The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

AMVETS, Paws With A Cause Take to Capitol Hill

This morning, AMVETS and partner non-profit Paws With A Cause took to Capitol Hill, advocating for assistance dogs for wounded veterans.

AMVETS Luis Montalvan, an Iraq veteran who now attends graduate school at Columbia University, and Kevin Stone, an Army Ranger who is now a medal-winning U.S. Paralympian, brought their service dogs, Tuesday and Mambo, around the halls of the U.S. Capitol and the Congressional office buildings for the first of a two-day education and advocacy blitz.

Montalvan and Stone credit their assistance dogs with helping them to not only lead normal lives, but to excel in areas where they otherwise may have not. Both veterans credit their dogs with providing critical day-to-day task support and emotional support, allowing each of them to focus on living their lives to the fullest.

In today's meetings, Stone coined the phrase "Motivational Prosthetics of Freedom," when discussing assistance dogs. Like any other prosthetic limb or device, Stone says assistance dogs fill the gap left by whatever disability a veteran may be experiencing, such as the tasks Stone was limited to accomplishing while confined to a wheelchair.

AMVETS Deputy National Legislative Director Christina Roof and Paws With A Cause National Marketing Manager Deb Davis joined the veterans, helping to explain shortfalls in current policy toward assistance dogs and pushing to close loopholes and improve access for veterans who could benefit from new programs.

The major points driving AMVETS' and Paws With A Cause's work over the next couple of days are:

- Statues and policies must be clear to veterans and implemented throughout the VA system with a clear point of contact. The current language found in Title 38 of the U.S. Code is too vague, failing to identify what VA's actual responsibilities should be.

-When drafting responsible assistance dog placement and training legislation for veterans, a standard must be established based on proven assistance dog industry standards and practices exemplified by Assistance Dogs International, or ADI, and the International Guide Dog Federation, or IGDF. The bills currently before Congress are too vague and misuse certain industry terms interchangeably, such as guide dog, service dog, therapy dog, and assistance dog, making policy nearly impossible to properly implement.

-Decisive action must be taken in the short term, since thousands of veterans could potentially benefit from any new program, and AMVETS and Paws With A Cause are happy to work with legislators to make this happen. Though VA may have concerns over cost, the return on investment from veterans who take advantage of assistance dogs would have far-reaching effects as veterans re-enter the work force and live up to their full potential.

Today, AMVETS and Paws With A Cause met with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), House Veteran Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.), staff from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and key staff from the House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

CNN also followed AMVETS and Paws With A Cause later in the day, taking the time to speak with Hagan on the issue for a potential story on Montalvan, Stone and veterans' assistance dogs. American Veteran Online will keep you posted on details.

Tomorrow, AMVETS and Paws With A Cause will meet with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), the architects of pending legislation, Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) and Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.), Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), and key council for other relevant committees.

Check back tomorrow with American Veteran for more updates.

(Photos: Top: Kevin Stone speaks with Sen. Kay Hagan, while a CNN photojournalist composes his shot. Bottom: Luis Montalvan rewards Tuesday for his good behavior on Speaker Pelosi's balcony on the U.S. Capitol. Photos by Ryan Gallucci.)

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  1. Jane Miller, LISW, CDBCFriday, March 19, 2010 10:08:00 AM

    To read more about veterans and their psychiatric service dogs please read my book, "Healing Companions:Ordinary Dogs and Their Extraordinary Power To Transform Lives." In my book you will read about two organizations NEADS and Puppies Behind Bars and two veterans who have benefitted from their PSDs. You will also read other compelling stories and learn all the details one might be confronted with that is interested in learning about PSDs. My book is filled with pertinant, wortwhile resources and references. Enjoy and all the best, Jane Miller, LISW, CDBC

  2. I think it is highly inappropriate to promote one's own book on such a site. I find it interesting, considering when I first heard of this book, I was very excited until I looked through the website's resources tab (which has since been deleted) and found it interesting that The Psychiatric Service Dog Society (PSDS) was omitted from the list provided by Ms. Miller. I bought the book anyhow and was completely discouraged to find that PSDS was not listed in Ms. Miller's book either. I have set the book down not wanting to pick it up since it left me with such an energy that made me want to vomit!

    Anyone who goes on the internet and types in "Psychiatric Service Dog" in Google or GoodSearch will come up with The Psychiatric Service Dog Society ( ) as the first search result. It is obvious that Ms. Miller purposefully did not include this resource. I don't understand why Ms. Miller left out such a valuable resource and reference. I feel sad that this woman has some serious issues to omit such a wonderful resource.

    Finding The Psychiatric Service Dog Society was life changing for me. I am very low income and had found a place in another state to help me train my dog, that is after having to ‘donate’ $145.00 for a lifetime ID for my dog and for me, buy a special specific vest, for my dog and for myself. It wasn’t explained to me according to the law that I allowed to train the animal myself according to specific standards, ID is not required, neither is vest nor even certification (state or federal), according to current laws, as well, I was to travel to the next state which I could not to do every other week on disability income. When I went for my second ‘training’, I anxiously sat in the woman’s apartment with another dog and it’s owner and after two hours of listening to this woman ‘chat’ she stated next training would be in two weeks. I put my tail between my legs and walked out. I knew I was had!

    Shortly after finding PSDS, I was soon able to join the PSDS list serv after a telephone call with the most inspiring woman, Dr. Joan Esnayra. Immediately upon joining the PSDS list serv, I started to BELIEVE! I met others just like me, found hope and encouragement to train my own service dog. I realized the time to drive 16 hours a month could be used in training instead of being more misguided! I trained my service dog and he trained me. I am now probably the most assertive people I know and if I hadn’t found PSDS who knows what would have happened to me. Winston has saved my life more times that I can count!!!

    Although Ms Miller omitted The Psychiatric Service Dog Society as a resource, I hope that folks would like to be aware that PSDS does, in fact have a list serv designated specifically for veterans needs ( ). As well, veterans are welcome to join the main list serv. The fun part is PSDS holds an annual gathering where the online life comes alive. It’s a fun, supportive, inspiring time for both handlers and our dogs. Winston and I are surely hooked!

    Personally, I do hope that more veterans will obtain service animals. In a very short time after being medicated for 14 years non stop for my ‘issues’ I went from 26 total pills a day to a PRN I take perhaps every couple months or a couple times in a month during a bad spell. It’s amazing in one’s life once one’s area of health improves other areas improve. Once we get independently healthy, there’s never really turning back to the old ways of existing. I am thankful for all the service animals that help us gain our independence back!