Government preparing to fund service dogs for veterans with PTSD
Published Friday, March 28, 2014 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, March 28, 2014 11:42PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Canada's embattled veterans affairs minister will soon unveil a pilot project to offset some costs for service dogs for injured Afghan war veterans, CTV News has learned.
Julian Fantino hinted to CTV News that he expects to announce details later next next month.
"We're looking at how to move the yard stick forward in a way we can provide benefits," Fantino said. "We can't do everything but some of these things are moving along, and service dogs are one of them."
Sources in Veterans Affairs confirm the plan is in the works but won't release a dollar figure. One dog can cost up to $15,000 and take three years to train, depending on what services it needs to provide.
The Harper government has been studying the benefits of service dogs for years. The department commissioned a report from a group studying veterans' health at Queen's University, and that report was received by the department earlier this week. Its recommendations have not been released.
The service dogs are currently funded by charitable donations.
George Leonard, the owner of Courageous Companions in Winnipeg – a charitable organization that matches service dogs with the needs of Canadian Forces Members – says service dogs are specially trained to detect anxiety, monitor heart rates, and help with mobility.
He says returning Afghan war veterans suffering mental and physical injuries are driving up demand for service dogs. "We figure it'll be in the thousands," Leonard said. "And it's not just PTSD, it's physical disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, it's seizures, it's diabetes."
Daniel Drapeau, a veteran who served in Cyprus, suffers from mental and physical injuries. He had to wait years for his service dog, and now credits "Kenya" with saving his life.
"When my diabetes is too low, too high, she tells me right away," he said. "She takes care of my PTSD, she helps me undress, she'll push on the handicap button on the door, elevator.
"Any veteran who has a service dog can never kill himself."
But the head of Canadian Veterans Advocacy says the plan is a face-saving move by a government that's burned its goodwill with veterans.
Michael Blais says many were angered by the recent closings of regional veterans offices, and that dozens of promised military health care workers have yet to be hired despite a rash of suicides.
"By announcing this they're putting a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound and a Band-Aid is not going to fix it," Blais said.
Government sources say Fantino will likely unveil the plan in mid-April, ahead of the national day of honour set for in May. The day is set aside to commemorate the Afghan war mission.
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