Rep. Steve Stivers leaves Congress with unfinished business

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 12:47 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Rep. Steve Stivers no longer has a seat in Congress, after stepping down this Sunday. But, the former lawmaker left behind a proposal he’s been working on for years, and has its best shot yet at becoming law.

On picture perfect Spring afternoon last Thursday, Rep. Steve Stivers framed a dark reality: every day 22 veterans take their own lives.

Stivers, himself a member of the Ohio National Guard, has made it his mission to help those suffering with the invisible wounds of war by enlisting man’s best friend. “This is something I’ve worked on for a long time, it means a lot to me,” he said in a one-on-one interview, “and it means a lot to our veterans.”

Stivers’ bill – The PAWS Act -- would force the V.A. to help place dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD.

He’s fought tirelessly for the idea over the years, but Stivers just stepped down to lead the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, leaving it up to his former peers to finish the job.

“it’s an amazing legacy if we can get it done,” he said before quickly noting, “it’s not done yet.”

While Stivers has expressed hope of getting the bill signed into law in the past, previous versions never made it this far through the Congressional process this quickly.

The bill unanimously passed the House in a voice vote. Now it’s in the Senate, where it stalled last year, as lawmakers focused on little outside the pandemic.

“We ought to get it done,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), “and in my capacity on Veterans’ Affairs, I intend to.”

Tillis said he’s disappointed the V.A. hasn’t started the program on its own over the years. But he said, at this point data make it clear that these highly-trained dogs work as a suicide prevention tool. That, coupled with the number of dog-lovers in the chamber should make it an easy sell.

“[Post-traumatic stress] does not discriminate,” said Randy Powers, a veteran and former law enforcement officer, “it’ll suck the life right out of you, sucks the life out your family and children.

Powers said his service dog, Morgan, began changing his life the moment they met. He now works with the organization that matched them up, Paws 4 Vets, and in hopes of helping others see the benefits he did.

But while non-profits invest tens of thousands of dollars into every dog they giveaway, only the government has the resources to ensure every veteran in need can have four-legs watching their six.

The PAWS Act’s backers in Congress, and there are hundreds of them, hope they can get the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk by Memorial Day.

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