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Franken Scores His First Legislative Victory

July 24, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

Just two weeks after being sworn in as a U.S. Senator, Al Franken [D, MN] has a piece of legislation with his name on it headed to the White House to be signed into law.

The bill, Service Dogs for Veterans Act, would create a program to help physically and emotionally wounded veterans get service dogs. It was introduced into Congress on Wednesday with 5 bi-partisan co-sponsors and passed the Senate on Thursday by unanimous consent as an amendment to the FY10 Defense Authorizations Bill. Before it becomes law, negotiators in the House-Senate conference committee for the Defense bill will have to agree to include it in the final version.

In an op-ed for the Star-Tribune, Franken explained where he got the idea for his legislation:

This January, I met Luis Carlos Montalvan and his service dog named Tuesday, a beautiful golden retriever, at an inaugural event in Washington.

Luis had been an intelligence officer in Iraq, rooting out corruption in Anbar Province. In 2005, Capt. Montalvan was the target of an assassination attempt. Now he walks with a cane and suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

Luis explained that he couldn’t have made it to the inauguration if it weren’t for his dog.

As someone who’s spent time with our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan on USO tours and met wounded warriors at Walter Reed and Bethesda, I feel a deep obligation to the men and women who have risked life and limb on our behalf.

After I met Luis, I did some research. Service dogs like Tuesday can be of immense benefit to vets suffering from physical and emotional wounds. Yes, they provide companionship. But they can also detect changes in a person’s breathing, perspiration or scent to anticipate and ward off an impending panic attack with some well-timed nuzzling. They are trained to let their masters know when it’s time to take their medication and to wake them from terrifying nightmares. […]

Unfortunately, few of these service dogs are available to veterans like Luis. It costs on average about $20,000 to train a service dog and another $5,000 to place the dog with the veteran. It is my strong belief that a service dog will more than pay for itself over its life, and my bill is designed to determine the return on investment with a pilot program that provides service dogs to hundreds of veterans.

Service dog photo from Flick user BL1961 used under a Creative Commons license.

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