KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — For the first time in American history, the Veterans Administration will pay for service dogs for veterans diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. The $10 million, five-year pilot program will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

President Joe Biden signed the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members Act into law in August. The law, known as the PAWS Act, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin a grant program to fund to fund pairing service dogs with eligible veterans.

In Knoxville, Adam Griffin is a veteran who has trained service dogs for 10 years. He, like many others, say a law like this was long overdue.

His focus on PTSD service dogs started four years ago he was wanting to help a friend in need. “A close friend of mine who was part of the ’03 invasion in Iraq tried to commit suicide. And I ended up giving him a dog and we trained it to deal with his PTSD issues,” Griffin said.

Since then, Griffin’s business, First Defense K9, has trained and successfully paired 15 PTSD-focused service dogs. They provide the service to veterans for free knowing just how substantial the costs can get.

“A fully trained Belgian Malinois ready to start PTSD training that has all the obedience and the protection and all that stuff, you’re looking at anywhere between $20 and $40,000,” said Griffin.

The PAWS Act authors created it order to take that financial burden off of veterans so they can focus on their mental health.

“I think it’s a fantastic thing. They shouldn’t have to pay for it,” said Griffin. “They’ve already given so much and I have PTSD so I understand the situation.”

Just like he was able to do for his friend, Griffin hopes this new law will help save even more veteran lives.”Every step moving forward for veterans where they’re recognizing these issues and providing more support for that, I think is a phenomenal thing.”

The law requires that eligible veterans enroll in the VA health care system, be evaluated and treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, the veteran also must agree to successfully complete training provided by an eligible organization. Veterans are required to see a VA health care provider at least once every 180 days where the VA will determine if the veteran will continue to benefit from having a service dog.

Eligible organizations are nonprofit organizations recognized by the VA that meet the following requirements:

  • are accredited by a widely recognized accreditation organization,
  • meet publicly available standards set forth by the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans,
  • have expertise in the needs of veterans with PTSD,
  • agree to cover all costs in excess of the grant amount to guarantee the benefits of the program,
  • agree to reaccept or replace a service dog provided to a veteran, and
  • submit an application to the VA.

Any improvement in PTSD symptoms as a result of the provision of a service dog will not affect the veteran’s eligibility for any other VA benefits.

To learn how to get a PTSD dog for a service member, contact the local Veterans Administration office. The grant program is to begin in January 2022.