Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., center, with Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., left, and Hadley Heath, of the Independent Women's Forum, right, speak at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013 about the start of Obamacare. Their budget plan rejected by the Senate, House Republicans Monday announced a last-minute demand to strip the president, vice president, political appointees and anyone who works in Congress of their employer-provided health care. That could mean health insurance costs could triple for more than 18,000 public servants. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Former Marine Partners With Rep. DeSantis on Bill to Match Veterans With Service Dogs

Yesterday morning, Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-FL) introduced the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemen (PAWS) Act.

DeSantis was joined by bill co-sponsor Congressman Keith Rothfus (R-PA), former Marine Cole Lyle, and several members representing veterans groups. The Florida congressman, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat in Florida being vacated by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), is also a Navy veteran.

If passed, the PAWS Act would create a a five-year, $10 million pilot program under the Department of Veterans Affairs to pair veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with service dogs. This bill was largely inspired by Cole Lyle, who served six years in the Marine Corps. Here’s more about the bill and what it seeks to accomplish:

  • The PAWS Act creates a pilot program that pairs post-9/11 veterans with the most severe levels of post-traumatic stress with service dogs. Additionally, they must have completed an evidence-based treatment and remain significantly symptomatic by clinical standards.
  • Qualified veterans may then be referred to an Assistance Dog International accredited organization or private provider for a service dog pairing. The VA will provide $27,000 per dog to the organization (as determined by the average costs to acquire and train a service dog).
  • To maintain eligibility, including VA-provided veterinary health insurance for the service dog, the veteran must see a VA primary care doctor or mental health care provider at least quarterly.
  • Finally, the PAWS Act tasks the Government Accountability Office with conducting a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.
  • The PAWS Act authorizes $10 million for the program.

Here’s a list of current co-sponsors: Republican Reps. Mike Bishop (Mich.), Bradley Byrne (Ala.), Renee Ellmers (N.C.), Bill Flores (Texas), Tom Rooney (Fla.), Keith Rothfus (Penn.), Matt Salmon (Ariz.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Richard Nugent (Fla.) and Randy Weber (Texas), and Democratic Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Hank Johnson (Ga.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).

Following a 400-day deployment to Afghanistan in November 2011, former Marine Cole Lyle soon began to feel the effects of PTSD. Unsure what to do, Cole sought help from the VA where they proscribed him some medicine and professional help. After nearly two years of anti-depressants, sleep aides, and psychiatrist appointments that proved ineffective, Cole turned to a better option: a service dog. Using his own funding, Cole set aside $10,000 to be matched with his dog, Kaya, through a private organization. Ever since being paired with his German Shepherd, Cole has been able to recover from and overcome many symptoms of PTSD.

Today, Congressman DeSantis and Cole appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss the bill. The full clip of the appearance can be found below:

An estimated 155,000 troops who’ve served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, or 11-20 percent of veterans, are currently suffering from PTSD. Conventional treatment methods for PTSD are largely ineffective, as Cole and countless others can attest to. Given the VA’s gross and egregious mistreatment of veterans, this type of reform–among many reforms–is desperately needed.

Numerous studies suggest dog owners have a lowered risk of heart disease, depression, or low-blood pressure invited by stress. That’s why many universities–including my alma mater UC-San Diego–have introduced therapy fluffies, or thera-fluffies, during finals week to help students cope with stress. If dogs can help students de-stress, they can certainly help the nation’s finest men and women cope with and overcome the deleterious effects of PTSD.

I’ve seen firsthand how service dogs help returning veterans–particularly with the case of Cole Lyle and his dog Kaya since Cole is a personal friend of mine. I’ve seen firsthand how happy and positive he is due to her presence.

Kaya serves to help, attend to, and stand by her owner. Kaya isn’t just a dog. Kaya keeps Cole focused, calm, and forward-thinking–feelings that drugs and professional help obviously can’t produce. Not only is Kaya well-behaved and adept at performing her duties as a service dog, she’s affectionate, sweet, and loyal. If passed, the PAWS Act would help fill a huge void created by the VA.

There’s nothing more heartwarming than man’s best friend helping out one of our nation’s finest.

Kudos to Congressman Ron DeSantis for taking the initiative to sponsor this bill. Not only should he be applauded for this reform bill, he should also be applauded for his stellar conservative track record in the House of Representatives. He will surely serve the people of Florida well if elected to the U.S. Senate this year.

About the author

Gabriella Hoffman

Gabriella Hoffman is a media strategist based in the Washington, D.C. Metro Area. She has written for The Resurgent since March 2016 and serves as their D.C. Correspondent.

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