Amidst Divisive Impeachment Hearings, Colorado Congress Members Show Bipartisan Support For Service Dogs For Vets

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
Walter Parker, a Vietnam Vet, talks about how his service dog, Jackson, helped him. He’s supporting legislation to get vets access to specially-trained service dogs.

Congress really is for the dogs. 

Service dogs, that is.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers are supporting the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act. The proposal creates a pilot program within the Department of Veterans Affairs to pair up veterans suffering from PTSD with dogs for training. Once that training is completed, the vet can adopt his or her service dog.

“These service dogs can save lives,” said Republican Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, one of the sponsors of the bill. “They can improve the veteran's health, lower their incidence of mental health conditions, reduce their amount of medications, give them their mobility back, give them their lives back.”

PAWS has over 130 co-sponsors, including Colorado Reps. Doug Lamborn, Joe Neguse, Ed Pelmutter and Scott Tipton. Stivers is hopeful they can get to 290 co-sponsors. 

This bill is one of a handful of measures aimed at supporting service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD that Congress is trying to pass this session.

The VA has not supported assistance dogs for vets with PTSD in the past, saying more research needs to be done to prove their effectiveness. However, Vietnam War-era vet Walter Parker said his service dog, Jackson, changed his life for the better.

“I am  living again. I’m living a life I didn’t think I’d ever have again,” Parker said. “These psychiatric mobility dogs can help us all get back to where we need to be. We will never get rid of the demons that are in our hearts and souls of what we went through, but we can mitigate around them.”

The bill has passed the House before, but has not passed the Senate. Stivers said they have bipartisan sponsors in the Senate. He is hopeful they can move the bill forward.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly used the term 'therapy dogs' to describe dogs covered by the bill.