Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why Wont Pentagon Pay For PTSD Service Dogs For Returning Soldiers?

bravo- service dog
bravo- service dog (Photo credit: greenkozi)

From Denny:  As usual insensitive politics get in the way of doing what is right.  In this case, the budget hawks from the Tea Party and the Republicans make it abundantly clear they don't give a damn about the returning soldiers from the Afghan War.

It's fine for America to send people to war for 10 years running - the Pentagon's new philosophy of Perpetual War - but "fuhgetaboutit" when it comes time to address their many war wounds, the most pronounced of which is the resulting PTSD issue.

Time to rat out the annoying fools over at the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs yet again.  (Separate these from the folks who are trying to work from within to do something about this travesty.) This is really reprehensible the level of official callousness and depraved indifference about refusing to address in a timely fashion - or at all - the mental health issue of PTSD.  Nor does the public want to hear "Oh, we don't have it in the budget."  Yes, you do.

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Finding the funding

Feel free to take the funds away from the generals' too generous pensions of $200,000 a year for life in retirement.  They write best seller books which make them millions of dollars, proving they really don't require those hefty pensions.  Then they have the nerve to become lobbyists against the interests of the American people, making millions more. Basically, we pay them to take advantage of us.  Why are we not removing these hefty pensions once these generals prove they made millions in retirement from other sources?

The same goes for healthy pensions for retired federal politicians who have "served" for 10 years or more, all the while stuffing their pockets, courtesy of insider trading which they legalized for themselves - recently amended as not legal for them to profit but their families sure can - yet still the public cannot do so.  It's no wonder recent polls reveal the public no longer trusts the government.

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New PTSD service dog program in Louisiana

This new fledgling effort service dogs project in Louisiana between two vets has the potential to significantly lower the funding necessary for mental health costs for our soldiers returning from the battlefield.  Yet the Pentagon and Veteran Affairs slough it off as meaningless.  In the home for 24 hours a day, service dogs are always cheaper than years of talk and drug therapy with expensive psychiatrists on a weekly or monthly basis.

Do they have anyone over at the Pentagon with a heart - or the ability to do critical thinking???  If every officer gave up $1,000 out of their pensions toward helping those fellow soldiers suffering from PTSD this problem would go a long way toward getting solved.  Where is their honor?  Where is their humanity?

Pentagon and Dept. of Veteran Affairs wrong ruling against mental health service dogs

Apparently, back in September 2012 the Dept. of Veterans Affairs ruling decided it will "not provide benefits for service dogs unless they help with vision, hearing or mobility issues."  In fact, our U.S. government officially excludes service dogs for mental impairments like PTSD, claiming there is no medical benefit.  Yet they admit "these dogs can improve the handlers' quality of life."  Do they realize just how in conflict are their statements and policies?

Former Iraq vet Marine Joe Tullier starts new PTSD service dog program

Well, at least one person here in Louisiana decided to step up and begin the project to help a fellow vet in New York.  He is former Marine Joe Tullier, owner of Acadiana Canine Training in Livingston, Louisiana.  Tullier understands PTSD only too well as he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and chronic PTSD after a grenade explosion in Fallujah, Iraq.

       Joe Tullier of Acadiana9Training

PTSD sufferers continue to be under served as there are few programs dedicated to training this type of service dog.  The waiting list for this kind of help is very long.  And the cost?  Quite high - until now with the help of Joe Tullier.

Come 15 January at a Fort Polk ceremony, Joe Tullier will present his first service dog from this new affordable program to fellow vet U. S. Army Maj. Jesse Greaves of New York.  It was Greaves' PTSD counselor that suggested he acquire a service dog to help.

Army Major Jesse Greaves, also a vet, sought out PTSD trained service dog

Greaves chased al-Qaida in Iraq, witnessed deadly explosions and saw children kidnapped for political gain.  After returning home from war, Greaves was overwhelmed with worry, unable to focus well after the birth of his first child.  That's when he sought counselling.

In August 2012, Greaves found Joe Tullier who was a former military working dog handler.  He inquired as to whether Tullier would consider training service dogs to help wounded soldiers, even those suffering from PTSD.  That's when this program was born, in the hope to make service dogs more readily available and affordable for wounded service members.

Greaves describes himself as "a high-functioning" person with PTSD.  He thinks service dogs may not be the answer for soldiers with more intense "battle rattle."  For them the answer might be therapy dogs, trained to encourage, boosting morale.

Joe Tullier's dog training background impressive

Former Marine Joe Tullier has an impressive background when it comes to dog handling.  He was chosen for a select group of servicemen that became trainers at the Department of Defense's dog training school at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

They learned to take completely green dogs and train them literally from the ground up, like a dog from a shelter with zero experience.  The dogs learned obedience, agility and task-oriented skills like how to detect explosives and sniff out drugs.  It's all about positive reinforcement, learning the psychology of a dog, the pack mentality and how to integrate humans and dogs to work as partners. (Check out his site for more of his credentials in addition to his military training.)

After leaving the military in 2009 from an injury, Tullier later started up his own dog-training business in 2011.  It includes his wife, former military herself, who keeps it all organized and running smoothly, his father Barry, and fellow military dog trainer and Marine Corps good friend, Josh Delancy.

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How Tullier trained service dog for Greaves

Greaves will receive the first graduate of the program next week, a male six-month-old terrier, named Buttercup by Greaves' three-year-old daughter.

How has Buttercup been trained to help Greaves?  For starters, Buttercup, will dutifully sit exactly three feet in front of Greaves, facing him at all times.  Why?  One of the issues with PTSD is cultivating a physical and emotional space for a feeling of safety.

With Buttercup creating this cushion of space between Greaves and any possible person who may approach too quickly - or too close for comfort - it helps to tamp down the anxiety that can often trigger an event.  Closeness is an issue for Greaves, causing anxiety, so Tullier trained Buttercup to help prevent that anxiety.

Another reason Buttercup faces Greaves at all times is to focus upon Greaves' demeanor.  A well-trained service dog knows how to help a person suffering from PTSD.  The dog will wake them up if they are experiencing a nightmare of repressed trauma coming to the surface.

The dog will also notice an anxiety attack and then take action to help the person to snap out of that mode because it can be easy to get stuck and not be able to get out of that deep focus without help.  The dog is trained to be determined to not allow the soldier get stuck.  The dog may grab the soldier's hand, paw at his chest or even start barking to get his attention if he happens to be a vocal breed.

Tullier thinks of everything.  Talk about smart.  He even trains the dog to advance before his handler, going around corners and report back to the handler in case there might be something or someone to startle the handler.  Like Tullier says,  "The goal is just to prevent the anxiety attacks as much as possible so they can live more comfortably from day to day."

Tullier training 7-year-old black lab, John Wayne, as a therapy dog.
photo:  Patrick Dennis/

How to keep this type of service dog program cost effective

When Tullier began training Buttercup, the puppy was just seven weeks old.  The start of the training was for Buttercup to move in with Greaves in upstate New York for about a month to promote bonding.  After that Buttercup changed households and moved in with Tullier to start a 10-week training period at Tullier's facility in Louisiana.

Then Tullier brings in the handler like Greaves to participate in the training sessions to help cement the bond with their dogs and refine their skills while Tullier mentors both of them.  Tullier says, "I think they will find it even more rewarding to have that opportunity to actually participate in the training, rather than just having a dog handed to them at the end."

Once Greaves receives Buttercup, Tullier will teach the pair in an in-depth session, focusing upon all the tasks Buttercup has learned.  Then the two take an accreditation test.

It's this shared training responsibility that also helps to cut the cost of training these service dogs.  A pre-trained, adult service dog can cost up to $10,000.  Tullier's program for dogs like Buttercup, that includes his medical testing, vaccinations and training can cost only $4,000.

As is the usual double mindset of the military, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs that does not sanction service dogs for mental health issues, it is the Army that will pay for soldiers to attend seminars to learn how to handle the dogs.  "That's how some of the training is accomplished," comments Tullier.

15 January demonstration at Bayne Jones Army Community Hospital at Fort Polk

After Tullier gives Buttercup to Greaves in the ceremony at Fort Polk, Tullier will also offer a demonstration of two other trained dogs to the hospital staff who are interested in seeing the dogs in action.  They are considering starting up their own therapy dog program.  Tullier plans to make twice-monthly trips to the hospital at Fort Polk with two trainers and two therapy dogs to help the wounded soldiers.

Tullier is motivated to provide this service because he said it was not available to him when he retired from service in 2009.  He says, "That's what makes it so incredible for me.  I'm giving these guys something I didn't have while doing something I've always loved to do."

Dog trainers like Tullier are invaluable.  As a child my family was given a retired police dog who was half-wolf and half-German Shepherd.  Trina was awesome.  She trained me to think I knew dog obedience training.  We were constant companions, even walking at night as she howled at the moon.  She feared nothing.

Trina did a lot to boost my confidence and taught me to think differently, especially past the abusive home life.  The parents did finally give her away to a really nice elderly couple who spoiled her.  The dog had attached only to me, protecting me fiercely from the abusive situation.  She never broke training, even with an inexperienced handler.

Trina's time with us was just long enough for me to see life differently and realize my own personal power because she created that emotional zone around me just like Buttercup does today for Greaves.  Even though Trina was now absent, the family dynamics changed after her time with us.  And my view of myself, life, and what I thought I had to tolerate, changed dramatically forever.  

Tullier's work is well worth the effort to fund his new service dog program for wounded vets.  I know it will change their lives for the good.

Tullier also trains your average family dog if you need help with a disobedient little guy or just one that likes to jump on guests.  Check out his site:  Acadiana Canine Training.

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Joe Tullier, left, and his wife, Cami, work with therapy dog Etta James, an 18-month-old mixed breed, acclimating her to hospital settings and equipment as well as patient situations. The dog will be used as a therapy dog, visiting servicemen in hospital situations.
Tullier trains Etta James, 18-month-old mixed breed, familiarizing her with hospital settings
and equipment as she will be working in hospitals with service members.
photo:  Patrick Dennis/

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