Franklin James Cook

Sen. Franken Says Service Dogs Might Prevent Veteran Suicide

In Policy, Prevention on July 20, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Al Franken’s first legislation as the newly-sworn-in Senator from Minnesota proposes providing hundreds of service dogs to veterans, which he writes in a column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “can be of immense benefit to vets suffering from physical and emotional wounds.”

There is evidence to suggest that increasing their numbers would reduce the alarming suicide rate among veterans, decrease the number of hospitalizations, and lower the cost of medications and human care. Veterans report that service dogs help break their isolation.

Franken is proposing the service-dogs-for-veterans program not as an arbitrary, “feel good” initiative, but as an honest-to-goodness scientific study, piloted in such a way as to prove its effectiveness and expand its reach if it measures up.

It costs on average about $20,000 to train a service dog and another $5,000 to place the dog with the veteran. It is my strong belief that a service dog will more than pay for itself over its life, and my bill is designed to determine the return on investment with a pilot program that provides service dogs to hundreds of veterans. My bill will help train a statistically significant number of dogs to measure the benefits to veterans with physical and emotional wounds. The program would be monitored and refined over a three-year period to optimize its effectiveness.

Whatever one can say about the viability of his proposal, it would be difficult to quibble with his earnestness–or to take issue with the the genesis of his idea, which came from meeting a wounded Iraq veteran who depends on his service dog in fundamental ways.

This January, I met Luis Carlos Montalvan and his service dog named Tuesday, a beautiful golden retriever, at an inaugural event in Washington. Luis had been an intelligence officer in Iraq, rooting out corruption in Anbar Province. In 2005, Capt. Montalvan was the target of an assassination attempt. Now he walks with a cane and suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Luis explained that he couldn’t have made it to the inauguration if it weren’t for his dog.

And, even if nothing comes of his first attempt at legislating, Franken should get credit for “thinking outside of the box” in support of suicide prevention for a population that merits extra attention.

[The abridged URL for this post is http://tinyurl.com/DogsForVets .]

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  1. I work as a disability services provider in higher education. “Trained” service dogs can provide all sorts of assitance to people with various disabilities: deaf, blind, phsycially disabled and psychologically disabled. The key here is “trained”. too many people try to pass off their pets and “service” dogs or therapy dogs when such animals are pets. When i see what benefit trained service dogs provide to their companions, my heart is moved. I would support such a bill from a higher educational perspective and a day-to-day living perspective…as long as the dog is trained to be a service dog.

  2. Service dogs might prevent veteran suicide? These trained dogs already save lives. I strongly support Senator Franken’s legislation. I will be letting my Congress and Senate representatives know how much this legislation is needed.

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