I never served in combat and never got even close. I did a very unpleasant tour in South Korea once upon a time. I was stationed in Germany when Gulf 1 happened (while people around me were deployed) and I got out of the Army as issues in Bosnia were heating up and shortly after a Yugoslavian neighbor asked me how to get body armor and helmets on the black market. I served in a lot of places and did a lot of crazy things for God and Country, but my life was never at risk and I suffered no long-term effects from my service other than a compulsive need to keep things organized and a disdain for camping.
Many of our veterans are not so fortunate and the sad reality is that many of them are really just invisible to us when you get right down to it. I know that it is human nature to focus on those issues which are on our personal radar. Unless something has affected us personally in some way, we may say we think about it or care about it, but the reality is that we only have a passing awareness at best. Such is the case with our veterans who suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) due to their service, combat or otherwise.
I believe there is hope on the horizon and this is a topic where my background and my interests intersect: the topic of using dogs to help veterans with PTSD and TBI and use of shelter dogs in particular. I don’t know very much about how the VA spends your money and my money, but I do know this. If someone took a vote, I would immediately say yes to putting my tax dollars toward government funded grant programs to help pair our veterans in need with the canine companions who can help them in ways that counseling, pharmaceutical assistance and even their loved ones cannot.
I have since learned there are a number of nonprofit groups much like Paws and Stripes across the county who are doing wonderful work. One such group launched recently in my own area and is called, quite appropriately, “Got Your Six.” The organization is led by a contact of mine named Laurel Rose whom I met in my no kill adventures and to whom I have referred many a contact for “dog issues” which are more often than not really issues with people who do not speak dog. Laurel’s organization is set up to help veterans who already have a dog (in the event that dog can be trained as a service dog), but she also works with local animal shelters and rescue groups to get dogs who are well-suited to the type of service and companionship which helps veterans. I could not be more thrilled about having this new group in our military town of Huntsville, Alabama.
I hope a day comes when more of our veterans are helped with service dogs and that the primary source of those dogs is our animal shelters. If you’d like to learn more about efforts to enact legislation to federally fund a VA program to place service dogs with our veterans, I encourage you to learn about the P.A.W.S. Act (Puppies Assisting Wouded Servicemembers) being advanced by Corporal Cole Lyle, a Marine Corps veteran. If you’d like to learn more about programs in your area or state to pair veterans with PTSD and TBI with service dogs, contact your local veteran’s advocacy organization or check this list found on the Paws and Stripes website.
Let's all get behind these programs which help our veterans and which save our dogs in the process. We're Americans. And this should be important to all of us.