Service dogs not only protect service members in combat areas, but also help veterans with physical and psychological challenges here at home.
As soldiers made their way down a narrow street in Mosul, Iraq, a German Shepherd named Ori alerted on a car. Moments later, the dog found a vehicle borne improvised explosive device, or VBIED.
The dog’s actions saved lives.
Man’s best friend
Humans and dogs share a bond of love and loyalty unlike any other in life. Veterans who worked with dogs in areas of combat have related how they miss them more than they do their comrades.
As veterans grapple with what they experienced in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, many find that a service dog makes all the difference in their lives.
In a 2017 article entitled, Service Dogs: Helping Those Who Served Our Country, the writer drew a straight line from service dogs and how they positively help veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other challenges.
Companion animals and animal therapy is actually a proven way to naturally treat the symptoms of PTSD.
The following organizations connect canines to veterans who experience PTSD, panic attacks, TBI, depression or have a need for physical conditions like blindness or mobility.
The Battle Buddy Foundation – www.tbbf.org or [email protected]
America’s Vet Dogs – www.vetdogs.org or [email protected]
The Puppy Jake Foundation – www.puppyjakefoundation.org or [email protected]
Paws for Purple Hearts – www.pawsforpurplehearts.org/contact-us/ or (707) 238-5110
Companions for Heroes – www.companionsforheroes.org or [email protected]
Operation Service Access – www.servicedogaccess.org or [email protected]
Association of Service Dog Providers – www.servicedogs4vets.org or [email protected]
This Able Veteran – www.thisableveteran.org or [email protected]
However, another set of challenges facing veterans arises with homeless veterans and where their dogs are allowed.
Homeless veterans and their pets
In another March 2017 article entitled, Dog Tags: Homeless Veterans and Their Companion Animals, the authors highlight the psychological, physiological and social health benefits associated with companion animals for homeless veterans.
Underlying the author’s research is the notion that the existence of homeless veterans and the constellation of challenges they face is going to take a lot more work.
An exact number of homeless veterans is speculative; the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 41,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. The Department of Veterans Administration (VA), on the other hand, puts this number at closer to 76,000.
In Pierce County, Washington last year, it was estimated that 770 of the county’s approximate 10,780 homeless are veterans.
Some of these veterans have service dogs, and that fact presents the issue that there are few county, state, federal governments or private sector organizations which offer services to homeless veterans with service dogs.
The American with Disabilities Act (1990) prohibits discrimination based on disability. In 2011 the Justice Department expanded the act’s intent to include service dogs. Yet a cursory internet search turns up examples of agencies denying service to homeless veterans who rely on service dogs.
Putting aside the disregard for the ADA’s mandate, does this standard also apply to homeless shelters?
The answer is no … no homeless veteran with a service dog can be denied access to public buildings and public-access areas.
In fact, organizations like Pets of the Homeless help people find shelters and other resources near them that will take animals.
A number of other local agencies exist to help homeless veterans needing service dogs. These offices pledge to help veterans understand the VA’s programs and services.
AMVETS – www.amvetswa.org or (253) 472-2552
Tacoma Vet Center – (253) 565-7038
The American Legion – VA Hospital/American Lake – www.legion.org or (253) 583-1300
VA Puget Sound – (800) 329-8387
Veterans Benefit Administration (800) 827-1000
WA Department of Veterans Affairs (800) 562-1032
Service dogs provide an invaluable, life-giving service to veterans facing lifelong challenges – to include homelessness – and their service to this country and its veterans is to be honored.
I know that I do – because one of the lives Ori saved in Mosul one hot morning in 2005 was mine.