I sat in the IAVA offices during Veterans Week 2009. A group of us member veterans were invited to New York to attend their annual gala (where JR Martinez was honored with an award long before he was a champion dancer) and march in the Veterans Day parade. It was a great chance to not only see the Big Apple, but to meet a number of IAVA member veterans I had spoken with only online. One of those was B. B. an Air Force Veteran who suffered with debilitating PTSD that began to improve after she received a service dog. The dog, a black lab, rested under the table around which we all sat.
Later that week at the Heroes Gala during a video presentation that included scenes shot in Iraq. B.B, with her dog, left the hall. Later I would learn that she went outside and wept. While she was out there, her service dog calmed her and then prodded her until she reentered the gala, with some of us none the wiser. However, two months prior (before she had the dog) there is no way B would have ever been able to make the trip. Leaving her house was almost impossible for her.
This September, the VA announced that it was suspending a study it was conducting to determine the medical benefit of service dogs to Veterans with PTSD. Furthermore, the VA announced that starting in October they would no longer provide funding for service dogs for veterans with mental injuries. They stated that the reason for this move was because of problems with the families in the study, such as the dogs biting children, substandard living conditions for the animals, and poor record-keeping. They enrolled less than two dozen dogs into this study. The VA says that they cannot justify spending the money on the dogs because there is no concrete evidence of their benefit to soldiers with mental injuries.
This is beyond ridiculous. By terminating the study, there will never be scientific evidence of the benefit of service dogs unless a privately-funded study takes up the question. I can recall looking at B.B.’s service dog as if he were magic when she told me about how the dog would sense when she was having a nightmare. At first, he’d wake her, but in time he could calm her without her even waking. This past summer—unrelated to the VA—B.B. was again without a service dog. The dog was never officially hers, but instead belonged to the group who trained him. While he helped her to the point that she didn’t rely on him as much, she definitely felt his absence and wrestled with the decision to send him back. For the veterans with service dogs who have lost their dogs unexpectedly, they didn’t have the luxury of it being their choice. While lately the VA and the military have been serious about addressing PTSD, TBI, and the epidemic of suicide in the ranks, this move is not one in the best interest of those that rely on them for help.
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