New rules make it harder for soldiers to get service dogs - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

New rules make it harder for soldiers to get service dogs

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"I hate dogs. I couldn't stand dogs growing up," David Bandrowsky said. "Then I got Benny and he changed my life."

Army Specialist David Bandrowsky suffered a brain injury from a roadside bomb in Iraq that left him depressed and suicidal.

"Every time I am about to get real angry he comes and calms me down," Bandrowsky said.

Psychological service dogs like Benny are trained to respond to their owner's fear or panic by barking or nuzzling their owners.

Benny is with Bandrowsky at all times on base. Earlier this year, deep in depression, with just Benny by his side, he reached for his gun.

"I was just basically sitting on the couch playing Russian roulette with it and right before I pulled the trigger to take my life he jumped up on me and knocked the gun out of my hand. And I believe 100 percent that he saved my life," Bandrowsky said.

Support groups and volunteer trainers like Debbie Kandoll provide the dogs to soldiers for free. More than 120 have them.

"And the reality of my anecdotal experience has been that within two weeks of placing a soldier with a service dog, they no longer are considering suicide as an option," Kandoll said.

A soldier could get a dog if his doctor recommended it. But in January the Army issued a new policy that also requires a panel review, commander approval and only approves dogs from providers accredited by Assistance Dogs International, which sets training standards.

"We all want what's best for soldiers and if that's a dog, that's great," Col. Ted Cieslak said.

Cieslak is the Army doctor who wrote the new policy. He explains the Army had no formal policy and wanted to set minimum requirements.

"I don't see this as a huge obstruction to soldiers getting the animals they need," Cieslak said.

But since the new policy took effect in January, dog providers at four bases say they have not been able get a dogs to soldiers who requested one. Other soldiers could lose their dogs.

Fort Bliss' commander concluded that service dogs should now be a "treatment of last resort."

Cieslak says that's a problem.

"Yes, and I think as we go forward and try to revisit the policy and craft new guidance, that's something we'll want to take a serious look at," he said.

Bandrowsky is unsure if he'll be able to keep his dog. That worries him.

"Since I got him, he took 99 percent of all the symptoms away," Bandrowsky said.

An Army decision on whether Bandrowsky will lose Benny is imminent.

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