JUD, N.D. — Sen. Kevin Cramer said Service Dogs for America is situated “perfectly” to participate in a pilot program that will connect service dogs with veterans experiencing mental illness.

“We are fully equipped to handle it,” said Jenny BrodKorb, executive director of Service Dogs for America.

Cramer, R-N.D., toured the Service Dogs for America facility Wednesday, Oct. 13, in Jud, North Dakota, and spent time learning about the accredited nonprofit provider of service dogs. Cramer also discussed the impact of the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act.

The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act is a bipartisan bill that was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Cramer, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, along with Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and passed unanimously.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., right, speaks with Jared Bollom about how his service dog, JJ, has helped him on Wednesday, Oct. 13, at the Service Dogs for America facility in Jud, North Dakota. 
Masaki Ova / The Jamestown Sun
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., right, speaks with Jared Bollom about how his service dog, JJ, has helped him on Wednesday, Oct. 13, at the Service Dogs for America facility in Jud, North Dakota. Masaki Ova / The Jamestown Sun

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President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on Aug. 25.

The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act orders the U.S. secretary of veterans affairs to create a pilot program and make grants available to nongovernment entities to assess the effectiveness of addressing post-deployment mental health and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder through a therapeutic medium of trained service dogs for veterans with disabilities.

Cramer said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is in the early process of developing the program.

Cramer said the more recognizable use of a service dog is for helping individuals with mobility. He said mental health injuries are "invisible" injuries and less understandable to others.

Cramer said a service dog provides a source of security, comfort and sociability to an individual with a mental illness. He said the greater benefit is to everyone else.

“Now we have a productive person who we don’t have to worry about,” he said.

He said many veterans die by suicide every day in the U.S. and their deaths don’t get counted as a life lost as a result of war.

“I think we owe it to our military community, veterans community and just to the community at large in our country to be able to provide every tool imaginable,” he said.

Jared Bollom, a veteran who has had a service dog named JJ since March 2017, said he was less social but having a service dog helped him become more social, which has allowed him to go to speaking events and volunteer for positions he might not have considered.

“JJ makes Jared accessible to others,” Cramer said.

He had an opportunity to receive a service dog for free in Minnesota, but he wanted one from Service Dogs for America because he is around many kids and did not want to risk anything happening to them, Bollom said.

Bollom said the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act will allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to be a better resource for veterans.

“There is always room for improvement, and this would be one of those things to help,” he said.

BrodKorb said getting service dogs for people with disabilities is what Service Dogs for America does every day.

“If a dog can save a life, we should start today,” she said. “If a dog can reestablish independence so someone can fully participate in their life, it should start today.”

It costs $25,000 for a service dog which includes three weeks of team training at the Service Dogs for America campus, training materials, home visits, fundraising assistance and a vest, team certification and identification card after graduating team training. Service Dogs for America works with approved clients on funding options such as fundraising programs, grant applications, payment plans and scholarships.