SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

September 18, 2012

Dogs 4 Vets, c’mon

VA won’t back mental-health dogs

The government won’t pay for the care of mental-health service dogs, claiming there is no evidence they help. But some veterans with PTSD say the dogs transformed their lives.

By Brian Albrecht THE PLAIN DEALER


The command echoed through the basement of the American Legion hall in Brecksville during a session of heeling and healing by canine caretakers.

On cue, six dogs wheeled to face their owners — all military veterans, coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, or a traumatic brain injury. In that stance, the dogs could watch for anyone coming up behind the vets and move to block that person, if need be, using their bodies as a buffer.

For each of their programmed actions in a recent training class of Wags 4 Warriors, the dogs got a treat, a pat on the head and praise. But these dogs won’t be getting any treats from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • Earlier this month, the VA issued a rule stating that although it will continue to cover the cost of veterinary care and equipment for service dogs of veterans with hearing, vision or mobility impairments, it would not pay those expenses for service dogs of vets with mental disabilities.

The rule states there is a lack of evidence —beyond subjective anecdotal accounts —to support a determination that “these dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness. Until such a determination can be made, VA cannot justify providing benefits for mental-health service dogs.”

The VA has launched projects to study the effectiveness of mental-health service dogs.

The new rule baffles veterans who use these dogs, including Army vet Frank DeLorenzo of Brecksville, who has relied on a service dog for more than a year to help him cope with PTSD and traumatic brain injury resulting from being wounded in Iraq in 2004.

Last year, DeLorenzo and his wife, Jen, founded Wags 4 Warriors to provide free mental-health service dogs and training to local veterans. About 60 vets have gotten a dog from the nonprofit, which is supported entirely by donations, and 20 more are waiting for dogs.

  • DeLorenzo said the VA should have consulted with the program’s vets and VA doctors who recommended that the veterans use service dogs before making its decision.

In his case, DeLorenzo said that before he got his dog, he was treated with medications that “made me a zombie. I laid on the couch for a year. I didn’t move, didn’t do anything.”

With the dog, “I’m working. It got me back out in life. I’m able to go out and do things with my family,” he said.

  • DeLorenzo said mental-health service dogs are trained to perform tasks related to their owner’s needs. These include waking a veteran from nightmares and pulling their owner out of stressful panic-attack situations.

Jane Miller, a psychotherapist/clinical social worker in Oberlin, thinks service dogs can work better than drugs in treating mental trauma. She said that in her work with clients struggling with PTSD (civilians and veterans alike), medications often leave patients “so drugged, they’re incapacitated.”   The author of the book,   Healing Companions: Ordinary Dogs and Their Extraordinary Power to Transform Lives said a service dog is a rehabilitative tool that “enhances the quality of life.”

She said she can understand why the VA issued the rule, given the difficulty of scientifically gauging the effectiveness of the dogs.
“We don’t have a real way of testing someone’s ability to function,” she noted. “I can only speak from what I’ve seen —clients now working full time, when before they could barely get out of their house. A dog made it feasible for them to deal and cope with their symptoms.”

(Believe me, I understand about budgets and also agree that every dollar must be spent wisely in our government for the money comes from our tax dollars.    This account of financial restraint however is enough to make me sick.  It doesn’t matter if someone wants to call this subjective anecdotal evidence – – there is enough evidence coming from experts to say that it is BENEFICIAL. There are breathing, tangible humans whose lives have returned to a phase of normalcy – without drugs, just from the presence and participation of their dog.  That works for me!       Our injured warriors should not be discriminated against by the type of injury one has endured.  A suffering person suffers.  We owe it to them to do all we can to help them come back to whole and right.  EFT, dogs,. . .whatever it takes.  This is more important to us Americans than any of the  war-skirmishes abroad.  

Powers that be – – get with the program.  Listen to the hearts and minds of the people.  Or get out of office.    Jan)

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