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Congressman Gus Bilirakis

Representing the 12th District of Florida

ICYMI: For veterans who suffer, help arrives on four legs

June 27, 2016
Press Release

Each time I meet with veterans, I come away from our conversations in awe and with a renewed desire to help support them.

Our veterans sit at the top of my priority list. As vice chair of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, I have worked on legislative initiatives to support them and help them as they transition to civilian life.

Our veterans often return with any number of debilitating illnesses and injuries. The invisible wounds they sustain serving our country are just as serious as the physical ones, and we must find the best ways to address the unique needs of each and every hero.

Recent statistics show that 22 veterans commit suicide each day. This preventable loss of life is deeply troubling. We must do all we can to stop veteran suicide with lightning-fast responsiveness when our veterans are hurting.

I continue to gather their thoughts, advice and ideas on how we may assist them. For instance, my good friend, veteran and member of my Veterans' Advisory Committee, Brian Anderson, has helped me address issues important to the veteran community. Brian has been an inspiration behind one of my most important pieces of legislation, the Cover Act.

Brian served in the Army as both a Green Beret and a journalist. He has had multiple deployments in direct combat and has received three Bronze Stars, one with valor. Brian left active duty in 2012 and has since been dedicated to helping many other veterans in our state and nation dealing with posttraumatic stress triggers.

Brian suffered from posttraumatic stress himself. He sought various treatment options and struggled to find the right fit to help him overcome his mental wounds. It was only when he was introduced to his therapy dog, Hero, that he finally discovered the help he needed.

Therapy dogs like Hero have been known to help our veterans in their daily lives, serving as companions, security monitors and so much more. Many of us have known the unconditional love dogs bring to our lives, and this love has done wonders to help our veterans.

Service dogs can ultimately help save lives, maybe even more so than anything that comes in a pill bottle. That is why I held a roundtable in my district last week to discuss their importance and how we can help unite our heroes with the four-legged lifesavers they may need.

Local veterans and representatives from veteran organizations weighed in on my legislation, the Cover Act, which seeks to improve our veteran health care system in order to better help our heroes in their daily lives.

My Cover Act provides a pathway forward that will eventually allow veterans to have a range of options for mental health treatments such as outdoor sports therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, accelerated resolution therapy and service dog therapy.

Service dogs have proven beneficial to many, but there are several other valuable options for treatment. My Cover Act ensures our heroes will have access to a variety of options and complementary treatments to address their mental health issues.

The support behind my Cover Act is significant in our veteran population, and I am proud this bipartisan bill passed the House last year. With this bill, as well as the support of wounded warriors like Brian, we can work to ensure no more heroes suffer.

We must continue our work to give our veterans access to a variety of treatment options — to find the best treatment that works for them. Our national shame of veteran suicide must be a thing of the past. Our heroes who defended this country must now reap the benefits of their service. I am proud to stand with them and make sure that happens.


To read the column online, click here.