In 2012, I wrote the article found below for a local publication. I am posting it to my blog today in honor of Luis Carlos Montalvan, former Army captain, author, and advocate for American veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD. Luis died in December; I learned about his passing just last week.
I followed him on Facebook and several years ago, had the honor of meeting him in person. Luis had a service dog named Tuesday, who received the 2013 American Kennel Club ACE Award (Awards for Canine Excellence). The two visited my local library after the release of Luis’ book Until Tuesday. Their story is moving and I was honored to have met them in person and later to follow Luis (and Tuesday) on Facebook. In their honor, I post this article published November 2012 in Our Town Casper magazine:
I recently finished reading an incredible book, Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him. I was privileged to meet and briefly speak with author and former Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan. Listening to Captain Montalvan, witnessing his service dog, Tuesday, and then reading about them in Luis’ book, touched my heart and soul. I’ve met a few service dogs and their human partners in times past; coupled with Captain Montalvan’s recent presentation and reading about him and Tuesday in the book, I possess a deeper appreciation for the service that assistance animals provide – as well as a deeper understanding about the horrors of war and the affects upon our service men and women.
In light of Veteran’s Day and my encounters with Luis, Tuesday and their story, I spent a bit of time researching and learning about animal assistance programs for veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will pay for guide dogs for blind veterans, hearing dogs for the hearing impaired, and assistance dogs for veterans with other physical disabilities. However, the agency ruled in September that it would not pay for service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) – see link: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/06/13708645-va-wont-cover-costs-of-service-dogs-assigned-for-ptsd-treatment. Yet, it will provide (and prescribe) nearly any type of pharmaceutical drug for treating mental and emotional distress.
Scientific studies show people with pets are less prone to depression, are more active physically, and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Dogs, cats and other animals trained as therapy pets visit nursing homes and hospitals and help lessen anxiety among those with whom they spend time. Emotional support animals (ESA) are used with people who have an emotional disability, and can be prescribed by a licensed mental health provider (learn more at the National Service Animal Registry website: http://www.nsarco.com/emotionalsupportanimals.html).
Our wounded warriors can use such assistance. The Pentagon reported earlier this year that suicide among American active-duty military personnel rose to an average of one per day. Additionally, according to the Army Times in 2010, about 18 veterans each day committed suicide. It’s estimated that 30 to 40 percent of veterans suffer from PTSD. These are startling, and scary, statistics.
Capt. Montalvan suffers from PTSD as well as remnants from traumatic physical injuries to his brain and vertebrae from an incident in Iraq. He also experienced nightmares, sleeplessness, hypervigilance, and isolation, common threads in PTSD.
Although his condition improved after being partnered with Tuesday, his service dog, Montalvan will never be completely healed, either physically or emotionally. He relies on Tuesday to get through his days and his nights. Tuesday is trained to respond to Luis’ needs, the physical and the emotional. Tuesday provides Luis balance, steadying him on the bumpy, concrete sidewalks and helping him navigate stairs (Luis walks with a cane). Tuesday provides Luis balance emotionally as well, navigating the signals of anxiety as they walk through towns and travel on subways or airplanes.
Luis admits in his book, “I don’t look exactly like a typical disabled person with a service dog.” And for that, he, and numerous others, have been and are discriminated against. Service animals who are trained to perform tasks to help disabled people wear a vest, often with the words “service animal” or “working animal” on them; there are laws which allow such animals into places where most typical “pets” are not: restaurants and other public buildings, airplanes and public transportation, housing. However, Luis recounts numerous times the discrimination he encountered.
Although Emotional Service Animals are not always allowed in the same places as certified assistance animals, there are federally protected rights for these animals and their human partners, including flying on an airline not being allowed into “no pet policy” housing.
I am grateful those who need such physical or emotional service can and do receive that. Numerous others do not. May this Veteran’s Day be the eye-opener we need to recognize and honor those service men and women who have lost limbs, experienced traumatic brain injury and PTSD, or perhaps even suffer silently yet can greatly benefit from the devotion and care a service animal provides. Our wounded warriors deserve whatever medical treatment suits them best… and sometimes that’s lick in the face or a paw on the knee from a four-footed creature that adores (and sacrifices) for them.
If interested in learning more about Captain Montalvan and Tuesday, visit: http://until-tuesday.com/.
From the Blogger/Author: Although Luis has passed, an upcoming book will continue his and Tuesday’s legacy. Tuesday’s Promise is scheduled for release in May. Tuesday, now 10 years of age, is being cared for by the organization that brought them together: Educating Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD). If you are so inclined as I was, you can make a donation in Luis’ memory and Tuesday’s honor at this website: https://connect.clickandpledge.com/w/Form/9f980d6d-5bbf-4162-be1c-3821bc674d0f
Veterans Day is upon us, a time to honor and thank our military men and women and their families. Without their loyalty to country and their sacrifice, oftentimes to the point of major injury or death, Americans would live with a lot less freedom.
During the past nearly two years, I’ve met and written about several Wyoming veterans who served in Vietnam. I’m part of a project spearheaded by the Casper Star Tribune and Casper Journal, called “They Served with Honor,” in conjunction with the state of Wyoming Veterans Services; I am one writer of at least six around the state charged with interviewing veterans of the Vietnam War and writing their stories. It’s been a very amazing and humbling experience.
Many military service personnel suffer from PTSD, not recognized so much 50+ years ago, but certainly recognized now. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of American service men and women experience PTSD, including more than 30 percent of Vietnam veterans. It’s also estimated that about 50,000 U.S. veterans are homeless, more than 8 percent of the entire homeless population. Some studies show a 50% rate increase of suicide among veterans (deployed and nondeployed) than in the general population. We need to do better by our military and their families. We ask for their service, they give it, and now it’s our turn to serve them by caring for and about them.
One of the ways we can show we care, in fact a way for our service men and women to function in society and heal from their emotional and physical wounds is through dogs. Scientific studies show people with pets are less prone to depression, are more active physically, and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Dogs, cats and other animals trained as therapy pets visit nursing homes and hospitals and help lessen anxiety among those with whom they spend time. Emotional support animals (ESA) are used with people who have an emotional disability, and can be prescribed by a licensed mental health provider, and service dogs help people with tasks they cannot do themselves. There are many organizations that pair veterans with animals that can provide the service and comfort many of our military need, and some even train former shelter, often saving these animals’ lives. Our wounded warriors can use such assistance. Learn more at these websites: http://www.petsforvets.com/ and https://petsforpatriots.org/.
On Veterans and always, let’s remember and honor those who serve and those who sacrificed on our behalf and the four-footed companions that help them.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.