Red Fridays - Assistance Dogs help Wounded Veterans with PTSD & TBI

Red Fridays - Assistance Dogs help Wounded Veterans with PTSD & TBI
Credit:Sheriff Jim Tuso

For those of us who are plugged into the military and veterans communities, it often feels as if every time you turn around, there is someone with their hand out looking for donations and support for their specific cause. We supporters are known as a generous lot and a soft touch.

While most groups and organizations, particularly those organized officially as a charity are founded and run by dedicated volunteers, there are more than a few out there that are decidedly profitable ventures for the founders and staff. There is nothing unusual with a charity having a paid staff, even a well-paid staff, as most nationally recognized charities operate in just this way. However, when someone comes up with an idea for a charity, asking if they have a paid or volunteer staff is right and reasonable. If the answer is that the charity is the full time paid occupation of the founder, the follow up should be to ask about the actual compensation of that person.

I’ve come across more than a few charities who pay themselves a quite handsome sum while providing modest or token amounts toward the purpose of the charity. It amazes me that people will profit on the backs of our military and veterans. My shock and dismay is not just a righteous indignation over the fact that someone would scam those who have already given so much in service to the rest of us or use them as a tool for personal gain; it is more about being astounded that someone would try to scam this group, knowing what they have been trained to do.

Questions about how they spend, use or allocate the funds they raise is actually the second most important question to investigate when asked to open our pocket books. The first is “Does this group or organization remedy a need that is currently underserved, isn’t being addressed at all or have they found a new way to address an issue?”

My family and I are supporters of Patriot Guard Riders, Warriors’ Watch Riders, Wounded Warrior Project, Operation Support Our Troops America, Operation Welcome You Home, The Fisher House Foundation and a half dozen other groups that either run exclusively on volunteer staff, or are very highly rated charities who spend upwards of 90% of every dollar raised on programs that directly affect those they claim to support. In other words, they do what they say they will, and they do it well.

Still, we are always on the lookout for a charity that does something unique to support. About a week ago, my husband came across something called “Patriot Rovers” based in North Carolina. This group trains rescued golden retrievers to be companion, therapy and assistance dogs for combat veterans. They name the dogs in honor of fallen soldiers, giving a measure of comfort to the families who have lost a loved one in service to our nation, then give the dogs to veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injuries, all at no cost to the soldier.

These dogs are trained to react to the elevated heart rate and breathing that accompany flashbacks or other stress-inducing situations like large crowds or loud noises. They provide unconditional love and a tangible tether to the here and now that is a key component of weathering these emotional storms too many combat vets endure on a daily basis. These assistance dogs make the difference between a vet being able to work and enjoy a full and productive life and one of subsistence, depression and isolation from the society they swore to defend.

Now, first off, I am a huge animal lover. If I happen to be watching late night TV and hear the first strains of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel”, I’m scrambling for the remote because I’m not awake at that hour by choice and sleep will then be a distant hope after seeing the pathetic soulful eyes, shivering and quaking bodies and hideous injuries of the featured animals languishing in shelters. I turn the channel not because I don’t care, but because I care too much. I already share my home with a combined total of more than 170 lbs of dog and cat and would have to kick out either my husband or one of the kids to accommodate more. Not that I haven’t thought of it.

Second, I regularly cry when I hear our National Anthem. I get angry when someone sings it badly, which in my opinion is when someone changes the melody to such an extent that it becomes nearly unrecognizable, not a statement on the person’s singing ability. You can be off-key or even monotone, but if you respect the lyrics and melody, I will still say it was a good job. I’ve never heard a rendition more tuneless than one that was delivered by a kindergarten class, but it is also one of my all-time favorite performances. I smiled through the tears, listening to the mispronunciations of a bunch of earnest five year olds.

So, to find a group that rescues dogs, supports our veterans and honors those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice is music to my ears, hits all the right notes in my soul and has me reaching for my checkbook with an Hallelujah on my lips. But, as I believe in putting my efforts along with my money where my mouth is, I also started searching for other groups with a similar mission closer to home. Of course, since no good deed can go unpunished and every good intention has it’s naysayers in this cynical world, my research brought me up close and personal with a ugly little controversy on this subject.

It seems there are people out there who feel that veterans should not receive consideration or support for injuries, illnesses or difficulties they face as a result of their service. This argument states that today’s veterans knew the risks, accepted them and volunteered for service in spite of the fact that we are a nation at war. Therefore, no funds, time or energy should be expended upon them, particularly since during the service which left them injured, an amputee or so emotionally scarred that they have difficulty functioning in society, they were probably responsible for ending innocent civilian lives in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Once I picked my jaw up off the floor and was able to refocus and re-read their position, I realized this argument was even worse than I understood on my first pass. This position is about punishing those who chose to serve and is one of the meanest, most vicious and ugly things I have ever heard, on this or any other topic. There was an almost gleeful triumph in the tone that truly sickened me, particularly as it was couched in language about peace, tolerance and the need for a new direction in our foreign policy, one that no longer supports, condones or funds a US military presence in other countries.

At its’ heart, the argument is that we here in the US as well as our servicemen and women got what we deserved on and since 9/11 because of our arrogant, imperialist ways. If this position was a speech by Ahmadinejad, I wouldn’t be surprised at the rhetoric, but this is the justified, argued and impassioned position of supposed learned men and women right here in the US. Disagree with them and you are accused of being brainwashed, having drunk the Kool-Aid, or being a simpleton lacking the innate intelligence to understand complex issues.

After reading this, I wanted to wash my brain to remove the stain of ugliness such thoughts left in my head. I sat in amazement of the twists and turns in the paths to information that are so much a part of research on the internet. Obviously, someone had tagged this line of thought, these articles so they would come up, and place rather high in the results of a search string about military and veteran injuries and PTSD and TBI care. It almost makes me wonder if someone found this argument, this left turn, and hijacked it so it would come up in this search as a way to discredit the premise and those who hold it. I would actually prefer if that were the case, as the other option is to believe that someone that ugly, that smug in their perceived superiority wasn’t satisfied with merely holding and expounding on these thoughts but also wanted to shove their viciousness down the throats of those looking for ways to understand and support the issues faced by our wounded soldiers.

If you’ll note, I have not named or in any way described the author(s) of these thoughts I came across, and I have no intention of doing so. I will not help generate another hit on their sites, add another way of getting their names and groups out there; if you want to find these parasites, search on your own. I would love to hear your reasoning for doing so, whether it is because you agree with them or merely want to argue with them. I’ll tell you, if is it the latter, don’t bother. You’d have better luck convincing Ahmadinejad that peaceful, respectful coexistence with Israel is what Mohammed wants. And that he is a closet homosexual who really should just come out and get it over with.

I really have to shake my head at where a simple search for groups that train dogs as assistance animals for veterans with PTSD and TBI’s went. At least I was able to find a couple groups, and one umbrella organization, though sadly none are local to the Chicago area, at least not that I’ve been able to find. If like me, you are interested in supporting this effort, check out the links below. If you are agree with that sidebar I stumbled upon, I’d like the opportunity to change your mind. Or sanitize it. You’ll thank me for it.

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