Veterans group calls on VA to provide 'thank you for your service' dogs
ARLINGTON, Va. — A new veterans’ advocacy group is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to fund ‘thank you for your service’ dogs for veterans with social adjustment difficulties, sources confirmed today.
People for the Ethical Treatment of America's Slighted Service-members is on a mission to help veterans who have had trouble adjusting to civilian life, according to its website. The proposed program, which pairs specially trained 'thank you for your service' dogs with troubled veterans, has shown promise as an experimental treatment for select patients.
“I saw how some veterans — in college classrooms, bars, workplaces, and everywhere else — couldn't have a single conversation without directing the discussion back to how they served in Iraq, or how things worked in the Marines or Army," said Christian Barksdale, the program's founder. "Without fail, the civilians around them would always become tired of the same old topic, and eventually would avoid or ignore that veteran, deepening their social isolation.”
“But with a thank you for your service dog, those vets never need to feel ignored or unappreciated again,” Barksdale added.
According to Barksdale, the dogs are specially-trained to listen to their owners. Whenever a dog hears three consecutive sentences without any mention of the military, it walks behind its owner and reassuringly pats him on the back.
The dogs also come fitted with special harnesses which resemble t-shirts popular among veterans who have trouble letting go, featuring hook-and-loop patches with slogans such as “INFIDEL" and “Once a Marine, Always Talking About The Marines.”
“By putting the veteran's favorite shirt on the companion animal, he is now free to dress like a regular human being, helping him integrate more fully with his peers," Barksdale said.
More than just a fashion statement, the harness also comes with a pouch filled with vouchers and coupons. When the veteran enters a participating restaurant or bar, the dog can ‘buy’ his owner’s meal or drink, so he never feels his service went unappreciated.
“Before I was paired with ‘Ranger’ here, I used to have to wait for Veterans Day to get a free meal at Applebees, or I'd have to think of some convoluted connection between my history professor's question and my unrelated experiences in Afghanistan," said Army veteran Austin Chawporn, a participant in the experimental treatment. "But with my thank you for your service dog around, I only occasionally feel the urge to annoy everyone around me."
He added: "Hey, did I mention I used to be SOCOM?”