President Barack Obama approved legislation Wednesday that will provide 200 service dogs to veterans with disabilities.
The Service Dogs for Veterans Act will establish a 3-year pilot program to study the impact the canines have on wounded veterans. The legislation is a first for Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota who introduced the bill in July. It was added to the 2010 defense bill.
Half of the dogs would go to veterans suffering from mental health issues and the other half to veterans with physical injuries or disabilities.
The Department of Veterans Affairs would partner with non-profit groups that provide free dogs to clients. The bill required the program be implemented in 270 days but funding still needs to be secured, according to Franken’s office. The program would take time to implement because the dogs will need to be trained which costs about $5 million, according to St. Paul Pioneer Press. No specific non-profit groups have been chosen for the program yet. When the organization are chosen, they will spilt costs of providing the service dogs and training them with the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to Franken’s office.
Service dogs can perform almost any task for their humans. They can pick up small objects from the floor, ring doorbells, and retrieve clothes from the dryer and other chores for people who can’t move freely. The dogs can calm people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Veterans Affairs officials will research if the dogs can help prevent suicides among veterans and reap health care costs from prescription drugs and hospitalizations. Military members who have used the dogs said the dogs lift them from depression so they don’t need prescription drugs.
Franken proposed his first piece of legislation after visiting Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota which has given nearly 300 dogs to the needy, according to the Pioneer Press.
Franken cited the need for service dogs such as the Army reported the highest level of suicide among soldiers in 2008 and 300,000 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom currently suffer post traumatic stress disorder.