Controversial Army Policy Makes it Difficult for Soldiers to Get Service Dogs
by Rebecca Ruiz
MSNBC, June 4, 2012
One day this spring, Army Specialist David Bandrowsky, 27, played Russian roulette with his .38 revolver.
Bandrowsky planned to end his life, which had been at turns unbearable since he returned from a 16-month deployment in Iraq in 2008. He had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury and depression as a result of his combat experience.
Right before he pulled the trigger, his service dog, Benny, jumped up and knocked the gun out of his hand.
“He saved my life,” Bandrowsky said.
Benny was not trained for that scenario, but the 18-month-old Shepherd-hound mix has been taught to, among other tasks, push Bandrowsky away from crowds, wake him if he removes a sleep apnea mask at night and nudge him into a petting session if he seems on the verge of a panic attack.
Last fall, Benny was prescribed to Bandrowsky by a mental health counselor at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, where he is stationed. Bandrowsky has received counseling and drug therapy and undergone in-patient mental health treatment twice. It is Benny, though, that gets Bandrowsky through each day. He was paired with Benny in November and feels unsafe if the dog is not at his side.
But Bandrowsky may lose permission to have Benny at Fort Bliss because of an Army policy implemented in January.
That policy, which limits how soldiers can get service dogs, created a regulatory system that critics worry might put the lives of soldiers recovering from physical injuries and mental illness at risk.
In some cases, local posts have issued their own guidelines in addition to the Army’s policy, and soldiers report being harassed by fellow soldiers as well as higher-ranking officers for having a service dog.
“They’re trying to make it so difficult that it can’t be done,” said Bob Thorowgood, who runs Hounds2Heroes, a service dog program, and has placed service dogs with soldiers at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.
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