December 11, 2017
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  • Senator Bryan Simonaire (second from left) recently sponsored a bill to allow individuals, businesses, grants and other sources of income to help pay for service candidate dogs and training for veterans suffering from PTSD.
    Senator Bryan Simonaire (second from left) recently sponsored a bill to allow individuals, businesses, grants and other sources of income to help pay for service candidate dogs and training for veterans suffering from PTSD.

Senator Bryan Simonaire Holds Fundraiser For Veterans

Judy Tacyn
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December 4, 2017

Since the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge swept across America a few years ago, viral videos have proved to be a successful vehicle for change. One recent video inspired Senator Bryan Simonaire to draft legislation during the last session of the General Assembly and hold a special ceremony this November.

“One of my seven children came up to me and said, ‘Dad, I saw something on the internet and you have to see it,’” Simonaire recalled. “I was skeptical but watched the 22 Pushup Challenge for the 22 veterans that commit suicide every day in America. When I looked into it more, I found Maryland had more than 100 veteran suicides annually. I wanted to do something to help reduce this tragedy.”

After researching the issue, Simonaire sponsored Senate Bill 441 in January 2017, which created a public/private partnership - Maryland Veterans Service Animal Program - utilizing the Department of Veterans Affairs network of veterans and the ability of two nonprofits (Hero Dogs and Warrior Canine Connection) to produce highly trained service dogs that would be paired with veterans.

“The dog would be trained to detect a veteran’s particular symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other related medical problems,” said Simonaire. “The dog would nudge them, jump on them or even lick them to get the veteran to refocus away from his symptoms. A service dog also will wake a vet if they are having a nightmare; they will help with disabilities by picking up keys or credit cards that have fallen, open doors, and so much more. The fact is the dog knows the veteran and they are a team.”

The legislation was co-sponsored by the entire Senate, and Governor Larry Hogan signed it into law. The bill allows individuals, businesses, grants and other sources of income to help pay for service candidate dogs and training at no charge to the veteran.

To establish a Maryland Veterans Service Animal Program Fund, Simonaire hosted a veterans suicide prevention ceremony and barbecue on November 8 at Northeast High School.

Boy Scout Troop 441 presented the colors, which was followed by the singing of the national anthem by the Northeast High School vocal ensemble and the Pledge of Allegiance.

The ceremony honored the brave men and women of the United States military services, and afterward, guests enjoyed a dinner catered by Mission BBQ, Chuy’s Tex-Mex, Lauer’s Supermarket & Bakery and Chick-fil-A.

The veterans suicide prevention ceremony and barbecue was attended by approximately 300 people and raised $10,000. All money raised will go into the Maryland Veterans Service Animal Program Fund. The money will used to help local nonprofits provide more service dogs to veterans free of charge.

“There is not one single solution to [the veteran suicide] problem, but service dogs have shown wonderful progress in helping veterans deal with PTSD and associated suicidal thoughts, even when other, more conventional methods have not worked,” said Simonaire. “I believe dogs can reach people in a way that medicine, therapy or other treatments cannot always reach.”

Simonaire said there was tremendous support from individuals, local representatives and businesses. He also had help from volunteers Lisa Smith of Severn and Mary Polkabla of Millersville. He plans to announce additional events in the near future.

“At first, I was told this was not possible and there would be too many logistical hurdles,” said Simonaire. “However, I pushed forward continuing to look for ways to fix issues and improve the process until we passed this legislation.”


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