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Tag: veterans

Knicks present veteran with service dog

Retired Army Sergeant Luciano Yulfo was invited to a New York Knicks game Wednesday to receive a personalized Knicks jersey as part of the team’s Hoops for Troops program.

Before you make any “36 years in the army and all I got was this stupid shirt” jokes, though, keep watching the video above, because at the end Yulfo gets what he has been waiting 18 months for — a service dog to help him cope with injuries he received in Afghanistan in 2014.

During a break between quarters at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, the Knicks honored the retired sergeant first class — the latest in a series of veterans to be recognized during games in the days leading up to Veterans Day.

Yulfo was injured on duty in Afghanistan in 2014, and was stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center before retiring this past April.

He’d been on a service dog waiting list for 18 months.

Then, the Knicks, Budweiser and Paws of War came through with Murphy, a golden retriever presented to him Wednesday, according to Fox Sports.

The Knicks have honored several military members during games as part of their Hoops for Troops program. In addition to the on-court recognition, honorees get to attend a practice to meet players.

Paws of War trains and places rescued dogs to serve and provide independence to our United States military veterans who suffer the emotional effects of war.

Questions swirling about VA’s ongoing, slow-moving study of psychiatric service dogs

It has been more than five years since Congress approved a $12 million Veterans Administration study into whether veterans with PTSD can benefit from psychiatric service dogs.

Since then hundreds of veterans with PTSD have been learning first hand of those benefits — but either on their own dime, or with help from nonprofit agencies.

Meanwhile, the study hasn’t gotten too far. It has been suspended twice, and reinstated twice, moving along at a snail’s pace. Or what some might call the VA’s pace.

There are even those, such as Rick Yount, executive director of the nonprofit Warrior Canine Connection, who have questioned whether the study had been set up to fail so that the VA wouldn’t have to pick up expenses for psychiatric service dogs, as it does for service dogs helping veterans with physical disabilities.

The VA’s chief veterinary medical officer, Michael Fallon, called that insinuation “ludicrous.”

And yet, during the past five years, the study has gone anything but smoothly.

ptsd2The study began in late 2011, with three nonprofits contracted to provide up to 200 service dogs for veterans, who would be compared against a control group that did not receive dogs.

The VA cut off two of the three dog vendors following biting incidents involving participants’ children. Only 17 dogs had been placed with veterans when the final contract was terminated in August 2012 amid allegations of lax veterinary care and placement of dogs “with known aggressive behavior,” according to VA records.

Meanwhile, questions have arisen about how the dogs that have been placed are being trained, and whether the tasks they are learning to perform benefit a veteran with PTSD or only reinforce their paranoia, according to the Associated Press.

Specifically, the dogs are being trained to do things like sweeping the perimeter of a room before a veteran enters, or protecting the veteran by “blocking.”

“Isn’t that saying that al-Qaida could be behind the shower curtain? That’s supporting paranoid, pathological thinking,” said Meg Daley Olmert, chief research adviser for Warrior Canine Connection and author of a book on how contact with a dog can create a sense of well-being.

Warrior Canine Connection, a Maryland-based nonprofit that uses veterans to train service dogs for other veterans, believes the dogs should be trained to pick up on cues from PTSD sufferers and then provide the appropriate support, such as learning to wake someone up during a nightmare or detecting when a veteran is anxious, and interacting in a way that helps calm him.

ptsdThe VA’s training protocol “reinforces the cognitive distortions that accompany PTSD,” said Robert Koffman, a retired Navy psychiatrist and chief medical officer for the organization.

Between the questionable training protocol, all the studies delays (only about 40 dogs have been placed with veterans), and the VA’s ongoing contention that the benefits for service dogs for PTSD sufferers has not been proven, some wonder how objective the study is going to be.

Not everyone is willing to wait for the study to run its course.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis recently introduced a bill that would take $10 million from the VA’s budget to immediately begin pairing service dogs with post-9/11 veterans for whom traditional PTSD treatments hadn’t worked.

At a hearing before a Congressional committee last week, Dr. Michael Fallon, Chief Veterinary Medical officer Fallon, repeated that “the benefits of service dogs in assisting people with mental health diagnoses have not been established in scientific literature.”

But Rory Diamond, the executive director of K9s for Warriors, told the committee that research already shows veterans with PTSD receive extraordinary benefits from service dogs, including allowing them to elminate their use of medications, handle anxiety better, and reduce suicidal thoughts, nightmares, and night terrors.

“There are thousands of veteran suicides that could have been prevented if they would have had access to a service dog,” Diamond told Congress.

(Photo: Army veteran Joe Aguirre with his service dog Munger; by Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Dying vet reunited with his lost dog

A homeless veteran whose dog wandered off when he fell asleep on a southern California beach earlier this month has been reunited with his beloved Olivia.

Harry Brown, 53, diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and given a year to live, was visiting Long Beach, California to say goodbye to friends family when Olivia, the young brown and white pit bull he describes as his service dog in training, disappeared.

He searched for her for a week, visiting animal shelters and placing a lost dog ad on Craigslist:

“Her name is Olivia and she is the life to me,” the ad read. “…Please help even if you see her just running by. She had a pink service vest, new leash with pink collar … I would offer reward but I am a disabled veteran, have nothing but that little girl. So please, if you can help unite us, I would be forever in your debt.”

olivia“We spent as long as we could trying to find her,” Brown told NBC 4. With an arranged ride for the next leg of his trip, to Phoenix, Brown had to move on.

It was there he got a response to his Craigslist ad: “Your girl is in L.A. County, go get her,” it said.

Olivia had been found wandering the streets of Long Beach, and taken to an animal shelter.

An animal rescue group called Captain Care raised money to pay for Brown’s ticket back to Long Beach and cover the fees required to secure her release.

Brown, who calls Eugene, Oregon home, picked Olivia up Wednesday.

“She’s my life,” admitted Brown, who says he suffers from PTSD and has had problems with alcohol.

Brown has his own Facebook page, and has used it to thank all those who helped him, especially Captain Care.

Donors provided him with a hotel room, new toys, treats and food for Olivia, and a hammock they can share while on the road, according to The Examiner.

Extra donations will be used to help spay and feed Olivia, and help pay for Brown’s continuing cross-country journey to say goodbye to family and friends.

Donations for Brown and Olivia can be made to Captain Care Intervention at mycaptaincare.org.

(Photo: Courtesy of Harry Brown)

A hard hitting ad from guide dog foundation

This public service ad for a Dutch service dog foundation certainly isn’t the typical “awwww”-invoking stuff you see from do-gooders trying to raise some money.

It’s pretty chilling, as is its tagline: “We not only help people who cannot see, but also those who have seen too much”

The ad was made for the Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation (KNGF Geleidehonden), which in addition to supplying guide dogs for the blind, also trains assistance dogs for veterans coping with PTSD and other war-induced traumas.

Established in 1935, the organization has trained over 5,000 dogs for guide dog users in various parts of the Netherlands.

The ad won the the Gouden Loeki (a Dutch commercial award) in 2014.

When a cemetery becomes a dog park

“We are treating him pretty darn well, except for the poop.”

— Ventura Parks and Recreation Commissioner Sharon Troll

Pvt. James Sumner, an 1860s Army hero who was awarded the Medal of Honor, is buried beneath what is now a popular dog park in Ventura, California — and there’s an effort underway to have him scooped up and moved to a “more respectful” resting place.

Sumner, who was awarded the nation’s highest military honor by Ulysses S. Grant for gallant actions after a band of Apaches kidnapped a settler’s child, died in 1912. He’s one of about 3,000 people buried in what was formerly St. Mary’s Cemetery.

“Talk to any veteran, he will tell you it is a terrible thing. It’s disrespectful,” said retired Marine Sgt. Craig “Gunny” Donor, who served two tours in Vietnam and is determined to get  the soldier’s remains moved. “I’m trying to get him moved to Bakersfield National Cemetery. He needs to be moved to a place of respect. Cemeteries are solemn places.”

Others say graveyards don’t necessarily need to be grave places — that adding a little life to the cemetery hurts no one, and some go so far as to say that maybe it’s appreciated by the departed.

Though thousands are buried there, only a few dozen markers remain at the 7-acre Cemetery Memorial Park. 

Ventura city leaders have so far balked at moving Sumner, saying the park is well maintained and gravesites aren’t being damaged. “We are treating him pretty darn well, except for the poop,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Sharon Troll told the Ventura County Star.

The commission voted July 21 to postpone for two months Donor’s request to unearth Sumner.

Other cities look a little less kindly on allowing dogs in cemeteries. Concord, New Hampshire, recently passed an ordinance that bans them.

Donor, who lives in Fontana and is a state captain for the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle club that honors fallen veterans, expects the fight to wind up in court. “He has no family, no one else to stand up for him, except for his brothers and sister in arms,” Donor said.

Mcdonald’s bars service dog of influential vet

vetdogA disabled veteran is suing McDonald’s for $10 million, claiming he was harassed, beaten, and told that he couldn’t take his service dog inside.

Former Army captain Luis Carlos Montalvan, who inspired Sen. Al Franken’s first legislative victory — a service dog program for disabled veterans — claims in the lawsuit that he was confronted by restaurant workers on two separate visits, and beaten with garbage can lids when he returned with a camera.

Franken, in an e-mail message to Montalvan last week, called it an “awful, bizarre story,” according to the Star-Tribune.

A spokeswoman for McDonald’s USA said the matter is under investigation.

Montalvan, 36, of Brooklyn, filed the lawsuit in October, a week after Congress approved Franken’s provision establishing a pilot program to pair 200 wounded veterans with service dogs from nonprofit agencies.

Franken said Montalvan and his service dog, a golden retriever named Tuesday — both of whom he had met at a presidential inaugural ball — inspired his proposal.

“Captain Montalvan made great sacrifices fighting for our country in Iraq,” Franken said. “I’m not entirely familiar with the facts of this case, but what I do know underscores both the need to help our returning veterans and to raise awareness and increase access for service dogs.”

Montalvan suffered spinal cord damage and traumatic brain injuries during two tours of duty in Iraq that also left him with post-traumatic stress disorder. Tuesday, his service dog, helps him with balance, mobility and emotional support.

Montalvan’s lawsuit recounts a series of events that began last December, several weeks after he completed service dog training. Visiting a McDonald’s in Brooklyn, Montalvan was told by employees that pets were not allowed. He complained and a supervisor later apologized in writing and assured Montalvan that his dog was welcome.

Montalvan’s dog was barred from the restaurant again in January. Two days later, when Montalvan returned with a camera, the restaurant had been closed due to  health code violations, but two McDonald’s workers confronted him and beat him with plastic garbage can lids, he says.

Franken’s service dogs for vets act passes

Sen. Al Franken’s first piece of legislation — aimed at increasing the supply of service dogs for veterans — has been passed and is headed to the White House for approval.

Under the legislation, the Veterans Administration would develop partnerships with organizations that provide disabled veterans with service dogs. Franken said the measure will cost about $5 million and is designed not to interfere with non-profit organizations providing service dogs.

“The government is going to pay for essentially every other dog. What I didn’t want to happen was to dry up the funding for the organizations like Hearing and Service Dogs in Minneapolis and all of these non-profits who have been providing dogs to some vets.”

Franken said about 200 veterans will get dogs as a result of the legislation. The legislation was passed yesterday as apart of the Defense Authorization bill, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

Franken introduced the legislation after meeting Luis Carlos Montalvan, a veteran who said his service dog improved his quality of life.