Canine Heroes Help US Veterans With Brain Injuries

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
September is National Service Dog Month. While all service dogs are heroes, a select few serve our country’s heroes with honor. (Tissue alert!)

A Head for the Future, a Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center Initiative (DVBIC), just released videos of some of America’s heroes, and the faithful canine companions that serve them so well. A Head for the Future’s focus is to provide resources for the military community to prevent, recognize and recover from traumatic brain injury. On average, over 25,000 military members suffer traumatic brain injury (TBI) worldwide, often in conjunction with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and they often suffer in silence, feeling isolated and alone.

It’s well known that service dogs change lives, but that can be especially true for veterans who have returned from war with TBI and/or PTSD. Service dogs can be trained to do specific tasks that can be extremely useful for veterans with TBI and/or PTSD. For instance, simply being veterans of war can cause a hyper-vigilance on the part of the veteran, and a service dog can silently alert his human to the presence of strangers, and maybe even help prevent flashbacks to traumatic situations, which is a real issue for these veterans.

Related: Top 10 Service Dog Breeds

More, people with traumatic brain injuries suffer from vertigo, anxiety, sleeplessness, memory and attention, and service dogs can relieve anxiety, as well as be trained to provide balance and bracing from falls. Probably one of the most important things a service dog does for veterans is help them remember to take their medicine, as traumatic brain injury often requires pharmaceutical interventions and can have devastating effects if forgotten.

To honor service dogs in their month, A Head for the Future shared several videos of real-life veterans and their amazing canine companions.

Luis Montalvan is one such veteran. As he served in Iraq, he was hit with blunt force in the head, altering his life forever. In addition to other injuries, he also lost his leg, and when he returned to the states, he looked into getting a service dog. Montalvan has said that a service dog is like therapy, and has not only helped him recover, but fully live with traumatic brain injuries. Inspired by the new life given to him by his service dog Tuesday, Montalvan wrote the best-selling book, “Until Tuesday,” about how Tuesday changed his world and his outlook on life. Montalvan also travels across the country, sharing about how Tuesday took him from a crippling life of anxiety and near suicide to the full life he lives today.

Related: Heroic German Shepherd Saves Platoon In Iraq

Army veteran Randy Dexter sustained a brain injury when playing recreational football. As part of his rehabilitation program, he came across a very special dog, Ricochet. Ricochet was known as the “Surf-Ice” dog, and helped Randy with his recovery in the very unique way of surfing. With help from the organization that Randy met Ricochet through, Randy got his own service dog and named him Captain. Captain helped give Randy the confidence and support he needed after his injury to complete college, with honors, and the two now travel the country to raise awareness and garner support for TBI.

Retired Navy Seal Jake Young is another heroic veteran featured in the videos. He suffered traumatic brain injury and deals with memory loss and mood swings as a result. Jake trains military service dogs, which allows him to give back to his military brothers and sisters in arms as well as serves as therapy for his own TBI issues. Jake knows that training his service dogs is doing so for other military members, and so he puts extreme effort and dedication to making sure the dogs are perfectly educated. When doing so, he also has to memorize names and commands, and learn to anticipate actions, speak clearly and regulate emotions, and this helps his recovery process as well. Jake has a service dog himself, Lundy, and credits Lundy to helping mend relationships affected by his TBI diagnosis as well as enjoy a more fulfilling life.

So while we’ve always known that dog is man’s best friend…well, now we can add to the list that they are our heroes too. Learn more about A Head for the Future‘s initiative – and watch one of the videos below.

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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