Senator Al Franken has won my heart. In his first piece of proposed legislation, he demonstrates the true meaning of honoring our injured veterans by seeking to start a three-year pilot program bringing together these veterans and service dogs.
At an inaugural event in Washington, Sen. Franken met Luis Carlos Montalvan, a 36-year-old retired Army captain who received a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in Iraq, and his service dog named Tuesday, a beautiful golden retriever.
In December 2003, Capt. Montalvan was walking in a compound on Iraq’s border with Syria at around 9:30 p.m. when a man leaped out of the darkness and started slashing at him with a knife. He pulled out his Beretta and shot the man, wounding him. Another soldier killed the attacker, and Capt. Montalvan was thrown into a truck, fracturing three vertebrae.
Capt. Montalvan suffers from physical ailments along with PTSD from his time in Iraq. He lost his marriage, and his career in the Army ended. Capt. Montalvan, like many other OIF/OEF wounded warriors, thought about committing suicide. One day, while surfing the web, he discovered a program that provided service dogs to wounded veterans at no cost — the “Dog Tags” program of Puppies Behind Bars.
The Wall Street Journal chronicled Capt. Montalvan’s story along with a video of him and his dog Tuesday.
In his op-ed piece for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sen. Franken explains why he feels that this program would be of great benefit to both physically and mentally injured veterans from OIF and OEF:
Service dogs like Tuesday can be of immense benefit to vets suffering from physical and emotional wounds. Yes, they provide companionship. But they can also detect changes in a person’s breathing, perspiration or scent to anticipate and ward off an impending panic attack with some well-timed nuzzling. They are trained to let their masters know when it’s time to take their medication and to wake them from terrifying nightmares.
Service dogs raise their masters’ sense of well-being. There is evidence to suggest that increasing their numbers would reduce the alarming suicide rate among veterans, decrease the number of hospitalizations, and lower the cost of medications and human care.
Sricki’s excellent diary from January of this year rounded up all the latest information about the horrifying statistics on rising suicide rates among our returning soldiers. The military is now starting to address this very troubling issue, and I truly believe that Sen. Franken is onto a great idea.
However, few of these dogs are available to former troops like Mr. Montalvan, one of the estimated 300,000 veterans of the two wars who will ultimately develop PTSD. The cost of training these service dogs is high at approximately $20,000 per dog, and currently only a very few non-profits are specifically working with injured veterans. One such group, Freedom Service Dogs, Inc., has partnered with the VA in Denver, Colorado to provide service dogs to veterans at no cost. Other VA hospitals are also running pilot programs to provide service dogs to disabled veterans. These nonprofits are funded through private donations only at this time. Sen. Franken’s proposed pilot program would help these groups train more dogs to get them to our wounded warriors.
Like Sen. Franken, I endlessly criticized W’s time as Commander in Chief, but my criticism never undermined my devotion to supporting our military. Our troops continue to bear the burden of W’s administration, but it has been and continues to be a great honor to be part of a military family. During his tour with the USO over the winter holidays of 2003, Franken saw firsthand what our troops are going through in Iraq, and regardless of his political disagreement, he understood:
As I said to every soldier who thanked me for coming, “It’s my honor.”
And he has never forgotten:
As someone who’s spent time with our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan on USO tours and met wounded warriors at Walter Reed and Bethesda, I feel a deep obligation to the men and women who have risked life and limb on our behalf.
Thank you, Senator Franken, for remembering our wounded warriors and seeking to serve them in your first piece of proposed legislation!
crossposted at Navy Blue Wife