If you’ve seen me in the great Houston area volunteering in the past month, you’ve most likely met my Service Dog. Don’t be fooled by my Standard Poodle’s stylish looks; Colton (Colt for short) has substance and personality too! His breed is one of the most intelligent and most obedient dogs to be found. This, combined with their curiosity and eagerness to please, makes them easy to train and dependable. These qualities made the breed popular as circus dogs when such things were more common, (sorry Barnum & Bailey) and today they’re valued for assistance work.
Poodles appreciate mental challenges and lots of physical activity, both of which often come with assistance work, and they have an innate love of retrieving. Colt was trained for two years and can easily pick up a dropped cell phone, find a remote or get a water out of the fridge. He is a medium sized dog and adaptable to different environments, allowing him to stay focused and alert at home and in all sorts of public situations.
Colt is a good representation of his breed. He doesn’t like being left alone for prolonged periods and thrives on interaction with humans. So, not only can disabled people benefit from the companionship of a standard poodle, but these dogs mutually benefit from a person relying heavily on them.
What IS a Service Dog?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as dogs individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Tasks can range from calming a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder to retrieving keys from a hook on the wall — but just don’t call them pets.
Allie Keaton from My Service Dog says NEVER call them pets or emotional dogs. She trains Service Dogs and says “They are an extension of the person who has the disability.” This also serves as a reason to ask before you pet one. It may be on the job.
Badges? We don’t need any stinkin’ badges!
There are no papers, documentation, ID, certification, or other required information of any kind for me to have Colt in public with me. Not only is there no documentation necessary, but it’s illegal for you to ask for any. If you’re a business owner and you’re not certain my partner is a Service Dog, then you may ONLY ask two questions: if my partner is a Service Dog, and what work my partner does for me. That’s all. You can’t ask for my private medical information, request “paperwork” or do anything except ask me those two questions.
Follow Colt on Twitter @WonderDogColt and watch us travel and educate people on the value of Service Dogs for humans. We can also visit YOUR company if you live in the greater Houston area. Contact me at email@example.com and we’ll come visit!
- Tim Stroud
Growing up on the south side of Houston, Jose Ramirez’s path of enlisting in the Army in 2002 took him from Texas to Fort Bragg. As an E-4 Specialist, he loved his job and the camaraderie with fellow soldiers, but after 3 years, Jose knew it was time to venture outside the military and into the civilian world. While working at Best Buy, he was selling cameras to customers and training amateur photographers on the technical aspects when he won a camera in a sales contest. Little did the single father know this windfall would open the door to a therapy he couldn’t realize would change his life’s course. After dropping Jose Jr., now 12, at school, Jose would go to parks and take photos of animals and nature, and there his creative side was unleashed. Photography is his passion, and his stunning, moving photos are a testament to, as he says, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
But Jose’s service to his country didn’t end when he left the Army. Taking the advice of his VA doctor, Jose checked out Team Rubicon, figuring “why not.” He registered with TR, and the chance to serve alongside fellow veterans has altered his focus and helped to soothe the PTS he lives with every day. While Jose walks the walk when it comes to service, his most substantial gift has been to influence his son by his actions; Jose Jr. yearns to grow up faster so he, too, can join Team Rubicon in service to his country. Both father and son are part of the team that places flags on the graves at the Houston National Cemetery on Memorial Day, and they are there to retrieve them until the next holiday. Jose is an LSVA member and also part of the Mission Continues, where their current project is rallying behind a Vietnam veteran in a multi-phase effort to save, beautify, and maintain a terminal man’s home; to help restore his dignity and offer the camaraderie Jose himself found amongst his brothers in the Army.
One of Jose’s goals is to grow within the Team Rubicon organization and spread the word to fellow veterans about the healing powers of continued service, and he can certainly be found behind the camera’s lens, sharing his vision of the beauty all around. And Jose Jr. will be watching and learning from his father how to be a man.
Hit Jose up at firstname.lastname@example.org; share stories and experiences, get and give some advice; maybe he’ll even take your picture.
Julian hosts the LSVA Woodlands Bowling Event
Julian Perez was stationed in Hawaii, living in paradise off-post, but in a military-only community near the North Shore of Oahu, home of Pipeline and The Eddie. A deployment to Afghanistan meant leaving his wife, Jennifer, 7 months pregnant with their first child and subsequently missing Isabella’s first ten months of life. But, Julian did not want to go back to war nor ever leave his family again. So, after 4 years as a Signal Intelligence Analyst, he began to plan for life after the Army, back home near Conroe, Texas.
On leave for his brother’s wedding weekend, Julian made a simple yet pivotal choice to forego a day of golf with the other groomsmen to check out an LSVA Career Fair at a church in South Houston. As Julian says, it is uncomfortable to go to career fairs and he was dreading this one, but his brother, who served in the Texas National Guard, made the strong suggestion he do it anyway. And with only two months left of active duty before hitting terminal leave, he knew he had to get on it early, because he had no specific back-up plan. Waiting tables or applying at Home Depot or Lowe’s, while good and respectable jobs, were his back-plan, yet was not what Julian desired for himself to support his family or fulfill his own goals. He wanted to be a Project Manager, and that fateful choice to skip the frivolity with the guys turned into a meeting with a rep from GE Oil and Gas and an interview the very next day. From Hawaii, he kept in close contact with GE, and when he arrived back in the Lone Star State, there was a manufacturing job for him with GE Oil and Gas, which has since transitioned into his dream job: Project Manager.
Hard work and perseverance paid off for Julian. He has also become a Community Leader with LSVA, because he has experienced first-hand how integral the support-system of fellow veterans and volunteers can be in the transition and how having the support of and interaction with other veterans and their families have had a profoundly positive impact on his own young family. To quote Julian, “the LSVA’s social events work for those in need of help; like a beacon of assistance. It’s so important veterans take advantage.”
When Julian isn’t working or going to graduate school, you can find him, Jennifer, Isabella 6, Julian, Jr. 4, and Bagwell (yep!) 11 mos., cheering on their beloved Houston Astros. Or you can hit him up at email@example.com to share stories, get advice, or just check in with a fellow veteran, husband, father, friend.
I was feeling sad and depressed and I wasn’t myself at all. Yes it’s a normal part of life and part of dealing with cancer, but that feeling crippled me. Every day I was feeling hopelessness and emptiness. I knew I needed to take a stance and that I couldn’t let cancer beat me; I needed to beat cancer. My kids, my parents, friends, and family were all watching, and I knew that. I realized my mood affects everyone. I wasn’t going to let it. I started to do different things in my daily activities; both work and life.
This is what went through my mind, and this is how I was able to beat cancer every day: First, in my head, I say and convince myself “I CAN, I WILL, I MUST”. I am a fighter, and I will not let my kids, family or friends see me feeling down. I pushed and turned that pain into greatness. It motivated me to push through and fight back. I would take a shower and wash it off; I did something about it. I didn’t sleep my life away and do nothing about it when I knew cancer could take my life. I didn’t let it! I knew it will only get worse. I was always thinking “they are watching”. They’re wondering, “how will he take stress? Will he sleep, cry, drink?” So I told myself “I CAN’T DO IT ANY MORE!!!!! SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE!!!!! SOMETHING HAS TO GET BETTER!!!! I changed my lifestyle. I am a leader so I had to overcome and be the Leader I am!
I learned how my diet affected me as a result of side effect of having cancer. I had to learn the best way to change my diet and eat differently; to have a lesser impact on my body. Then I started doing what I love to do - EXERCISING !!! And I started to have better thoughts.
Every morning now, I am awake by at least 3 or 4 am. I find positive thoughts and things to read. A positive thought every day to start it off right. One positive thought is the first thing in the morning can change our whole day. I tell myself everyday “what is going to determine my quality of life?” No one is in my way but excuses!!!
I wanted to go to the gym to motivate myself, to get better in life, and to get stronger and help others. It was my way to get out and motivate others. I didn’t want to sleep and stay inside and let depression get in my way. You don’t have to lift weights, you can even walk; but get out and do something!! I used to think to myself “it’s too early in the morning”, but I have tricked my body into being an early bird. I used to wake up at 6:15, then after weeks I set my alarm clock back to 5:45 AM, and now I get up at 4:00 AM and in the gym by 4:30 AM or 4:45 AM. I didn’t say - It’s too early, It’s too late, or I am tired, I didn’t allow myself to think that. I made a sacrifice for the greater good. I AIM small and miss small. Change your mindset “I can Conquer Mountains”. No more missing work outs, but think only positive thoughts. When I miss a work out, my friends will say “he missed a work out, I am going to miss one as well”. Then it gets hard to start up again. When you’re working out, don’t skip the last set.... keep going!
Think positive thoughts during your meditation. And most of all, get a good night’s sleep. A lack of sleep will cause fatigue and add to symptoms of depression. So be sure to get proper sleep. Take a shower or a relaxing bath; develop a calming bedtime routine. Improve the amount and quality of sleep you get each night. Spend time with positive and supportive, loving people. Remember that it is only a storm, and it will pass.
I told myself, my kids, and family that I will see who I inspire. I will not go in the gym and leave the same person. Empower yourself and think in a way you have never thought before. Behave in a way you have never behaved. Have passion; I listened like I have never listened before. I started to work out like I have never worked out before, and I wanted to be a better person; better than I was yesterday. I changed that person.
Spend time with your family, and give it your all. You only live once, so you have one shot; make it your best. Win the war between you and yourself. Remember like I do, you have the choice on how you spend every second of your day. Have faith in your dreams and it will become real. Put forth your best effort to live the rest of your life to the best of your ability. It is not the success that makes you, it is the character that defines you. For me, it started with the extra 5:00 AM workouts, helping others so they don’t feel what I felt. Work hard when no one is looking. Put forth the best of your ability every single time.
I don’t give up and I will not give up. Don’t let obstacles get in the way, always think positive...I WILL NOT QUIT. If you don’t stay hungry for greatness, your fire will burn out. Make sure your next move is your best move. I always remember there are so many people that are talented and never accomplish anything. The body has limitations but it all starts with your mind. I get mentally ready so I can get physically prepared. Always keep trying and aim to stay motivated. Everyone has a gift; it’s your job to figure out what your gift is. And you decide if you will act on it every time - DON’T QUIT. Take ownership and responsibilities, and set high expectations . Always look for ways to improve. Reach out when you need help; someone is always there.
The most powerful tool in your body and in your life is your mind. That’s where the enemy fights you- in your mind. The devil doesn’t need to tie you up for you to be bound. He will just tie you up in your head with stress, with worry, and with low self-esteem. Decide what to focus on. Decide what you were going to do each day. Get strong and focus! Then just wait and see what happens!!! I was determined on what I do. I didn’t focus on “why me”? Is my life over? I focused on coming back and on the fight!! I was determined in my decision. Fight it and OVERCOME!!! To overcome you have to kill the noise. When others say you can’t do it, silence them and use that as motivation to push through. Believe!!! If you believe and have faith like I did, everyone else will believe with you. They will start saying “he inspired me...I will fight like he did.”
You are where you are because of who you are!!! Fight!!! If you want to get somewhere, change something, change your routine, make a better you! Take your life to another level. Free yourself from BITTER!!! Free yourself from the past. Free yourself and stop being a victim of the past and REMEMBER what is IMPORTANT!! You, Your family, your friends and loved ones.
LSVA Community Leader
An LSVA member shares her story: New study tests an unusual approach to treating symptoms of PTSD.
My Name Is Patricia Aquino. I’m 37 years old, and I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress and Major Depressive Disorder.
Does that sound like an admission of guilt? Or, do you imagine me standing in a room surrounded by a roomful of people, while I proclaim my addiction? I have a mental disorder brought on by my combat experiences in Afghanistan. I’ve spent many a sleepless night, walking through my house, pacing the floor, checking doors and windows to make sure they are locked and waking each time a car drives by the house. Other times, when I do get a few moments of sleep, it’s a nightmare that wakes me; one that has replayed in my mind over and over again.
It was during one of my many sleepless nights, as I sat up watching TV, that I came across a segment on the show “The Doctors.” The hosts were discussing a treatment known as a “Stellate Ganglion block (SGV).” It involved injecting patients in the neck to block the nerve responsible for alerting the body of impending danger. The sympathetic ganglia (the nerve) is responsible for firing messages throughout the body in response to stress. The result is an endless list of symptoms that are all too familiar to those who suffer from the disorder; hyper-arousal, accelerated heart beat, startle response, etc.
The doctors introduced Dr. Eugene Lipov, an anesthesiologist who has been practicing medicine and performing the procedure for years. Dr. Lipov thought that the SGV would be an effective treatment to help those suffering from trauma. Dr. Lipov talked about the many patients he had helped and how his treatment is more effective than that currently provided by any other treatment facility or organization. According to Dr. Lipov and his researchers, an SGV has a success rate of 70%, which is a far higher percentage than the numbers currently reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is approximately 30%.
Regardless, I didn’t care about numbers; I wanted a cure. Unfortunately for me, Dr. Lipov practices medicine in Chicago. If I wanted him to perform the procedure, I would have to submit paperwork, wait for a response, and then have it approved by my insurance. I didn’t want or have time to wait. At this point, I have suffered the effects of this disorder for years, and it has wreaked havoc on me, my marriage, and my family. So the very next day, I got on my computer and started doing research. It didn’t take too long before I found a doctor willing to do the procedure. I met with him a couple days later, he performed a health review, and together we decided that the procedure would be done the following week.
I won’t bore you with details of a long weekend and the anticipation that gripped me daily as I awaited this “miracle cure,” so I’ll get right to it. I went in for my procedure on a Tuesday morning, was brought into a preoperative room, put on a gown, had IV inserted, and they explained all the details of the procedure and risks. I signed my paperwork, giving the doctor permission to perform the procedure, and minutes later I was in an operating room. The procedure itself is not invasive or painful, but it must be done under general anesthesia and in sterile conditions. With the use of an X-ray machine, the needle is guided into place near the targeted nerve and the medication is injected. All of this takes less than 15 minutes.
One of the things touted about an SGV is the immediate relief of systems and visible effects. To be honest, I didn’t know if it worked; I was cautious, but optimistic. Over the next few days, the results of the procedure were obvious; it had worked. The constant feelings of arousal and vigilance that had lingered for years all of the sudden had lifted away, not completely, but enough that I didn’t feel like I was being crushed by the weight of my memories.
If you are thinking about getting an SGV done to help you reduce your symptoms of PTSD, there are a few things you must know. One, it doesn’t work for everyone: doctors don’t know why and more research has to be done to understand how it works. Two, sometimes the first procedure doesn’t work at all , but even if it does, you will probably have to undergo the procedure a few more times in order for it to have a lasting effect. In case you’re wondering, I felt the effects of the first procedure wear off within a couple of days. I had a second procedure performed with minimal results. I will probably have another procedure done soon.
LSVA Community Leader
I’m very excited about what we’ve accomplished within the past year, and where we’re going on our mission to building the community of Lone Star Veterans. We are seeing three times more members regularly attending our events in 2017 than we did in 2016. Currently, one in 12 post 9/11 veterans in Houston are LSVA members, and we’re adding 30-50 new members each month. We’ve successfully launched new regional events in Clear Lake and The Woodlands reaching members in the communities where they live and work.
We have committed to a strategic expansion focused on Affinity Groups. LSVA exists due to the shared experience of military service, but we are all more than just that. We are professionals, mothers, fathers, fans, nerds, jocks and friends. The other affinities we share, compounded with our military service, allows us to build deeper relationships, faster.
We continue to rely on our fantastic Volunteers and Community Leaders to bring these new events and programming to our members. They allow us to streamline our operations and build a scalable model that we plan to expand at the beginning of 2019. Throughout the rest of 2017 & 2018, we’ll continue to define, refine and document our processes to create the scale for statewide expansion. In 2018, we’ll be fundraising and surveying other markets for our first expansion and hire in that area to lead our programming. It’s an exciting time to be a part of our community, we hope to see you out at an upcoming event soon.