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Workers must be trained on how to treat people with disabilities and their service animals | Opinion

By David Crenshaw and Rory Diamond

New Jersey Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-Essex County) introduced legislation that would require employees in any public place in the state to receive specific training on how to treat people with disabilities and their service animals.

This bill couldn’t pass quickly enough for people like David Crenshaw, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder 11 years after returning from deployment to the Middle East.

“During that time, I worked in various high-stress roles: as a firefighter, a uniformed police officer, and as a narcotics detective for the DA’s office. As my detective role became more intense and dangerous, my mother was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. This was also the time when my first outward symptoms began to manifest to the point where I sought treatment from the Veterans Administration and was diagnosed with PTSD.”

“I felt powerless and vulnerable, even with my wife and three daughters. The anxiety and paranoia made me want to be alone and isolated. Every situation felt like a matter of life and death.”

“My Doc saved my life. He visits me countless times during the day. Morning, noon and night, 24/7, he is there to take care of me. But my ‘Doc’ is not your typical medical professional.

In fact, he is not a medical professional at all. He is a 4-year-old lab/jumper mix rescued from a shelter and specially trained by K9s For Warriors as a certified service dog. He lives with my family and me in our house in Kearny. In the few years we’ve been a team, Doc has changed my life. With more traditional interventions, I went from just surviving to being fully present for my family.”

However, many veterans with PTSD and other life-altering psychological scars of war struggle to be fully present; too often they are marginalized and forgotten. They may be honored for their service and sacrifices on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but on the other 363 days of the year, they’re just other people in a mall, restaurant, or city hall, albeit with a dog.

Too often, they feel resentful about having their dog with them, both from employees and other customers. The constant refrain David and other disabled veterans hear is, “What makes you so special that you can have your dog here and I can’t?”

Therefore, we must explore all options to mitigate this issue and ensure veterans receive the care they need. This includes service dogs.

K9s For Warriors, the nation’s largest nonprofit veterans and dog matching organization, is just one of several organizations saving lives by doing this. K9s For Warriors has matched over 700 veterans with service dogs so far, including 15 current and future veterans in New Jersey.

We all know that our work makes a difference.

A study conducted by Dr. Maggie O’Haire of Purdue University confirmed that service dogs provide a host of benefits to veterans with invisible war wounds, including alleviation of PTSD symptoms, decreased depression, increased life satisfaction, and greater overall psychological well-being.

Recall that about a fifth of veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and about 15 of every 100 Vietnam veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD. Those numbers are likely too low because they only represent veterans seeking assistance from the Veterans Administration; we know that only 60 to 70 percent actually use VA health services. Even more alarming is that about 20 veterans commit suicide every day.

The war is costing enough American lives. Service members shouldn’t have to keep fighting when they get home. New Jersey should immediately pass the Tucker legislation.

David Crenshaw is a retired US Army Sergeant Major who lives in Kearny. Rory Diamond is the CEO of K9s for Warriors, the nation’s largest provider of service dogs for veterans.

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