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New bill could help Arkansas veterans get service dogs

If the bill becomes implemented nationwide, it would allow the VA to sponsor the cost of a service animal for veterans suffering from PTSD or other mental illnesses.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — September is Service Dog Awareness month, something that hits close to home for Fort Roots in North Little Rock where they're responding to a new US law called the PAWS Act. 

That bill could make these dogs more accessible to veterans.

Veterans like Amanda Pipkin, who after years of serving her country as an Army sergeant, went searching for Combat for help. Combat, in this case, taking the form of a German Shepard.

"I knew that he was gonna be the one that took care of me," Pipkin said about her first time meeting Combat.

Combat is trained to alert for seizures, perform deep pressure therapy, assist with mobility, stability, and emotional distress.

"He saves my life and he's everything for me," Pipkin added.

Amanda's dog was donated by local group Kamo K9. But for many, the cost, training, and care for one of these companions can be pricey, with some totaling $30,000 to $40,000. 

This price tag is something that the North Little Rock VA says can create a roadblock for veterans

Amanda Joshlin, a Mental Health Therapist for the North Little Rock VA, explained the price hurdle adding, "We're talking about veterans who are potentially on disability and have that limited income and fixed income."

That is until the PAWS act comes in.

The PAWS Act, standing for Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members passed in Congress last month and it now heads into a trial period that the NLR VA hopes to be selected to participate in. 

If the bill becomes implemented nationwide, it would allow the VA to sponsor the cost of a service animal for veterans suffering from PTSD or other mental illnesses— a major step in mental health care.

"Veterans with PTSD that have service dogs often miss less work, or are able to engage more in day to day activities, family activities, perform their daily tasks for effectively because they have that dog," Joshlin added.

That sense of new feeling Amanda knows well. And one she hopes more veterans will get to experience soon.

Pipkin knows the benefits of her pup well and hopes more veterans will get to experience it for themselves soon. 

"For the VA to help out like that, and to be able to put service dogs in veterans lives is going to save a lot of veterans," Pipkin added.

And the group that helped Pipkin get her dog, hopes to continue aiding veterans alongside the new bill.

A trainer for Kamo K9 and veteran himself, Lucas Bishop shared his 'why' saying, "To be able to bless a family with a pup like this that will turn out to give their mom and their dad or like Kenzie, to give their daughter or their granddaughter or grandson life back? That's what it's about."

More information on how to get involved with Kamo K9 whether to volunteer or as a recipient can be found on their Facebook page.

The North Little Rock VA says they expect to find out over the next few weeks if they've been selected to participate in the PAWS Act trial run.



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