REP. MIKE THOMPSON, SANTA ROSA-BASED CANINE COMPANIONS FOR INDEPENDENCE® HOST PRESS CONFERENCE, DEMONSTRATION HIGHLIGHTING BENEFITS OF SERVICE DOGS FOR VETERANS WITH PTS
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson and Santa Rosa-based national non-profit Canine Companions for Independence held a press conference today at Canine Companions' Santa Rosa campus. The event highlighted the recent launch of a pilot program through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that offers service dog benefits to veterans with mental health diagnoses, including post-traumatic stress (PTS).
In addition to Rep. Thompson, a veteran and Co-Chair of the bipartisan Military Veterans Caucus, CEO of Canine Companions Paul Mundell also spoke, as did Bay Area Navy veteran Randy Wight who brought along his Service Dog Neo. Following the speaking program, there was a live demonstration of the PTS service dogs' commands by Canine Companions professional trainer and Army veteran, Chelsey Darrow.
At Rep. Thompson and Canine Companions' request, the VA launched a program that will pair 100 veterans who experience a mental health diagnosis that limits their mobility, including their ability to conduct normal social activities and navigate public spaces, with a highly trained assistance dog. Until now, the VA had only offered benefits for service dogs to veterans who experienced a physical disability, such as blindness, deafness and loss of limb.
“I’ve seen firsthand the tremendous benefits service dogs provide for our veterans dealing with invisible wounds of war, like PTS and traumatic brain injuries, and I’m so glad that by hosting today’s event, others will be able to see those benefits firsthand too,” said Rep. Thompson. “I’ve been so proud to work with Canine Companions for Independence to make the service dog benefit available through the VA for veterans with mental health conditions, and to significantly reduce the time it takes for veterans to be paired with a service dog. Because I strongly believe that service dogs are not just changing lives, they’re saving lives among our veterans with PTS.”
"The service dog pilot program will provide the opportunity for veterans with PTS to fully engage the numerous benefits of a highly trained assistance dog,” Canine Companions for Independence CEO Paul Mundell stated. “Thanks to Congressman Thompson and the VA for taking this important step.”
“My Canine Companions Service Dog Neo picks up dropped items, opens and closes doors, can pull my wheelchair and helps me get up from the floor after exercising at the gym,” shares Navy veteran Randy Wight. "I can’t imagine life without Neo. He watches over me wherever I go, whatever I do. Neo is the perfect wingman, he has my back."
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