I have served in the Army National Guard for nearly 30 years, and as a member of Congress, I have had the privilege of meeting so many of the brave men and women who have put their lives on the line to keep us all safe.
As a nation, we owe our veterans a great debt of gratitude and I believe the most important way we can express our thanks is by ensuring they get the care they need when they come home.
Many of the service members are suffering from things we cannot see, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the after effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI). This contributes to an unusually high and heartbreaking number of suicides. In fact, it is estimated that 22 current and former service members commit suicide each day.
While, Congress has taken tangible steps to improve treatments for PTSD, I believe more must be done to curb this epidemic and to find the right combination of therapies and treatments that work for each and every individual veteran.
One type of therapy that has proven extremely effective for many veterans is service dog training. That’s why I am currently working on bipartisan legislation that would make this special form of therapy more available to veterans through our Veterans Administration (VA) facilities.
The effectiveness of service dog training programs in treating PTSD and TBI-related symptoms is supported by preliminary research from Kaiser Permanente, which has shown that veterans who own service dogs have fewer symptoms of PTSD and depression, better interpersonal relationships, a lowered risk of substance abuse and better mental health overall.
Specifically, the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act would establish a service dog training pilot program at three to five VA facilities, as selected by the VA Secretary. Once up and running, the programs would be studied and considered for expansion.
As part of the pilot program, veterans suffering from PTSD would be connected to service dog training organizations. These veterans would learn useful occupational skills while training the dogs, and upon completion of the training, each dog would be provided to a disabled veteran — thereby enabling veterans to help other veterans.
This program would not be built from scratch. It is modeled after the successful service dog training program conducted by the non-profit organization Warrior Canine Connection at several Department of Defense medical facilities and one VA hospital location.
Veterans enrolled in this program witnessed significant improvements in PTSD and TBI-related symptoms. It is also important to note that some of the wounded warriors who benefited from the service dog training therapy program had not been responding successfully to other treatment options.
I do not claim this bill will completely solve PTSD. But it is clear that many veterans have been helped by service dog training therapy programs and that it has promising potential to significantly aid in the treatment of many individuals who are struggling with the invisible wounds of war.
As always, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve Ohio’s 15th Congressional District and I look forward to hearing from you about any federal issues facing our nation. Please do not hesitate to call my Washington, D.C. office at 202-225-2015, Hilliard office at 614-771-4968, Lancaster office at 740-654-2654, or Wilmington office at 937-283-7049 to share your thoughts with me.
Steve Stivers is an U.S. Congressman representing the 15th district of Ohio.