U.S. Senator Al Franken, DFL of Minnesota focused on veterans' health for his first bill, and he chose a bipartisan sponsorship, joining Sen. Johnny Isakson, R, Georgia to sponsor the "Service Dogs for Veterans Act."
Senators Franken and Isakson Introduce the Service Dogs For Veterans Act
Sen. Franken’s First Piece of Legislation Will Help Wounded Veterans
WASHINGTON DC [7/22/09] – Today Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-G.A.) introduced the Service Dogs for Veterans Act, which will set up a pilot program within the Department of Veterans Affairs to pair service dogs with veterans who have physical or mental wounds, including PTSD. This bipartisan legislation marks Sen. Franken’s first piece of legislation since taking office two weeks ago.
Additional co-sponsors are Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-L.A.), Sen. Mark Begich (D-A.K.), and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-O.H.).
“As someone who's spent time with our troops on USO tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, and met wounded warriors at Walter Reed and Bethesda, I feel a real obligation to the men and women who have risked life and limb on our behalf,” said Sen. Franken. “There’s a huge return on investment here. Service dogs can do amazing things, and there is evidence to suggest that increasing their numbers would reduce the alarming suicide rate among veterans, decrease the number of hospitalizations, and lower the cost of medications and human care.
“I believe it is enough simply to improve the lives of those of whom we asked so much. But this program isn't just the right thing to do. It's the smart thing to do. This small investment will pay dividends for these veterans for years to come.”
“I have seen firsthand the therapeutic effects of service dogs assisting individuals,” said Sen. Isakson. “The potential they bring for the therapy and treatment of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries should be studied.”
The Franken-Isakson Service Dogs for Veterans Act will:
· Pair a minimum of 200 veterans and dogs, or the minimum number necessary to produce scientifically valid results on the benefits of the use of the dogs (whichever is greater).
· Ensure that fifty percent of veterans participating in the pilot program will be those who suffer primarily from mental health disabilities, and fifty percent those who suffer primarily from physical injuries or disabilities.
· Direct VA to partner exclusively with non-profit agencies who do not charge for their animals, services, or lodging.
· Require VA to provide seed money to pay for the first fifty service dogs, and match its non-profit partners’ contributions for the rest of the service dogs.
· Continue the pilot program for at least three years; the Secretary of the VA must make annual reports to Congress on its implementation; the National Academies of Science is directed to study and report on the program’s effectiveness at the end of three years.
· The scientific study of the pilot program will study both the therapeutic benefits to veterans, including quality of life benefits reported by the veterans; and the economic benefits of using service dogs, including savings on health care costs, such as reduced hospitalization and prescription drug use, and productivity and employment gains for the veterans.
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