Weatherford Democrat

Viewpoints

November 19, 2012

COLUMN: Veteran's Corner

— The Department of Veterans Affairs will no longer cover the cost of service dogs assigned to people with mental disabilities, such as post traumatic stress disorder. The VA has laid out a long list of regulations concerning veterans in need of service dogs. The VA claims there is not enough evidence to support the medical need for the veterans suffering from PTSD or TBI.

The VA will continue to provide service dogs for people with visual, hearing or mobility impairments. However the department said it will be up to the veterans to pay for the service dogs’ needs if the needs are not clinically prescribed by a veterinarian. The funding loss comes as a blow to trainers and people who help place veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI and other service related injuries.

A solution to this problem can be found with several non-profit organizations, one being “Paws and Stripes.” Located in Rio Ranco, N.M., Paws and Stripes provides service dogs for PTSD and TBI affected military personnel. These service dogs are obtained only from shelters and are trained by professionals specializing in service dogs. It is the aim of this organization to provide these dogs and training at no cost to the veteran.

All dogs trained by Paws and Stripes are service dogs, not therapy dogs. It is important to know the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog not just because they perform different jobs, but also because you would interact with each differently.

A service dog is trained to provide specific medical assistance to one individual. Such tasks include medical alerts, mobility assistance, seeing eye for the blind and much more. When you see a dog that is a service dog, usually labeled on a vest, you should NEVER talk to, pet, stare at or distract the dog. If you distract a service dog, then this dog may miss a vital signal to provide a medical alert for seizure or miss a cue to assist with fall risk and more. Distracting a service dog puts the handler in jeopardy. An individual with a service dog has a disability that requires constant help. A service dog is not a pet, and pets are not service dogs.

Therapy dogs are trained to be very social with one or more individuals. Therapy dogs are taken to hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, orphanages and other facilities for patient and residents to interact with the dog. They spend time with people who are ill, elderly, in recovery, or otherwise in need of comfort. Thus, their job is to provide comfort to many, rather that perform specific tasks for one.   

Organizations such as Paws and Stripes rely on the general public for assistance financially. Contact for this organization can be found at www.pawsandstripes.org or by calling 505-999-1201. Go to www.servicedogsforveterans.com for additional organizations.  

Hope Veterans Day was a memorable one for all. Thanksgiving is around the corner. There are many groups that provide Thanksgiving Dinner for veterans. Find one and volunteer. You will feel great.

Reach Jim Vines at jim.helpingveterans@gmail.com.

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