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Heinrich Joins Bipartisan Legislation to Support Veterans’ Health Care

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is joining Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) to introduce the Service Dogs Assisting Veterans (SAVES) Act, bipartisan legislation that would establish a program to award grants to nonprofit organizations to assist them in carrying out programs to provide service dogs to eligible veterans. The legislation builds on the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act that Senator Heinrich helped pass into law.

It is estimated that upwards of 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have PTSD and more than 450,000 service members have been diagnosed with at least one traumatic brain injury over the past two decades. As a result, these veterans suffer from alarmingly high rates of depression, anxiety, joblessness, homelessness, substance use disorder, and other negative behaviors. Far too often, they resort to taking their own lives – roughly 20 veterans die by suicide each day, nearly one an hour.

“Our veterans have made tremendous sacrifices for our nation, and we need to do everything in our power to make sure they have the support they need and have earned,” said Heinrich. “I’m proud to join this bipartisan legislation to make sure our nation’s heroes can access the companionship and therapeutic support of service dogs.”

“Long after the fighting on the battlefield ends, too many of the courageous servicemembers come home and continue to battle against enemies that many consider just as insidious as those with guns, grenades, and rockets. That is why in 2021, I introduced the PAWS Act that created a pilot program to provide canine training to eligible veterans, but it is clear we must continue to build on that effort to ensure this program is expanded to veterans in need,” said Tillis. “The SAVES Act will allow more veterans who are struggling with the invisible wounds of war to receive service dogs that could ultimately save their lives. We must repay the debt to the men and women who served our country, I hope congress quickly passes this legislation to provide them with his important resource.”

“Service dogs offer invaluable support and comfort to our veterans. When our heroes struggle with PTSD and other service-related injuries during their adjustment to life at home, canine companions are right by their side,” said Blumenthal. “These grants for nonprofits will provide veterans with the resources they need to prioritize their health and wellbeing. I’m proud to join Senator Tillis in this bipartisan effort.”

“From mobility to mental health, I’ve seen firsthand the meaningful change service dogs can have for veterans,” said Cramer. “We should build on the success they have had by making more well-trained service dogs available to veterans who need them.”

Under the SAVES Act, nonprofit organizations would be required to submit an application to the Secretary that includes a description of the training that will be provided by the organization to eligible veterans; the training of dogs that will serve as service dogs; the aftercare services that the organization will provide for the service dogs and eligible Veteran; the plan for publicizing the availability of service dogs through a marketing campaign; the committee of the organization to have humane standards or animals. Nonprofit organizations would also need to certify that they are accredited by Assistance Dogs International or another widely recognized accreditation organization.

The SAVES Act is supported by Vietnams Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Blinded Veterans Association, National Military Families Association, TREA: The Enlisted Association, Jewish War Veterans of America, K9s for Warriors, Mission Roll Call, Kayas K9, Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, and Dog Tag Buddies.

Read text of the bill here.