Man’s Best Friend Aid Veterans-More Volunteers Needed
There are a few great organizations that are helping our disabled veterans by training service dogs to help assist them. These veterans come back from combat and find that their lives aren’t as easy as it used to be now that they are missing a leg, or lost their eyesight, or suffer from PTSD. These organizations have stepped up and provided these veterans a new best friend and help make their transition into life after war a little more comfortable.
It’s mission is…
“Helping those who have served our country honorably to live with dignity and independence whether they are visually impaired or have other special needs, by using guide dogs, service dogs, and innovative technologies”
Here is a great article about them from the South County Independent Newspaper…
Man’s best friend helping Iraq veteran
KINGSTON — A year ago, 25-year-old U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Robert M. Vaccaro of Kingston couldn’t turn his left hand upside down, after being wounded in the Iraq War. Now, with the help of a two-year-old black Labrador retriever named Berry, he can throw a tennis ball left-handed, and is re-learning how to tie his shoes.
“We see progress, though it is measured on a small scale,” said Vaccaro’s father, Rick Vaccaro of Kingston.
In January 2007, Vaccaro suffered a traumatic brain injury when his Humvee was bombed in Iraq. The percussive force of the blast injured the right lobe of his brain, disabling movement on the left side of his body.
Recovery took him from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland to a rehabilitation center in Tampa, Fla., and, for the past year, home again – to his Campus Avenue apartment, with regular visits to the Veterans Hospital in Providence and Sargent Rehabilitation Center in Warwick.
In the past month, with Berry at his side, life has fallen into a routine.
Each morning, Vaccaro is awakened by the sound of an alarm clock. If he does not get out of bed immediately, Berry licks his face to get him moving.
“I feed her, and while she eats, I take my meds,” Vaccaro said. “Then we take a walk before we go to Sargent [Rehabilitation Center, in Warwick.]”
Afterwards, they play ball, watch some television and take a nap.
“Berry helps him balance things, since he does not have complete use of his left hand yet,” Vaccaro’s mother, Sarah, said. “If he falls, she gives him leverage to get back up. And she has a pack to help him carry things.”
“She can get help if I have a seizure,” Vaccaro said.
“But we hope he doesn’t need that one,” said Rick Vaccaro.
Vaccaro brings Berry along while he drives to his medical appointments, runs errands, and shops.
“She forces Robert to get outside every day,” his dad said.
“The other thing the dogs provide is a way to break the ice with the public at large,” said Kim Stasheff, Berry’s trainer.
“People focus on the dog, not the disability,” said William Krol, communications manager for America’s VetDogs, a Smithtown, New York-based nonprofit that offers service dogs to disabled veterans and active duty soldiers of all wars.
Vaccaro learned about service dogs from his physical therapist in Tampa and he and his family researched the idea. The organization is an offshoot of Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind Inc., a nonprofit that has supplied seeing-eye dogs to wounded soldiers since World War II.
“In 2003, the chief training officer determined there was a greater need for service dogs for veterans, and created VetDogs to consolidate services to them,” said Krol.
They serve veterans and active duty personnel from all of America’s wars, offering guide dogs for the blind and service and companion dogs to soldiers with disabilities, along with therapy dogs who visit military hospitals and nursing homes.
VetDogs works closely with the military hospitals, but is funded entirely by donations from the public.
Volunteers socialize puppies in their homes for a year before they move onto more rigorous service-dog training.
“They have to be well behaved, very consistent and disciplined,” said Stasheff, who traveled from New York to Kingston three times to train Vaccaro and Berry to work together. She will make regular follow-up visits to make sure they are both keeping up with the rules.
“Berry is still working on no sniffing on the floors,” Vaccaro said. “And to hold doors open.”
She has learned to retrieve his keys when they fall, mouthing them gently and dropping them in his hand. Vaccaro’s brain is re-learning to do a task and keep track of Berry.
“She is teaching him to multi-task,” Stasheff said. “Berry is bonding strongly with Rob. His family says he is getting his sense of humor back.”
While Vaccaro has made remarkable progress for a soldier who was VSI – Army-speak for a near-fatal injury – but progress comes at a snail’s pace.
This month, he will likely learn that the Army considers him medically unfit for duty – a long process that moves from an Army medical evaluation board to a physical evaluation board, and perhaps through an appeal process, before medical discharge occurs.
“We think it is a fair assessment,” Rick Vaccaro said. “If he is retired, he moves fully into the [Veterans Administration] system. They decide what his needs are, and what they will provide. The VA takes very, very good care of the severely injured soldiers.”
And he and Berry will take care of each other, Vaccaro said, as he scratched his companion’s belly and she thumped her tail in appreciation.
VetDogs is always looking for volunteers to socialize puppies and offer support. They can be reached at www.vetdogs.org, or 1-866-VETDOGS.