The bipartisan Service Dogs Assisting Veterans (SAVES) Act comes two years after Congress approved similar legislation that advocates say proved too limited to connect canines and veterans. The new legislation would set aside $10 million annually for nonprofit groups who have trained the dogs and handlers to work with veterans seeking their services.
“This bill will allow more veterans who are struggling with the invisible wounds of war to receive service dogs that could ultimately save their lives,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and one of the sponsors of the measure, said in a statement. “We must repay the debt to the men and women who served our country.”
Under the plan — which still must survive Senate and House debate before becoming law — the Department of Veterans Affairs would administer the new program, which echoes past service dog efforts managed through the Department of Defense.
Groups who are accredited to train and work with service dogs could apply for grants to cover the costs of preparing the canines, preparing the veterans, and providing ongoing support to both after they are matched.
Past research from the Department of Veterans Affairs has shown that service dogs can help reduce the frequency and severity of PTSD symptoms among veterans. In 2021, lawmakers approved plans for a five-year pilot program to provide canine training to veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in an effort to provide alternative treatments for individuals suffering from that condition.
But advocacy groups say the rules governing that legislation were severely limiting, and thus far have linked only a small number of veterans and dogs. The new proposal looks to push the idea further, using existing infrastructure in the community to help push the efforts ahead.
“Service dogs have a proven track record of providing life-saving assistance to veterans,” said Carl Cricco, CEO of the nonprofit K9s For Warriors. ”The SAVES Act will ultimately put more service dogs in the hands of veterans in critical need, allowing them to regain their independence and reintegrate into civilian life.”
While the past programs were only open to veterans with PTSD, the new proposal would make eligible veterans with any disabilities recognized by VA, potentially opening the program up to thousands of additional individuals.
Committee hearings on the measure are expected next month. Along with Tillis, Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.; and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. have signed onto the measure.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.