Tuesday, Lundy and Captain aren’t your average adorable pups — they have a vital mission to provide constant support to veterans with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
In honor of National Service Dog Month this September, A Head for the Future has released three videos to spotlight military veterans who have experienced TBI and made special connections with trained service dogs.
“Tuesday is a form of therapy,” said Luis Carlos Montalván, an Army veteran who appears in one of the videos and who wrote the bestseller “Until Tuesday” about his two tours of duty in Iraq and his return home with multiple injuries, including TBI. “He’s had a tremendous impact on helping me recover and live with traumatic brain injuries.”
While deployed in Iraq, Montalván sustained blunt force trauma to the head during an enemy attack. After returning home, he coped with anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability and dizziness — challenges he didn’t know were symptoms of TBI. Today, Tuesday makes it easier for Montalván to manage his symptoms. Montalván also travels across the country with Tuesday to raise awareness of TBI.
“Service dogs can help with physical, neurological, cognitive and psychological TBI symptoms as well as mobility needs,” said Scott Livingston, director of education for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. “There is a wide spectrum of treatment offered by military, civilian and [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] providers. The first step is to get checked out and work with your doctor to determine the best therapy program.”
A Head for the Future is a TBI awareness initiative by the U.S. Department of Defense that promotes TBI awareness, prevention and recovery care and that encourages a help-seeking response to TBI. Livingston said the initiative’s video series highlights the stories of service members and veterans who, like Montalván, experienced TBI, sought help and now manage their symptoms with treatment and support.
Another veteran featured in the videos is Jake Young, a retired Navy SEAL, who gives back to the military community by training service dogs. His work also helps him cope with his own TBI symptoms, which include memory loss and mood swings.
“I had to memorize their names. I had to memorize the commands. I had to anticipate their actions. I had to speak clearly. Even the emotional regulation came out in training the dogs,” Young said. “I was helping to train this dog to go on to be a service dog for another service member, so it became a no-fail mission for me.”
Before he was diagnosed with multiple concussions and began therapy, Young’s TBI symptoms were affecting his relationships with members of his family, including his wife. Through treatment with the support of his service dog, Lundy, he was able to mend those relationships and find more fulfillment in life.
According to data from the Defense Department, more than 347,000 service members have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000 — most in noncombat settings. Sports-related incidents, motor vehicle collisions, falls and training accidents are the most common causes of noncombat-related brain injury among service members.
After sustaining a brain injury while playing recreational football, Army veteran Randy Dexter joined a rehabilitation program where he met his new best friend — a dog that shared his passion for surfing. Ricochet, the “surf-ice” dog, helped Dexter cope with his TBI symptoms in a unique and personal way.
“Surfing with a dog is pretty cool,” Dexter said about Ricochet in one of the videos. “I’d stand up and just hold onto her. She balances the board, and [we] just ride it in.”
The organization that brought Dexter and Ricochet together also raised funds so that Dexter could get his own service dog, Captain. With Captain’s support, Dexter graduated from college with honors. He now gives speeches to raise awareness about TBI.
“Captain and I have been a pretty inseparable team,” Dexter said. “We’ve exceeded every goal that I’ve set for myself.”