Earlier this month Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern was on Capitol Hill to garner support for the Wounded Warrior Service Dog Act
. The bill, which he introduced last year, would give five million dollars annually in federal grants to nonprofit organizations that train service dogs for members of the Armed Forces and disabled veterans. The congressman was joined by retired Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Garvey, his service dog, Liberty, and Gloria Gilbert Stoga, the founder of Puppies Behind Bars, a program where prison inmates train Labrador Retrievers for veterans, people with disabilities, and law enforcement agencies.
The funding would not only help make dogs available, but would also provide assistance with expenses. Under Veterans Affairs rules, service members seeking animals to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) don't quality for the benefits available to those with visual, hearing, or mobility impairment, who get help with veterinary care and travel benefits associated with obtaining and training a dog.
According to an article in Time magazine, 40,000 troops have been physically wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq, but 10 times as many exhibit symptoms of PTSD. As you can imagine, the need for service dogs has been steadily growing in recent years.
These pups help veterans live more independent lives, increasing mobility and social interactions, while reducing stress and panic. They can be trained to perform functions specific to those with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). For instance, if a dog sees their partner is having a flashback or nightmare, they will initiate a calming behavior, like putting their head in the person's lap or licking their face.
Organizations that place dogs with veterans have seen significant gains. One man became an avid traveler after being too afraid to leave his house for months. Another was able to reduce his pill intake from 30 to two different medications.
For Michael, no one needs to tell him the statistics to know how invaluable Liberty has become in his life. "Liberty is my grounding rod, he calms me down so quickly," Michael says. "If I ever get disoriented, he is like my little rock."