Corporal Cole Lyle served for six years in the United States Marine Corps., including one tour in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Upon his return to the States, Corporal Lyle was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). The Veteran’s Affairs hospital offered him pills, and when those didn’t work, they offered him more pills. Fed up with the ineffective methods of the VA, Cole looked elsewhere. Cole’s search for alternative solutions led him to a German Shepard puppy he calls Kaya.
Kaya is a specially trained service dog that assists Lyle with the symptoms of PTS. For example, Kaya can recognize when Lyle is having a bad dream and will wake him up. Kaya can also recognize signs of stress in Cole’s speech pattern and she will lick his hand in order to calm him down.
Dogs like Kaya, though, do not come cheap. Cole had to spend around $10,000 of his own money to adequately train Kaya; not exactly a figure the marine-turn-college-student was looking forward to. However, Cole could have come out worse, some service dogs can go for more than double that amount, depending on the specific needs of the owner.
Cole says he was aware of other methods such as equine and art therapy for dealing with his symptoms. But he says having a dog would offer him more immediate support if issues were to arrive throughout his day.
It’s estimated that as many as one in two veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan know of a fellow veteran who either attempted, or actually committed, suicide. Knowing that there are numerous veterans in this situation, and understanding that a lack of funding for service dog therapy may be keeping these veterans from meaningful health care, Cole set out to make a difference.
After a few meetings with various Members of Congress, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act (H.R. 4764) was introduced by Florida Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis on March 16th, 2016.
The Act would direct the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to create a 5-year, $10,000,000 pilot program to pair service animals with post-9/11 service members diagnosed with PTS. Participants would only be eligible for a service animal if they were unable to see “significant improvement” in their symptoms after using traditional VA methods of treatment.
Currently, the bill has a bipartisan cornucopia of over 70 co-sponsors; but it has yet to move out of the House’s Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Prior to the November election, the House of Representatives will be in session for only 38 more days. The Senate, in turn, has only 50 more session days on its schedule. This is not a whole lot of time and if the Act is not passed and signed by the President prior to the end of the 114th Congress, the entire process would have to start all over.
While Cole says he hasn’t experienced any public opposition to his bill, some Members are concerned about how to produce the funds for the program without reallocating them from within the Department. Should the bill not pass in the 114th session, Cole will not give up. “This is too important for a veteran community struggling with the epidemic of suicides resultant from PTS.” Cole said in a statement to OUTSET. Cole also plans to set up a non-profit in order to further legitimize his efforts.
With this sentiment in mind, Cole flies out to D.C. every chance he gets to lobby for his bill. Whether it’s an official sit down or an off-the-cuff pitch in the elevator, Cole is not wasting any time in trying to make the PAWS Act a household name on the hill.
You can learn more about Cole and Kaya’s story and assist in their efforts by going to www.pawsact.com.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Lyle and the author of this piece interned together at The Heritage Foundation in 2015.