A local organization focused on improving the lives of veterans received a surprise visit from a top-ranking Pentagon official.
Sgt. Maj. Daniel Thompson, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Warrior and Family Support, made a stop in Carbondale earlier this month to meet with representative of This Able Veteran, which trains service dogs for veterans facing physical and mental barriers.
During the Sept. 10 visit, Thompson was able to meet with president and founder of This Able Veteran, Behesha Doan, her advisory board and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and physical injuries. The veterans use specially trained dogs from This Able Veteran.
Thompson said he was impressed with how the program is run, how it utilizes therapists as part of the training aspect and the continual follow-up to ensure veterans have been matched with the right service dog.
But despite the apparent benefits of service dogs in treating PTSD, the Veterans Administration hasn’t fully embraced the therapy, citing a lack of scientific data. A VA program using dogs in the treatment of PTSD was suspended earlier this month.
Looking to the future, Thompson said if service dog programs would unite themselves to set industry standards, it might be easier to convince the VA of the benefits veterans might gain with the use of a service dog.
“I don’t know why the VA — they’re either doing a bad study or haven’t talked to the right people,” Thompson said. “The dogs, I think, have proven that they’re well worth the time and effort put into training them to help veterans and their recovery. I really think Behesha’s got a great program and I’d like to see it succeed.”
Doan said one of the most significant aspects of the visit is that as the Department of Defense examines the efficacy of service dogs, it shows the department is looking to organizations that are successfully doing something unique.
“It was exciting for us to know who’s watching,” she said. “Because we know that’s going to mean more veterans are likely to be matched with service dogs. More lives are going to be changed. That’s what it’s all about for us.”
To set industry standards, Doan said she is working to help develop a national network for trainer schools.
Doan is the co-author of the Best Practices Paper on PTSD Dogs, and said those who train the service dogs need to fully understand PTSD and train dogs to mitigate those symptoms.
“By raising the bar as high as we have and training people to meet it, we know we’re going to have something the DOD and the VA are going to be able to grab onto and get some traction with, because right now, they don’t have it.”