“A lot of Veterans with PTSD tend to isolate. They don’t engage. They build a defensive wall around themselves so they can feel safe. But dogs have an ability to shatter that wall. They’re friendly and non-judgmental. They invite interaction.” — Sandra Carson of Paws for Purple Hearts
by Tom Cramer, VA Staff Writer
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Henry Wheeler Shaw, a 19th Century American humorist, once made the following observation: “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”The good folks at the Palo Alto VA’s Menlo Park campus seem to agree, because for the last five years they’ve been using dogs to help Veterans overcome symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
MENLO PARK — The black Labrador retriever knew something was wrong. He refused to leave the side of Sandro Navarro, repeatedly nuzzling the troubled man, trying to comfort him.
It was the anniversary of that terrible 2003 day in Iraq when Navarro was the first to arrive at a blast scene that killed two friends in his Army unit and severely wounded a third. Somehow, the dog named Jason realized he was distraught.
“It was like he was telling me, ‘I’m going to keep licking your face until you stop feeling down, and I going to make you smile by doing something goofy,’ ” said Navarro, 36.
Some of man’s best friends are playing an innovative role in the VA Palo Alto Men’s Trauma Recovery Program as four-legged therapy for veterans finding their way through the darkness of post-traumatic stress disorder, thanks to Paws for Purple Hearts. The dogs are so perceptive they even will awaken vets from nightmares.
But there’s also a dual purpose to the program. Some of the veterans who come to the VA’s Menlo Park campus from around the country for military-related PTSD treatment are helping train the canines to become service dogs for physically disabled vets.
An Iraq veteran who made it home OK but suffered for years afterward from his war experiences credits a service dog with saving him.
“I was helpless, emotionally set down and I had no idea where life was taking me,” said Steve Moore.
Moore, 32, served two tours in Iraq and spent four and half years in the Army. He was discharged in 2006 and had a wife, two sons, and a decent job, he said. But he was seriously troubled and into trouble. The marriage fell apart and he lost custody of his boys. He ended up in court. …
Article from Voice of America
By Zulima Palacio
August 03, 2012
WASHINGTON – According to a Rand Corporation study, more than 26 percent of American troops deployed overseas have returned to the US with traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD since 2001. Experimental programs that pair combat veterans suffering from brain injuries and PTSD with therapy dogs have showed positive results. Now four U.S. military bases have programs with dogs. Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen, who was injured twice in combat, has benefited from the program.
Excerpt from an article from the Belvoir Eagle, written by Matt Bookwalter:
Paws for Purple Hearts
Dogs trained by active-duty servicemembers, veterans
Cpl. Niles keeps a sharp eye out as he glides along the aisles. He’s looking for anything that his partner could need, listening for any help that would be wanted. His blue jacket is proudly displaying his ID, and his tail is wagging in a rhythmic, clock-like, manner.
Cpl. Niles is a service dog. His human partner, Col. Roger Lintz, received him through the Paws for Purple Hearts program.
The PPH is a California-based program that breeds, trains and pairs service dogs with compatible veteran and active-duty partners, based on need.
“The dogs are trained to know 90 to 100 different commands,” said PPH trainer Robert Porter. “As they are paired with their partners, they can learn the individual’s needs.”
The training process is a long and adaptive process for the animals. It starts behind closed doors, in a controlled environment. Once the initial training is finished, the dogs are paired up, and both the dog and owner train together.
“We have them practice in a real world environment,” Porter said. “We take them on field trips to places like the Metro, movie theaters and stores. We make the dogs go through things that aren’t normal for them, like riding escalators.”
Part of the training the coupled pair experience, is bonding.
“After a year or so, the dogs can actually anticipate what their human partners will need,” said Porter.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation on October 11, 2011 that would create up to five pilot programs at VA medical centers across the country modeled after the Paws for Purple Hearts program. The Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act, H.R. 198, was sponsored by Rep. Michael Grimm, (R-NY). Under the legislation, veterans will be able to address their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through therapeutic dog training and handling. The trained service dogs will then be given to physically disabled veterans to help them meet their daily challenges. The legislation now moves to the U.S. Senate for action.
An Article from the Village Connector, written by Tammy Bowers:
Paws for Purple Heart lend support to their fellow Veterans…in companionship, lifelong friendships and Hearts of Gold…
Paws for Purple Hearts (PPH) is the first program of its kind to offer therapeutic intervention for veterans and active-duty military personnel by teaching those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to train service dogs for their comrades with combat-related physical disabilities. PPH is built upon the trusted and time-honored tradition of veterans helping veterans.
Founded in 2006 as a program of California’s Bergin University for Canine Studies, Paws for Purple Hearts has operated its intensive training programs at four locations throughout the United States: Palo Alto/Menlo Park VA Medical Center (California), Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (Bethesda, Maryland), the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (Bethesda, Maryland), and Fort Belvoir (Virginia).
Under the guidance of PPH instructors, service members engage with specially-bred Golden and Labrador Retriever puppies. Together they undergo an intensive 18-to-24-month service dog training regimen—learning more than 90 commands–while the veterans reintegrate into civilian life. Once training is complete, the service dogs are given to veterans who have sustained mobility-limiting injuries. These service dogs reside for the rest of their lives with their new owners. Since PPH’s inception, service dog training and connections have directly impacted hundreds of veterans’ lives.
For those men and women suffering from PTSD, the very process of training the puppies results in therapeutic benefits which can include:
less anxiety and depression
decreased dependence upon pain medications
greater sociability and a more positive outlook a mission-driven focus and renewed sense of purpose.
To those with combat disabilities, receiving a fully-trained service dog means having a new steadfast companion and a true partner in their recovery. It also translates to greater independence, as PPH dogs help out by performing tasks like picking up dropped items, tugging open and closing doors, and switching on lights. And the dogs? They benefit from loving homes and the positive reinforcement received for playing such important roles in the well-being of their owners. The Paws for Purple Hearts program embodies our motto: Veterans helping Veterans.
For additional information and how you can lend support or financial assistance be sure to contact Robert W. Porter – Executive Director & CEO – Paws for Purple Hearts – 202.681.9575 – www.pawsforpurplehearts.org
Tammy Bowersis a Charter Member and Community Reporter with the Village Connector Community News. She is the Co-Owner of Rolling Ads of Maryland, a unique branding company as well as an Outdoor Mobile Billboard Advertising Vehicle. She is also the Owner ofInspiring Hearts LLC, a boutique specializing with handcrafted and uniquely designed items that are motivational and inspirational. You can reach Tammy at 410-615-4117 or 410-812-6024 or via email at Tammy@Rollingads.com.