ANDREA PLATE WRITES – Has anyone remained dry-eyed after seeing Sully the dog on TV— President George Herbert Walker Bush’s yellow Labrador service dog, looking woebegone beside his best friend’s coffin?
After viewing that TV image, could anyone doubt that dog is not just man’s best friends, but a veteran’s best battle buddy?
So why is it that the West Los Angeles Department of Veterans Affairs, together with its many community partners—like all VA/community programs nationwide —refuse to admit service dogs to emergency housing for homeless veterans?
Herewith, an excerpt from my upcoming book, based upon my fourteen-and-a-half years of social work service at the West Los Angeles Veterans Healthcare Administration (Madness: In the Trenches of the VA):
“Service animals were an important therapeutic tool, especially for young combat veterans with ‘emotional numbing’ or excessive paranoia, both symptoms of PTSD although polar opposites in presentation. Both are ‘maladaptive coping mechanisms,’ which means, they are normally pained responses to abnormal and horrific circumstances, like losing buddies in combat. Service pets in fact provide emotional healing across species. Only dogs, however, are certified service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“And yet, not all dogs, at all times, were welcome. One homeless veteran and his dog were accepted to a program, but their admission was put on hold because the program had a dog quota of two. (I am not making this up.) Since two dogs were already housed there, my veteran—and his dog—had to wait for a vacancy. It was a cold, cruel day, literally, when I was forced to tell a returnee from Afghanistan, age thirty-four, calling me from a street corner during a downpour, that the program manager ‘hoped’ to have an available slot in a few days. ‘I need a place now!’ he said. ‘Where I go, she [the dog] goes!’ He cried and hung up. That was the last I heard from him.
Another sad case involved an elderly man who showed up shortly after his male lover died. He had been sleeping in his car with a cat named Tiger. No program would admit the cat, so the old man returned to his car and his cat. (I think I might have shed a few tears over this on the way home that night.)
Yes, service animals presented problems: Fleas. Diseases. Aggression. dog….[but] my argument was, if you supply veterans with dogs, supply the dogs with proper homes, too!”
***Superstar Sully has been handed over to Walter Reed National Medical Center in Washington D.C., to save the lives of America’s recently wounded warriors. But what about the dogs—and veterans across America—who, not having served as President, are left out in the cold?
Andrea Plate, who teaches ‘Gender in the Military’ at LMU, is a California Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the past author of ‘Pretty Babies’. She has recently completed a book on America’s war vets and their sometimes comic, often tragic lives, against the backdrop of the troubled but still-standing Veterans Administration. The first-person book is being considered by publishers now.