Veterans with PTSD Could Qualify for Service Dogs at No Cost through the PAWS Act

Q. My husband, Kyle, is a veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He often experiences upsetting memories, feels on edge, and has a lot of trouble sleeping. At times, it’s even difficult for him to do normal daily activities, such as going to work or spending time with people he cares about, including me and our children. He has been going to therapy, and it has certainly helped, but not enough.

I think Kyle could benefit from a service dog to help alleviate some of the stress, but they can cost up to $25,000! Are there any programs available to help vets get a therapy dog or to help cover the costs?

My father is also a veteran who will need nursing home care in the not so distant future. He was the one who made me think of a therapy dog as an option for my husband, because I don’t know where he would be today without our black lab, Freddy. But, now, he has dementia and needs round-the-clock care. I am not knowledgeable about veterans benefits that help pay for long-term care (or service dogs, for that matter). Can you help enlighten me? Thanks so much in advance for your help!

A. Veterans struggling with mental health conditions will be eligible to receive service dogs through a pilot program approved by Congress.

This should be helpful for veterans similar to your husband, as mental health service dogs are typically task-trained to assist people with PTSD, panic disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, and other conditions. Among other things, service dogs can retrieve medication, bring their partner an emergency phone, turn on lights, help with emotional overload, and even call 911 or a suicide hotline with a K9 rescue phone!

Current Benefits Involving Service Dogs

Currently, the VA only covers some costs of service dogs for veterans with certain physical disabilities, such as blindness, hearing impairment, and mobility issues, but not mental health conditions. However, Congress finalized a bill this past Friday that orders the VA to launch a five-year pilot program that provides service dog training to benefit veterans diagnosed with PTSD.

“Many veterans with mobility impairments have had their lives changed — in some cases, saved — by service dogs,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said in a statement. “Our bill would expand this treatment by launching a pilot program to make veterans with mental health issues such as depression eligible to receive service dogs.”

Cramer, along with Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced the bill, titled the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service members for Veterans Therapy Act, or PAWS Act. A pilot program is already being launched, as I will explain.

What is the PAWs Act?

The PAWS Act calls for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to run a grant program that will supply veterans with the funds needed to obtain a Service Dog.

Pairing a veteran with a Service Dog can cost up to $25,000, as you mentioned — including training, follow-up services, and support. The PAWS Act will allow veterans to apply for a grant through Veterans Affairs to cover the necessary costs for these services. This will allow qualifying Service Dog organizations to serve more veterans.

The grant is designed to permit broader and speedier access to care, both of which are critical when it comes to treatment of PTSD and mental illness among veterans. The PAWS Act isn’t new, as it has been introduced to the House in previous years, but the VA believed more scientific proof was needed to illustrate the use of Service dogs in mitigating symptoms related to PTSD. With recently conducted research by Purdue University and the VA itself, the scientific proof has been documented.

Study Results Show that Service Dogs Help with PTSD

In a revolutionary scientific study at Purdue University, researchers collected saliva samples from warriors with service dogs to measure cortisol levels (“the stress hormone”) and found that PTSD-sufferers who had a service dog produced cortisol levels close to those of a standard healthy adult. These findings helped prove the concrete effectiveness of the warrior/service dog bond.

“The research we have conducted at Purdue demonstrates that veterans suffering from PTSD who are paired with service dogs showed significantly lower symptoms related to PTSD,” said Dr. Maggie O’Haire, Associate Professor, Center for the Human-Animal Interaction at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The study also showed fewer suicidal behaviors and ideations after 18 months of working with a service dog. More results of the study, including its cost-effectiveness as a treatment for PTSD, are expected to be published in September.

Legislation Requires the Launch of a Pilot Program

The PAWS Act requires the VA to launch a pilot program in early 2022, and it must be carried out by at least five VA medical centers. The facilities will partner with accredited service dog organizations to perform the training.

After the pilot program ends, the VA must report back to Congress about whether the program should be extended or made permanent. If the program does continue past five years, Congress will consider expanding it to address mental health conditions other than PTSD.

K9s for Warriors Pairs Up Dogs with Veterans

K9s for Warriors is the nation’s largest veteran service organization focused on providing highly trained, accredited service dogs for service members who became disabled while serving our country. Since 2011, K9s for Warriors has paired companion dogs with post-9/11 veterans to help with PTSD and other issues. So far, the nonprofit has placed trained therapy canines with more than 700 vets. The disability does not have to be combat-related. In fact, K9s for Warriors recently announced that they will begin accepting service dog applications from any veteran experiencing service-connected symptoms of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and/or military sexual trauma. Applicants must have a verified clinical diagnosis of PTSD, TBI, or MST to qualify for the program.

Nearly all of their K9s are rescued from shelters or surrendered by their owners. In saving these animals from abandonment or euthanasia, K9s for Warriors give them purpose. Each pair who graduates from the program represent two lives saved – the Service Dog and the Warrior.

The facility plans to expand through a new “mega kennel” that broke ground earlier this month that will be able to house more than 150 service dogs-in-training.

Interested in a service dog for a veteran with PTSD? To get started, the first step is filling out a Warrior Application. From there, K9s for Warriors Operations team will make contact and assist veterans and their loved ones through the application process. To provide the best Service Dog possible, they conduct multiple interviews, personal reference checks, and background investigations to learn more about the Warrior’s disability, personality, family, and environment. For more information, email applicants@k9sforwarriors.org.

To get some of the dogs ready to work with veterans with PTSD, some inmates in New York are spending their days and nights with dogs, helping train them to serve troubled military veterans. The dog training program “Pawsitive for Heroes” pairs inmates with dogs for a 10-month training program. Once trained, the dogs, who are 1 to 3 years old, are given to veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries.

Helping a Veteran with PTSD

Roughly 20 veterans commit suicide every day, most unable to live with the PTSD symptoms that plague them upon returning home from deployment. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, veterans aged 55-74 accounted for virtually as many suicides (2,587) in 2018 as those aged 18-34 (874) and 35-54 (1,730) combined. The National Center for PTSD offers some great resources for loved ones with PTSD, including a complete guide to PTSD basics, a helpful video and helpful apps. If you need help right away:

  • Call 1-800-273-8255
    Press “1” if you are a Veteran.
  • Chat online with a counselor
  • Call 911or visit a local emergency room.

For more details and resources for helping a veteran with PTSD, please read my article on the subject here.

Benefits for Veteran’s that Help Pay for Long-Term Care

Veteran who have a 70% or greater service-connected disability may be entitled to free long-term care supports and services at home or in a VA-designated nursing home, and other special support services such as grants to make their homes more accessible for wheelchairs and to accommodate other types of disabilities. Click here to get started .

 

For veterans who do not have a service-connected disability, or have a disability rating less than 70%, these free benefits are typically not available. However, any veteran who was not dishonorably discharged and who served at least 90 days active duty, with at least one day during wartime, may be eligible for the Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit, which helps pay for unreimbursed medical expenses for veterans and their surviving spouses. Aid and Attendance is an incredibly valuable program for those veterans who need assistance with the activities of daily living.

Here at the Farr Law Firm, we work with veterans and their spouses to evaluate whether they qualify, or may potentially qualify in the future, for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and/or Medicaid, and we deal with all the paperwork.

Living Trust Plus for Veterans

The Living Trust Plus® asset protection trust is often the best option for a veterans asset protection plan, as well as Medicaid asset protection planning. The Living Trust Plus®  is a special type of irrevocable asset protection trust that you create while you are living that allows you to retain full control over all of the trust assets, including the right to live in or use any trust-owned real estate. Read more about Living Trust Plus here.

Applying for veteran’s pension benefits can be confusing and arduous. Here at the Farr Law Firm, we work with veterans and their spouses to evaluate whether they qualify or may in the future qualify for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and/or Medicaid, and we deal with all the paperwork. As a Certified Elder Law Attorney and an Accredited Attorney with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, I understand both the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and the Medicaid program and the interaction between both entitlement programs — and this interaction between the programs is of crucial importance because most veterans who start off needing Aid and Attendance will eventually need Medicaid, so all asset protection planning that is done to make a veteran eligible for Aid and Attendance must take future Medicaid benefits into account. Please call us at any time to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation:

 

 

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