Former Republican Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana appealed to current congressional leaders on Wednesday to support bipartisan legislation that would provide trained service dogs to veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries.
“Putting healing leashes into the hands of our heroes is a powerful tool to make a difference,” Livingston said at the Seventh Annual Tribute to Veterans and Those Serving in Congress, which took place at the Capitol Hill Club.
The “Pups for Patriots Act” would increase funding to train service dogs for veterans, a process that is both time-consuming and costly, at approximately $30,000 per dog, according to American Humane, a national activist group that has been providing aid to veterans for over 100 years. (RELATED: Bill Would Expand Health Care Access For Veterans)
The bill is co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida and Democratic Rep. Henry Cueller of Texas and directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot program to train service animals, a tactic that has been scientifically proven to be beneficial to offering companionship and psychological help to veterans dealing with the aftermath of war.
“The benefits of service dog therapy can in some ways go beyond anything that comes in a pill bottle,” said Bilirakis in a statement to American Humane.
The number of veterans suffering from PTSD varies by service area. Between 11 and 20 percent of those who served in Iraq, 12 percent who served in the Gulf War and about 30 percent who served in Vietnam suffer from some form of PTSD, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Veterans too often fall through the cracks,” said former Marine Corps Cpl. John Gerula on Wednesday at the veterans’ tribute, alongside his service dog Oliver, who was provided to him for free from American Humane. Gerula served in the Iraq War and survived multiple improvised explosive devise (IED) attacks.
“It’s not advertised out there that there are programs to help us and we as veterans, we’re stubborn, we won’t go out there and look for them. If we ask for help it’s a sign of weakness to us,” he said, stressing the importance of programs helping veterans. “So when somebody does give us a helping hand, it’s huge for us.”
American Humane’s shelter-to-service program rescues shelter dogs and trains them to be service animals for veterans returning home from war.
Programs like these really “help our veterans grappling with the invisible wounds of war,” Livingston said. “The Pups for Patriots Act is a vital step forward in helping protect those who have given so much to protect us and our freedom,” he told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
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