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Apr 8

Fully Disabled Veterans to Benefit from New Social Security Policy

At the end of February 2014, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced plans to streamline the claims process for veterans who have received a 100 percent disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The change, which will go into effect in mid-March, will place these veterans into a high-priority group that receives expedited service. At present, even veterans deemed fully disabled can wait months to obtain their benefits from the SSA, so the announcement comes as welcome news for servicemen and women across the country. Over time, the agency expects that tens of thousands of veterans will benefit from this expedited process.

Veterans’ services advocates have applauded both the SSA’s decision to ease the process for fully disabled veterans and its existing policy to expedite services for active-duty troops wounded in combat. However, they also point out that hundreds of thousands of partially disabled veterans are still forced to wait excruciatingly long periods for their benefits to be processed. Across the country, some veterans have had to wait years for the Department of Veterans Affairs to review their claims, make a decision on disability, and then pass their applications on to the SSA for further review. Once the SSA receives a disability claim, it takes an average of three months for it to make an initial determination and approximately a year to complete an appeal.

The Love of an Animal Can Help a Troubled Teen

Sometimes a dog - or a cat, horse, or other animal - can be a teen’s best friend. This is especially true in the case of young adults with eating disorders, addictions, and other emotional challenges. An animal can be a patient listener. Plus, animals do not judge, notice what a young person looks like, or care how “cool” he or she may be. An animal just gives love.

According to the organizers of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, adolescents working to end unhealthy patterns of behavior can benefit greatly from interaction with animals. The group supports the use of emotional service animals in therapy for teens coping with anorexia, bulimia, and similar conditions.

A teen who bonds with an animal companion is more likely to respond constructively to counseling and to be open to acknowledging that a problem exists. Additionally, focusing attention on the needs of another living creature can reduce a teen’s preoccupation with their weight and personal appearance, as well as assist them to become more active.
Furthermore, young men and women who are experiencing a range of behavioral issues, including substance abuse, have been helped by equine therapy. Counseling professionals report that teens who were unresponsive to other methods began to share their feelings directly with the horses they came to know in therapeutic riding programs.

Travel Wisely With Your Older Dog

If your dog is accustomed to being your travel companion, this can continue as he or she ages if you take some sensible precautions. However, first think carefully about whether you actually want to take your older canine companion on your trip. A senior dog might be safer and happier with a friend or in a boarding facility while you are away.
However, if you decide to go ahead, the easiest way for your dog to travel is by car. Traveling in a crate enhances your pet’s safety, as well as yours, but remember to allow adequate time to stop for bathroom breaks. In terms of plane trips, smaller dog may meet airline regulations for in-cabin flights. If not, you should think twice before keeping your dog in cargo. This can be extremely stressful, particularly for older animals. Select your hotel and other venues with your dog uppermost in your mind.

It is especially important to bring along an older dog’s health and vaccination records, including information about regular medications, just as you would for senior citizens. Bring reminders of home, such as a favorite toy or an item with your scent on it. Finally, you will both be happier in the long run if you stay alert to your dog’s behavioral cues and listen to what he or she is trying to tell you, whether it fits your predetermined schedule or not.

The Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation’s Four-Star Rating

Dedicated philanthropist Lois Pope has given generously to charities ranging in focus from humanitarian aid and medical research to animal compassion and veterans recognition. In 1998, Lois Pope conceived of and co-founded the Disabled Veterans’ LIFE Memorial Foundation (DVLMF).

In the fall of 2012, the DVLMF earned Charity Navigator’s highest rating of four stars. The rating indicates that Charity Navigator’s independent evaluation has established the DVLMF’s adherence to best practices in good governance and more, allowing the charity to minimize the chances of wrongdoing and complete its work responsibly. Only about one out of four charities evaluated by Charity Navigator earns the four-star rating.

The DVLMF scored very highly overall, earning 62.9 out of 70 points on average. It performed exceptionally well in Charity Navigator’s financial review, where it scored 69.16 out of 70. A detailed breakdown of its expenditures showed that 91.6% of its spending related to program expenses and that it had enough working capital to maintain its operations for more than five years. The full review can be found at http://bit.ly/19Jeegr.

Mar 5

When to Get Your Child’s First Pet

Parents often ask pediatricians and other experts for advice on how old a child should be before getting his or her first pet. The answer ultimately depends on the individual child and the type, age, and temperament of the animal; however, there are some general considerations to take into account.

Some authorities recommend waiting until the child is at least 3 years old. In fact, most child development experts believe a child is not sufficiently mature to take care of a pet with minimal supervision until the age of 7 or 8. Delaying the acquisition of a pet gives you and your child time to form your own bonds and develop routines, and presents less stress and expense for you as parents. A new dog owner typically spends several hours a day training and caring for a puppy, and at least an hour with a mature dog.

If you want to go ahead and introduce a new pet when your child is still very young, consider a “young adult” cat or dog from about 1 to 5 years old. Animals of this age are not as unpredictable and easily excited as their younger counterparts and present fewer health complications for a growing family to cope with.

If your child has allergies, consult his or her doctor for information on the best pet breeds in your particular situation. Some pediatricians believe that having a dog or cat in the home during a child’s early years may lessen the likelihood of allergies developing later in life.

Disabled Veterans Life Memorial Scheduled to Open in 2014

In 1998, philanthropist Lois Pope took a large step in support of disabled veterans by co-founding the Disabled Veterans’ LIFE Memorial Foundation. The goal of the organization, which Lois Pope chairs, has been to fund the creation of a permanent, national memorial in honor of the United States’ disabled veterans.

After 15 years of work, the memorial is nearing completion, and it is expected to open on October 12, 2014. Located near the U.S. Botanic Garden and within sight of the U.S. Capitol, the memorial will center on a fountain in the shape of a star, with each star point honoring a branch of the armed services. It will also feature a reflecting pool and 48 transparent glass display panels upon which quotations and images will be inscribed. Bronze sculptures representing wounded veterans returning from combat will be located behind the panels.

The number of men and women to be honored presented challenges for the memorial’s creative team. Including names, for example, proved unwieldy, given that there are almost 3 million disabled veterans to honor. The memorial cost $81 million in total, all raised through private contributions. While some donors contributed gifts of seven figures, others gave only small change.

Hero Dogs of the United States Military

Every year, the American Humane Association (AHA) honors eight dogs for their courage and faithfulness. From these eight, the AHA, a celebrity panel, and the public choose one very special dog to become that year’s American Hero Dog. Gabe, a specialized search dog deployed with the army to Iraq in 2006, received recognition as an American Hero Dog in 2012. A Labrador mix, Gabe had a talent for survival. He was rescued from a Houston, Texas, animal shelter only a day before he was scheduled to be euthanized.

As a military service dog, Gabe experienced more than 200 combat sorties, including one in which the vehicle carrying him sustained a hit from roadside explosives. Gabe’s handler, Sergeant First Class Charles Shuck, was his close companion as they served on mission after mission. After Gabe retired, he became an ambassador for military dogs across the nation. When he died in 2013, the AHA refused to name a successor for the remainder of his term.

Dogs have served in military campaigns alongside humans for much of recorded history. While the United States was slow to make full use of its canine corps, by 1942, dogs were assisting coast guard patrols. Their World War II service included missions to both the Pacific and European theaters. Since then, dogs have served with distinction in combat areas, from Vietnam through present-day Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2013, the United States dedicated its first-ever tribute to the sacrifices of military dogs. The U.S. Working Dog Teams National Monument at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, honors these loyal service members with a bronze statue depicting a dog handler and four dogs: a Labrador retriever, a German shepherd, a Belgian Malinois, and a Doberman. Since the 1950s, Lackland has trained dogs used by all branches of the military.

Animals Open a New Social World for Kids with Autism

A new study from Australia indicates that children on the autism spectrum may be able to increase their repertoire of positive social behaviors by interacting with animals. Researchers at the University of Queensland worked with nearly 100 children between the ages of 5 and 13 who have autism spectrum disorder. They found that the children began to speak more, to make more positive contact with others, and to look at others’ faces more when animals were also present.

The researchers studied the children’s behavior when they played with toys and again when they interacted with pet guinea pigs. When playing with the guinea pigs, the children were significantly more receptive to social contact with peers than when they played with the toys. Laughter and smiles were also more frequent when the pets were in the room. The Australian team referenced previous studies that found that people were generally more friendly and receptive to social cues when walking a dog than they were when alone.

Animal companions can reduce the stress of busy classrooms and other environments for children on the autism spectrum. Groups that advocate for people with autism have also praised equine therapy, which uses interaction with horses to boost social skills and motor function. While the researchers stressed that simply acquiring a pet cannot magically treat autism, animal companions of any size can increase anyone’s positive feelings toward social relationships.

People with Pets Can Enjoy Longer, Happier Lives

Dr. Mehmet Oz, recipient of a 2008 Lois Pope LIFE International Research Award, promotes healthy living through his numerous television appearances and on his website. In a recent online post, the popular physician highlighted the role of pets in making people’s lives longer and better.


Studies have long demonstrated the correlation between owning a pet and good health. Among the benefits that researchers often cite are lower blood pressure, increased immune function, a reduction in stress, and a generally positive outlook. All of these factors can influence the length and quality of an individual’s life.

One report noted that thousands of cat owners studied over the course of a decade had decreased their risk of heart attack by one-third. Other researchers have found that people with dogs get more exercise, which helps them stay heart-healthy. Still another study reported that petting an animal for around 20 minutes boosted participants’ abilities to ward off germs.

An animal companion can be especially beneficial for an older adult. One research project found that senior citizens who walked their dogs increased the activity in their parasympathetic nervous system. The result? An increased sense of peacefulness and well-being. Some researchers have even credited animals with the ability to predict owners’ seizures and to detect the presence of certain diseases.

Feb 7

Animals Make Life Easier for Veterans with Disabilities

Every year, millions of animals in shelters are euthanized due to overcrowding and insufficient resources. Yet, thanks to a wide variety of government and nonprofit programs and innovative service organizations, a number of these animals are now assisting military veterans with disabilities. It’s a win-win situation, as shelter animals are rescued into a new life and veterans in need receive the benefit of very special new friendships.

Rescue dogs can be trained to assist veterans with disabilities in obtaining help from first responders in case of an emergency. They can also help with physical tasks such as opening and closing doors, standing and walking, and moving a wheelchair. In addition, they can bring items on request to their human companions. They can even help in the laundry room. Among their most crucial roles, the dogs can be taught to recognize an oncoming episode of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and may even be instrumental in reversing it.

Today, all too many returning veterans experience severe episodes of depression and PTSD. Pets and trusted service animals can relieve feelings of anger and anxiety, and reduce the incidence of stress and nightmares. They have even been credited with preventing suicide.