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.)