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Proposal would boost retirement help for military working dogs

Military canines may be a service member’s best friend, but their current retirement plans aren’t fit for a dog, according to a pair of House lawmakers.

On Friday, Rep. John James, R-Mich., and Susan Wild, D-Pa., introduced legislation to boost financial coverage of veterinarian costs for retired federal working dogs — including military mutts — to ensure those costs don’t become a burden to their former handlers or new owners.

James, who served with the Army in Iraq, said the bill — named the Protecting America’s Working Dogs Act, or PAW Act — is designed to honor both the service of the animals and the generosity of the individuals who care for them after their service is complete.

“The dogs and their handlers risk their own lives to keep Americans out of harm’s way,” he said. “Unfortunately, current regulations result in the handlers, who are often veterans or law enforcement officers themselves, becoming solely responsible for the medical costs of the retired K-9.”

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The legislation would mandate the Department of Justice establish a new pilot program to provide up to $575,000 in grants to non-profit groups providing financial assistance to former federal working dogs.

“The grant program we are proposing in this bill will help our canine heroes and their owners retire with peace of mind after a lifetime of service,” Wild said in a statement.

Groups would have to show they are working with eligible families to cover medical costs or related health care expenses. The program would run for at least four years.

The Defense Department currently uses about 1,600 working dogs in a host of military operations across the globe. As they age, those dogs are either transferred to other law enforcement agencies or offered for adoption to military handlers or other outside families.

House staffers have not said how many groups might be eligible for the program or how much the total grant effort would cost in taxpayer dollars. No timeline has been set for consideration of the measure in the chamber.

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