dedication to the creation of the PAWS Act, is prodigious, especially for veterans like himself.
“You’ve got a guy like Cole Lyle; he’s out here beating the streets here and the halls of Congress lobbying people,” DeSantis said. “When he goes in there and tells people his story, it’s very difficult for members to say they don’t support it because it is a common sense reform.”
That reform was also praised by Rory Diamond Wednesday, the executive director of the veterans organization K9s For Warriors which is the largest provider of service dogs to veterans with PTSD.
"We work with veterans every single day," Diamond said. "Almost all veterans that we serve on our campus have an incredibly high chance of committing suicide."
"This is absolutely critical to stopping [suicide]," Diamond said of the PAWS Act.
The legislation also calls for the Government Accountability Office to track the program as well as render a study on its effectiveness. DeSantis noted that studies have already been commissioned that track the effectiveness of service dogs with veterans with PTSD, and he said that he believes the results will be “relatively positive.”
In order to fund the program and all that accompanies it, the legislation calls for $10 million to be appropriated from 2017 to 2022, an amount that would be otherwise be appropriated for the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Human Resources and Administration.
“It makes sense; we’re not spending any more money; we’re just redirecting money out of the bureaucracy to the veterans,” DeSantis explained, adding that he hopes to see the bill pushed through Congress “quickly.”
And as DeSantis said Wednesday, just before he was to file the legislation, “the concept is simple” — it will save lives.
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