By Bryan Simonaire
Senator, District 31
Over the last couple of years, I have been working on several legislative initiatives to help our vulnerable veterans. Recently, I created a program that partners with Maryland nonprofits that provide highly trained dogs for veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and other debilitating issues.
Through the program, these dogs are provided free of charge to our vulnerable veterans. This past February, the Hero Dogs organization was awarded the first grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Maryland. The department’s staff has been supportive and efficient in helping to develop the regulations to implement this program.
Expanding The Maryland Program
This past session, I worked with the department to expand our program to include horse therapy as part of the services provided to veterans through our partnerships.
Several months before the General Assembly session, my staff, my wife and I visited a facility in Anne Arundel County that provides horse therapy to veterans and other individuals. The amazing staff shared that the main problem with helping veterans is that there is so much more need than resources.
After working with Maryland Therapeutic Riding, the Department of Veterans Affairs and other groups for months, we drafted legislation to expand the partnership program to include horse therapy for veterans. Again, the legislation was well received, it passed unanimously and it was recently signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan.
These programs require funding to be effective; therefore, I have organized fundraisers in Pasadena and sought grant funding to bring in the necessary funds to help our veterans. The response from our local communities has been generous and caring. Our community continues to demonstrate that it has a heart for our veterans, and for this, I am appreciative.
Expanding The Program Nationally
Since first enacting this program in Maryland in 2017, we are now witnessing numerous other states, such as California and Illinois, establishing similar partnership programs to provide these dogs to veterans in their states. It is a real encouragement to be part of this and see this spread across our nation.
I am now reaching out to the federal government to expand both the support dog and horse therapy initiatives across our nation. I have requested meetings with key personnel in Washington, D.C., to discuss these initiatives and brainstorm ways to reduce the senseless suicides of veterans.
I am excited about helping our veterans and I will keep you posted on the progress of my initiatives.
A special thank you goes out to the people at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the American Legion, our partnering nonprofit organizations, my staff and all the other supporters who have helped make this possible.
Visit my website at www.simonaire.com to see a newly produced and inspirational three- to four-minute video highlighting how horse therapy is helping veterans in our county.
If I can be of any assistance, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 410-841-3658.