WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - WUSA9 is launching an unprecedented initiative to help veterans with invisible injuries. We want to do our part to try to stop the tragically high suicide rate of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression.
We’re starting by educating the public about the PAWS Act. It stands for Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers. It’s a bill recently introduced on Capitol Hill that’s quickly gained bipartisan support.
If the PAWS Act becomes law:
- It would pair highly trained service dogs with veterans who have post-traumatic stress.
- A five-year, $10 million pilot program, would begin next year in 2018.
- Funding would come from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Since June 5, 2017, reporter Andrea McCarren, photojournalist John Mogor and WUSA9’s service dog in-training Nigel have documented this legislative journey through daily Facebook Live reports.
Along the way, the team met Cole Lyle, a Marine Corps veteran who is a staunch advocate of the PAWS Act. He has a service dog and he continues to fight for those who can’t afford one.
“I did put a pistol in my mouth one night,” Lyle said, gesturing with his hand to show the distance between his thumb and index finger. “And I got about that close to not being here anymore."
If it wasn't for a fellow Marine who happened to knock on his door at the right time, Lyle believes he would have killed himself.
Lyle said his service dog, Kaya, has profoundly changed his life, giving him a sense of purpose. When he has night terrors, Kaya wakes him up by licking his face.
“What really brings it home is when you get that message on Facebook from a veteran that says, 'I got a service dog recently,'” said Lyle. “'I read about what you’re doing. I just want to say thank you. Because without my dog, I would have killed myself.'”
Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., drafted the legislation.
"I’m not saying this is going to solve the whole problem of veteran suicides, but I actually think it can really make a measurable difference,” DeSantis said.
The Congressman believes the $10 million in proposed VA funding for the PAWS Act would actually save taxpayer dollars.
“It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a lifetime of narcotics," said DeSantis. "Some of these guys are off the drugs cold turkey once they get their service dogs, which is tremendous.”
How can you help?
As of June 13, 2017, the PAWS Act had 135 co-sponsors in the House.
Check if your local representative supports the bill. First look at the list of the bill's co-sponsors on Congress.gov.
If you don't see your representative on the list, call his or her office. Tell the office you support HR 2327, PAWS Act: Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers.
Follow the bill's progress here.
© 2017 WUSA-TV