- - Thursday, November 6, 2014

Michele Kohl trained service dogs for visually impaired people for more than 11 years and now teaches puppies to become service dogs for injured veterans. “I saw that there is a great need for this pool of people that is not being served as much because there are more and more veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Ms. Kohl told The Washington Times.

Ms. Kohl volunteers for Veterans Moving Forward (VMF), a nonprofit organization that provides canine therapy and service dogs to veterans with both physical and mental health challenges. “We will support veterans of all generations, campaigns and wars,” said VMF President Karen Jeffries. “It doesn’t matter if someone is injured because of cancer, a motor vehicle accident, diabetes or an IED explosion.”

More than 300,000 veterans have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, major depression, and more than 40,000 veterans are physically injured, according to VMF. In 2010, though, fewer than 150 veterans received service dogs through private placement. Veterans Moving Forward is dedicated to filling that need.

The service dogs are taught to retrieve medication, cell phones, open doors and even do laundry for the physically disabled veterans. They also alert veterans to physical symptoms of anxiety caused by PTSD.

Ms. Kohl demonstrated how Jugs, a Labrador retriever, has learned to paw at a nervous tremor, for example, by touching his paw to a shaking knee. Once the dog alerts the veteran of the nervous twitch, the veteran is supposed to have an action plan to halt the oncoming anxiety attack.

After having a service dog, Ms. Jeffries says many veterans are able to reduce the amount of medication they take and sleep better. “One of our veterans from Vietnam was a medic in war and came home and the nightmares have been horrendous. And he has PTSD and he had not slept more than 45 minutes to two hours for the better part of 40 years until he got our dog,” Ms. Jeffries said.

“He now for the first time in 30 years has a bed in his bedroom instead of sleeping in an EZ chair. So we know we make a difference that way,” she said.

Veterans Moving Forward is hosting a Canines and Cocktails event Friday to celebrate veterans and canines that serve.

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