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Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members (PAWS)

PAWS is a pilot program at VA Palo Alto health care that provides Veterans with PTSD the opportunity to train service dogs for fellow Veterans. This program may benefit Veterans by teaching them to advance their sense of well-being and improve their quality of life.

Three people with an adult service dog and a puppy in a backyard with house in background

What to expect

The canine training sessions are conducted by Warrior Canine Connection, a service dog organization that has partnered with VA Palo Alto health care for the purpose of the pilot.

This is an outpatient program. Participating Veterans will attend training sessions at the VA Menlo Park campus, Welcome Center Canine Corner, Building 400.

Who can participate

You may participate in the program if you meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • You’re a Veteran with current symptoms meeting criteria for PTSD, and
  • You're enrolled in a VA medical center PAWS pilot site, and
  • You've had an appointment with primary care, mental health, whole health, recreation therapy, or social work within the last 3 months, and
  • You've been screened and approved by a VA evaluating provider, and
  • You can attend weekly training for 8 weeks

How to be referred

Talk to your primary care provider and ask to be referred to the PAWS Pilot Program.

Referral process

After you're referred to the PAWS Pilot Program, you'll first have a screening appointment with a VA clinician from the PAWS pilot team to make sure you meet the eligibility requirements. Once confirmed, you will be referred to the next available canine training group.

Contact us

For additional information about the program, you can email us at VHAPAWSPilotProgram@va.gov.

Frequently asked questions and answers

Click each section below to learn more about the program.

Will I receive a service animal after completing the PAWS Pilot Program?

No, you will not receive a service animal after completing the PAWS Pilot Program.

If you are interested in obtaining a service dog, talk to your doctor and other members of your health care team to decide if a service dog can help you with your treatment and offer further benefits.

VA doesn't train service dogs, but your doctor can help you find a partner organization that does. You must get a service dog and training certificate from an accredited organization to qualify for a verification letter and/or request the assistance dog benefit from VA.

Do I have to engage or remain engaged with VA mental health care to participate in the PAWS Pilot Program?

No. You don't have to be engaged specifically in mental health care to participate in the pilot. However, you must remain engaged by having at least one appointment every 3 months until you've completed the canine training in one of the following: Primary care, mental health, whole health, recreation therapy, or social work.

How will I know if I am approved to participate in the pilot?

You will be notified by VA staff responsible for the pilot program site if you're approved to participate.

Am I eligible for beneficiary travel to the canine training sessions?

No. You will not be eligible for beneficiary travel for the canine training sessions since there will be no documented medical visit associated with this training.

How will I know where to go and when to attend the canine training sessions?

VA staff will contact the service dog organization to inform them of your eligibility for the pilot. You will be contacted by phone or email, and given start date information and directions to The Canine Corner at Menlo Park VA.

Will I be able to train my own service dog?

No. This training does not involve training your own service dog. You will be assisting in training candidate service dogs that, in most cases, will be for another Veteran.

Can I bring my service dog to the training group?

No. This training does not involve training your own service dog.

How many sessions will I need to attend?

This is an 8-week program with one canine training session per week for 8 consecutive weeks. Session length will be approximately 1.5 hours.

Am I expected to attend all PAWS canine training sessions?

Yes. The canine training sessions are sequential, so it's important to attend all sessions.

What if I get sick, hospitalized, or must miss a session for another important reason?

Please contact the service dog organization as soon as possible and explain why one or more sessions will be missed.

What if I miss 2 sessions in a row?

If you miss 2 sessions in a row, especially the first 2 sessions, you will not be able to participate in the current training session. You'll have to wait until there is availability in another canine training session at the service dog organization’s discretion.

If you miss 1 or 2 of the last sessions, you may be able to make up the missed sessions at the service dog organization’s discretion.

Who will be in the group?

A small, mix-gender group with no more than 10 Veterans will begin and finish the entire 8-week program together.

Will my participation in the PAWS pilot program impact my service connection?

No. Participation in this program should not impact your service connection status.

What happens if a group is not available when I'm able to participate in the program?

Participation in the pilot program will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

Once accepted into the program, can I be dismissed?

Yes. If you're disruptive, aggressive, or display other inappropriate behavior, like being under the influence, you may be dismissed immediately by the service dog organization while in their class on their property.

You may also be dismissed by VA if we believe it's not in your best interest to continue. You will be referred to the local VA pilot staff who will reassess you for continued eligibility for the PAWS pilot program. This is to ensure that all Veterans and animals are safe.

At the end of the training, will I be a certified service dog trainer?

No. This is not a job training program. You will assist in training candidate service dogs for others by helping the dogs learn several commands: social interaction, physical connection, retrieve, and mobility.

VA is eager to assess potential benefits for Veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD participating in the training of candidate service dogs.

Watch a short video

Meet Joseph, a Desert Shield, Desert Storm combat Veteran, who shares his experience with the PAWS Pilot program at VA Palo Alto.

Joseph, a Desert Shield, Desert Storm combat Veteran, shares his experience with the PAWS Pilot program at VA Palo Alto