- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2007

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

If you or your readers know of any wounded soldier who could benefit by having a dog — trained by prisoners at the California Institution for Women in Southern California as well as other “prison-dog programs” across the country — to assist them, please let me know.

There are prison-dog programs in all parts of the country. After the start of the first school and others after, the idea caught on. The dogs are given to the wounded veteran free of charge. They will be taught how to handle the dog, care for him or her and find new independence partnered with their canine friends, who can go in all public places.

One of the programs is known as Dog Bless America. This program is expanding the vision to include America’s current veteran heroes. By combining their efforts with Pathways to Hope, the prison-dog program and many of the Veterans Affairs organizations across the country have created a win/win/win situation.

In 1981, Sister Pauline Quinn started the prison-dog program in Washington state, rescuing shelter dogs and bringing them into the prison, where inmates trained them to assist the handicapped. The inmates learned responsibility through the care and training of these special dogs.

Sister Pauline has started Pathways to Hope, a nonprofit organization that helps other prisons and service-dog groups start prison-dog programs.

Pathways to Hope identifies the programs and dogs to be matched with the veterans. Pathways receives funds from Dog Bless America, money that is then given to a particular prison program that can match and place a service dog to help a wounded soldier.

I am asking you and your readers to help us communicate this program to the people in need of these services. We will attempt to match them with a special service dog. Sister Pauline and Pathways will handle the initial contact, and each prison program has its own screening process. The points of contact are: www.picturetrail .com/srpauline, pathwaystohope.blogspot.com and srpaulina.blogspot.com.

Chris Gaba

Dear Chris:

I am happy to help get the word out on this wonderful program.

Shaft notes

* The Sarge joins House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner, California Democrat, in applauding his colleagues in the House of Representatives for passage of H.R. 2642, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. As the chairman said:

“I applaud my colleagues for passing the largest increase for VA health care in 77 years. H.R. 2642 sends a clear message to America’s service members that this Congress recognizes that taking care of veterans is an ongoing cost of war, and an ongoing cost of our national defense. It represents an unprecedented increase that comes at a time when we are faced with unprecedented needs.

“This bill provides the resources necessary to improve health care services, to meet the needs of our service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in the areas of mental health and [post-traumatic stress disorder] services and traumatic brain injury (TBI) care. This bill invests in the hiring and training of new claims processors to begin to reduce the VA claims backlog, and provides much needed resources for medical facilities, maintenance, and VA research.”

* The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the creation of a multi-campus nursing academy to help meet a shortage of nurses across the nation and maintain the high quality of care veterans receive in the VA health care system. A five-year, $40 million pilot program will establish partnerships with 12 nursing schools across the country during the next three years, beginning with four in the 2007-08 academic year.

VA provides clinical education to nearly 100,000 health professional trainees annually, including students from more than 600 schools of nursing. Despite a nationwide shortage of nurses, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has reported that more than 42,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools last year because of insufficient numbers of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space and clinical mentors.

With one of the largest nursing staffs of any health care system in the world, the VA has about 61,000 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, vocational nurses and nursing assistants at the department’s 153 medical centers and nearly 900 clinics. For more information about the pilot program, check the VA Office of Academic Affiliations Web site at www.va.gov/oaa and click on “VA Nursing Academy.”

c Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.



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