BY ROBIN GANZERT
The special needs of veterans
For this column, I want to talk about a group of people we are championing—and I know there are thousands, if not millions of grandparents with grandchildren in this group. I’m talking about our brave veterans, those who have courageously served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and often both. Of course many of these heroes return from war bearing physical wounds. There are 1.4 million living disabled veterans, and we are forever grateful for their sacrifice to serve their country.
But many more still are coming home suffering from the hidden wounds of war—post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The numbers are troubling: 184 cases of PTS are diagnosed each day and 22 veterans with PTS take their own lives per day. That’s nearly one every hour.
How service dogs can help
There’s a lot we can do to help, and one promising therapy for people diagnosed with PTS actually comes with four legs and a wet nose. Veterans with service dogs have reported improved sleep, decreased startle responses, and a decrease in the need for prescribed pain medication. The dogs help their handlers to live the lives they once did.
Captain Jason Haag, USMC (Ret.) bravely served for 13 years in the Marines, and has since been diagnosed with PTS and TBI. When he first returned home, he shut himself off from his wife and kids and the world, and turned to alcohol and 32 medications to help him cope. With his life on the line, he reached out to a service dog group and met Axel the service dog, who he now calls his “big, furry security blanket.” Jason and Axel are now inseparable. Axel can bring Jason out of flashbacks, calm him from nightmares, and he has helped him reconnect fully with his family. Thanks to this remarkable canine, Jason now only needs two medications.
Celebrating 100 years of helping
We recently brought Captain Haag (with Axel) on board as our new National Director of Military Affairs at American Humane Association. This year, our organization is celebrating 100 years of working with the U.S. military—from active duty heroes, to veterans, their families, and even military dogs. Part of Jason’s charge is to see to it that we put more lifesaving leashes in the hands of vets like him through our Wags4Patriots program.
How You Can Support Veterans
Many grandparents today have a grandchild in need or know of a veteran who is having a difficult time. Remind them that they are not alone, that hope is not lost, and that help is available. Let’s not let these brave men and women who served our country go another year without the help they need. If you know of a veteran in need of a service animal or would like to support this program and our nation’s veterans, please call us at 1-800-227-4645.
Dr. Robin Ganzert is the President and CEO of American Humane Association, the first national humane organization, and the only charity dedicated to the protection of both children and animals. She is the host of the weekly radio show “Be Humane with Dr. Robin Ganzert,” on Pet Life Radio, the number one pet network on the planet. In fall 2014 she published her first book, Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors. You can follow her on Twitter at @robinganzert.