President Obama's Got It Wrong About Support for PTSD Veterans

President Obama's Got It Wrong About Support for PTSD Veterans
Luis Carlos Montalvan and his service dog, Tuesday

I'd never have thought a humble pet columnist would be correcting the President of the United States. During the third presidential debate October 22, President Barack Obama maintained that his administration was "making sure that...our veterans are getting the care that they need when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury."

The President fails fact checking on this issue. His statement came only weeks after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it was suspending support (equipment, veterinary care, counseling) for service dogs to be partnered with veterans returning from war with PTSD.

What's more, the VA summarily discontinued an ongoing study (which was a directive of Congress) to better understand the impact service dogs have on veterans with PTSD and their families.

It's hard to believe the President is unaware of the VA's decision. If he is personally uninformed, his administration must know.

After all, when the VA made its announcement in September, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) was so affronted that he quickly held a press conference. Schumer replied to my request for further comment via email: "It's of the utmost importance that we provide our vets with every option available to treat service-related ailments. For some vets who suffer from PTSD and other mental illnesses, this means service dogs. Especially as the wars are winding down, and more and more soldiers are returning home with mental trauma, the VA must continue to allow their doctors and mental health professionals to provide benefits to veterans who need mental health service dogs."

Mr. President, the truth is, at this moment, the VA and your administration are not supporting veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injury, at least not those who want service dogs.

Here's why this is such a big deal: The VA estimates that 400,000 ex-soldiers are currently being treated for PTSD, with the numbers climbing daily. The rate of divorces, substance abuse and unemployment among veterans with PTSD exceed those in the general population. Suicide rates are off the map, with 32 to 39 attempts daily (with about half as many succeeding). What's happening is tragic and may be preventable.

According to medical professionals (including many at the VA), as well as organizations that train service dogs for veterans with PTSD, vets paired with service dogs always show improvement. Suicide rates nearly disappear. Divorce and substance abuse decline.

The number of pharmaceuticals prescribed for PTSD patients is sometimes obscene, but for those who get a service dog, this changes, too.

Ray Ganiche, of Navarre, FL, a Vietnam Army veteran, was diagnosed with PTSD and ultimately paired with a German Shepherd service dog. It wasn't long before his nightmares and night sweats disappeared. His dog, Dazzle, awakens Navarre just as the terrifying dreams begin, and today Ganiche can sleep through the night. He requires far fewer meds than before he was teamed with Dazzle.

The same is true for Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan, an Army intelligence officer who served in Iraq. Montalvan was injured while on duty. Today, he walks with a cane and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Montalvan says his service dog, a Golden Retriever named Tuesday, helped move him from unemployment and agoraphobia (fear of going outdoors) to a new life as the author of the top-selling book, "Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him" (Hyperion Books, New York, NY, 2011; $22.99).

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) met Montalvan and Tuesday in 2011. "It's amazing stuff," Franken told me. "Tuesday can anticipate and fend off panic attacks. He senses Luis' breathing patterns and perspiration and then nuzzles to calm him. He lets Luis know when it's time for his medication, and won't allow him not to take it. And he'll wake Luis up if he's experiencing a nightmare."

There's little doubt that service dogs make a significant difference for veterans with PTSD. Since these veterans don't need as many meds and doctor's appointments, taxpayers save money. What's more, PTSD veterans might again enter the workforce, which also saves tax money, since these heroes begin contributing to society instead of depending on public aid.

What's most important is that service dogs improve veterans' quality of life.

The VA and the President should have their tails tucked in shame. Mr. President, until this position is reversed, the administration is not supporting soldiers returning with PTSD and brain injuries.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services


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  • Being a Vietnam Veteran that has experienced PTSD, I am appalled that our government is curtailing the placement of service dogs to support any Veterans in need when returning from any service. I have volunteered for more that 10 years with my Therapy dogs and have experienced first hand how the relationship between a human and a canine can improve & save lives. I am now getting involved with "Pets for Vets" created and designed to help place dogs with Vets, not necessarily Service Dogs, just regular pet dogs. Is our leader out of touch or just telling more blatant lies?

  • I agree - feel free to share this blog - maybe something can be done...and if I can help you, let me know....

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    President Obama's got it wrong? The Administration, Cabinet and those around are the only ones consistently doing for the Veterans, the young to us old! It's the country that's 'got it wrong', again, DeJa-Vu all over again!!
    Still: No Revenues {nor private reagan capitalism economic investments, free market capitalism} = No Demand For = No Sacrifice = No Support = DeJa-Vu all over again!.
    “Veterans were very offended” by Romney
    Larry Pressler, who served 22 years in Congress as a Republican, speaks with Salon about why he's endorsing Obama

    "Everybody has all these programs, ball games praising veterans, and all the presidential candidates praise them, but Obama’s the only one that’s got the budget money. And he’s the only one willing to — if we have to raise taxes in order to help veterans, we’ll have to raise them on the very wealthy, and maybe on everybody, but we’ve got to do it."
    Former Sen. Larry Pressler. (R-SD) 'Nam Vet Endorses Obama

    After abandoning the Main Missions for sending troops into that region with the first drum beat pointed at Iraq and almost full support of those served!
    USN All Shore '67-'71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country '70-'71

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    In reply to JimS:

    The new 'magnetic ribbons', the 'parades' and 'welcome home celebrations', with no demand for sacrifice get same results, but 'parades' only last a few hours on one day! Think 'Desert Storm' and 'Gulf War Syndrome', Ignored till the last couple of years, finally, after the 'Parades'! Have the 'Welcome Home Parades' but at each the one word that should be spoke and on the minds of All, 'Sacrifice', Demand It, You Owe It and It's Long Overdue!
    USN All Shore '67-'71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country '70-'71

  • In reply to JimS:

    I have no idea what the political rant is about....
    I am not talking wars right or wrong....
    FACT: the VA pulled support for service dogs (according to Senators with alerting Congress - which makes matters worse) for PTSD and brain injured veterans.
    FACT: Obama said their administration is supporting PTSD and brain injured veterans.
    Not my political opinion here....

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    Thank you for this article -- as an Iraq veteran partnered with a service dog for PTSD, I can attest that everything you say here is true, and I had the same thought as I watched the 3rd debate. I am very alarmed at the tragic suicide rate among today's veterans, and could easily have been among those statistics myself were it not for the life-saving intervention of a service dog. I am now trying to start a local support ministry for veterans struggling with the spiritual wounds of war, and in the meantime I work to educate veterans and the public on the amazing success a service dog can provide when all the VA's med cocktails fail. I'll be monitoring comments on this article -- keep up the good work, Mr. Dale!

  • In reply to Cheryl Kopec:

    Thank you for your service. I hope you can also 'fan' me on my fan page
    And perhaps I may want to interview for a story....if you can give me your contact info
    thank you

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    To our Veterans: Please go to our website or our Facebook page, Beyond Meds Ltd, and contact us. We've been working nonstop for the past 2 years to promote the use of service dogs to enhance quality of life and have found that our first line of attack has to be the medical community. Doctors and nurses really don't understand how much dogs can do. I fear one of the reasons the VA got away with their pathetic decision is that they didn't encounter enough resistance from doctors and nurses. We began our work as pure research but realized that we couldn't make a difference fast enough so we have changed our line of attack to education. We need feedback from Vets who have had experience with service dogs to demonstrate that service dogs do make a difference while we continue to educate doctors and nurses. We will influence the VA. Too many lives depend on it. You have given so much of yourselves to serve our country and deserve anything we can give back to you.

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    pretty interesting some friends that i play airsoft with and i def want to tell them about this pretty good read.

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