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Witness Testimony of Hon. Michael G. Grimm, a Representative in Congress from the State of New York

Chairman Buerkle, Ranking Member Michaud, thank you for allowing me to testify today on H.R. 198, the “Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act.”  As a Marine Combat Veteran of Operation Desert Storm it is a unique honor for me to address this committee.  Having seen firsthand both the physical and mental wounds of war that the members of our nation’s military are faced with, I have a special appreciation for the important work this committee does every day.

Today, over 2 million Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans have returned home to the challenge of an unemployment rate hovering near 10%, which for disabled veterans is actually closer to 20%, and, for many, the long road to recovery from the mental and physical wounds sustained during their service. Sadly, these numbers continue rising every day.

Over the last 6 months I have had the honor to meet with a number of our nation’s veterans who are now faced with the challenges of coping with PTSD and physical disabilities resulting from their service in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Their stories are not for the weak of heart and are truly moving.  It was these personal accounts of their recovery, both physical and mental, and the important role therapy and service dogs played, that inspired this legislation.

The Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a five-year pilot program in at least three but not more than five VA medical centers assessing the effectiveness of addressing post-deployment mental health and PTSD through the therapeutic medium of training service dogs for veterans with disabilities.  These trained service dogs are then given to physically disabled veterans to help them with their daily activities.  Simply put, this program treats veterans suffering from PTSD while at the same time aiding those suffering from physical disabilities.  Since I introduced this legislation it has gained the bipartisan support of 83 cosponsors, including Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus and Ranking Member Barney Frank as well as Congressmen Pete Sessions and Steve Israel. Clearly, this legislation has brought together a number of unlikely allies in support of our nation’s veterans.

Additionally, with veteran suicide rates at an all time high and more servicemen and women being diagnosed with PTSD, this bill meets a crucial need for additional treatment methods.  I believe that by caring for our nation’s veterans suffering from the hidden wounds of PTSD while at the same time providing assistance dogs to those with physical disabilities we create a win-win for everyone, which I believe is a goal we can all be proud to accomplish.

Working in conjunction with a number of Veteran Service Organizations, including AMVETS and VetsFirst, I have drafted updated language which I intend to have submitted during committee markup of H.R. 198 to ensure this program provides our nations veterans with the highest quality care for both PTSD and physical disabilities, while maintaining my commitment to fiscal responsibility.

I understand that in the current economic situation we are faced with it is especially important to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, which is why I have identified several possible offsets, to include shifting funds from the Veterans Affairs General Administrative Account, to make sure this legislation meets pay-go requirements.  As we move forward in the legislative process I look forward to working with the committee to ensure that any money allocated for this program is offset by reductions in other accounts.

Again, I would like to thank the committee for holding today’s hearing and I look forward to working with you to ensure that this program is included in your continuing efforts to guarantee that our nation’s heroes have the best possible programs for treating PTSD and providing disability assistance.