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Questions ahead as feds pave way for more on service dogs for vets with PTSD



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  • OTTAWA — Heads turn and smiles break out as the four veterans make their way through the Bayshore mall in Ottawa’s west end one recent Tuesday morning. But it isn’t just the men that the shoppers are watching: it’s also their dogs.

    A little-noticed promise in the most recent federal budget has sparked applause and sighs of relief from veterans across Canada dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological trauma.

    The commitment was to add “psychiatric service dogs” to the list of medical items that Canadians can claim as a tax credit on income-tax forms, as is already the case with guide dogs for the blind.

    The move follows the recent results of a government-commissioned study that indicated — as many veterans and advocacy groups had long claimed — that dogs can go a long way in helping those suffering from invisible injuries.

    “He lowers my anxiety. He gets me out of the house,” says Dwayne Sawyer of his service dog, a golden Labrador named Rex who has been helping the 22-year veteran with his PTSD.

    Rex sits at Sawyer’s feet as shoppers walk by.

    “I have to look after him, which makes me have to get up and do stuff. Prior to that, I wasn’t getting out of bed. And if we’re in a mall situation and he can feel my anxiety, he gets really cuddly and he gets right up into me.”

    Yet the answer to one big question is still being worked on: What, precisely, qualifies as a psychiatric service dog?

    The idea of using service dogs to treat and support veterans and others suffering from PTSD has been around for a few years, but was largely disregarded by the federal government until May 2014.

    That is when then-veterans affairs minister Julian Fantino pledged up to $500,000 for a two-and-a-half year study to assess the benefits — and risks — of such dogs, with an eye to whether their use should be encouraged and expanded.

    Documents obtained by The Canadian Press show the study was delayed because of “recruitment and retention issues of both trained psychiatric service dogs and veterans,” but a preliminary report was recently published.

    The findings: Three months after they were obtained, service dogs were found to have “some positive effects” on  veterans’ ability to sleep as well as to manage their PTSD and depression.

    The study could not confirm whether service dogs were linked to improved quality of life or more movement in the community, but the overall results were nonetheless deemed “really promising.”

    A final report is expected this summer, but the Trudeau government opted not to wait and instead promised in last month’s budget to expand the medical expense tax credit to include psychiatric service dogs.

    “The efficacy study has still not been concluded, but it looks really good and enough veterans have told us what a difference this makes to them,” Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan said in an interview.

    “PTSD is something that we are all still literally getting our heads around, but you build up a critical enough mass of veterans who are saying this is making such a difference to them, we’ll go with it.”

    But there was another thing the government decided it didn’t need to wait for, even though veterans and trainers are the first to say it will pose a challenge: developing a national standard for the service dogs.

    That effort, which covers all types of service canines including guide dogs and those for children with autism, has been in the works almost three years — and proven controversial and divisive.

    The concern is that dogs that aren’t properly trained will misbehave in public, including jumping at people or otherwise disrupting businesses and making it more difficult for legitimate owners to be accepted.

    “You’ve got dogs coming in that aren’t necessarily safe,” said Danielle Forbes, executive director of National Service Dogs in Cambridge, Ont., which is accredited by Assistance Dogs International.

    “We get calls from businesses all the time wanting to know what their rights are because they’ve got a dog threatening their staff or their other customers.”

    There is also the fear that fake breeders will take advantage of veterans and others, who can expect to shell out thousands of dollars for a trained service dog unless they are lucky enough to be supported by a local organization.

    Alberta and British Columbia have adopted their own standards, which a dog must meet before those provinces issue a card that lets owners take the service animal into businesses and other places.

    The federal government has been working on a national service-dog standard for nearly three years, but it has so far failed to come up with an acceptable framework.

    A first draft released by the Canadian General Standards Board was greeted with anger and frustration from various segments of the community, but especially guide-dog users and the schools that train them.

    They argued the proposed rules would force schools to either change their time-tested training programs or possibly stop serving Canadian students altogether. Others felt the draft was too broad and tried to do too many things.

    “Each organization, let’s say the service dog for epilepsy, they want their own thing. The service dogs for the blind, they want their own thing,” said Serge Lemieux, vice-president of the Canadian Veteran Service Dog Unit in Ottawa.

    “So it’s becoming so wide and broad that it was difficult to keep it in scope. Once they can define the requirement of what service dogs are, what they provide, and agree on the document, then I think we can move forward.”

    A second draft has been developed and consultations are planned for this summer, and most are hoping for a better result this time around, especially given the need; Lemieux said his organization has 40 veterans waiting for a dog.

    Sawyer is only too happy to have found Rex through the Canadian Veteran Service Dog Unit. And he hopes the government’s plan to give tax credits for such dogs makes them more accessible to other veterans in need.

    “He’s my buddy. He’s the reason why I wake up in the morning and get out of the house,” said Sawyer. “So what the government’s done, that’s amazing. I think it’s a great initiative, a great step forward.”

    Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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    Dr. Vick explains the difference between Braces and Liners

    Todayville Content Team



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  • The decision to use “Liners” versus “Braces” involves a lot of different things; from the scope of the work to the discipline of the patient. The goal is how best to set up the patient for success.  In this short video, Dr. Vick Cheba explains the difference between “Liners” and “Braces”.

    To schedule your next appointment, call 403-340-8000.

    Click here to learn all about Red Deer Orthodontics and the services they offer. 

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    Nova Scotia to unveil balanced budget amid calls for more health spending



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  • HALIFAX — Robbie Weatherbee is watching Tuesday’s budget in Nova Scotia as someone deeply troubled by the state of the province’s mental health system.

    With the Liberal government poised to bring in a post-election budget that’s widely expected to balance the books for the third year in a row, the 57-year-old is among those who say the price in deteriorated social services has been high.

    As the province has turned around from an era of deficits in the hundreds of millions of dollars, critics say hospitals and front-line care that consume four of 10 taxpayers dollars haven’t kept up with demand.

    During a Monday news conference, Weatherbee said her future son-in-law committed suicide after receiving inadequate services, and argues improved standards and funding are urgently needed to avoid unnecessary deaths.

    Fighting back tears, she said her daughter’s fiance needed rapid treatment for his crisis when he checked in to hospital in New Glasgow in December 2016.

    “He was put on a waiting list for group therapy, just what a suicidal person needs, given a prescription for an anti-depressant that could increase suicidal thoughts and then sent home,” she told reporters at a gathering organized by the Progressive Conservatives.

    A spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia Health Authority said it cannot comment on individual cases, adding the public “needs to be assured the health authority is designing a responsive, accessible, effective public system, steeped in evidence and easy to navigate…”

    Weatherbee’s was among the voices Monday calling upon Premier Stephen McNeil’s government to make the troubles of the province’s health care system its budget focus.

    The party was re-elected with a slim majority last May, in a campaign that saw the Tories and the NDP declare a crisis had erupted following the merger of nine health authorities into a single administrative unit.

    Karla MacFarlane, the interim leader of the Tories, said in an interview her party is looking for a clear plan to remedy waiting lists for mental health in the budget.

    “I would say we’re closer to the $100 million (in added dollars) if you look at the need to recruit doctors, and we have a huge issue of dialysis care. People are travelling for hours for dialysis and they have nowhere to stay,” she said.

    Meanwhile, the New Democrats and the Nova Scotia General and Government Employees Union have been issuing regular news releases updating the number of ambulances languishing outside overcrowded emergency wards.

    The Liberals seemed to make a pre-emptive move on the health file Monday, announcing family doctors will get a pay boost as a result of nearly $40 million in funding — about $18 million of which was already announced last week as part of a $240 million end-of-year spending spree.

    This includes a $150 bonus for every new patient they take on who was previously without a doctor.

    The provincial government notes that health is already consuming 40 per cent of the budget, and that mental health’s $281-million budget went up $7.4 million in the last budget.

    Erin Crandall, an assistant professor in the politics department at Acadia University, said in an interview the opposition parties may be vying to establish themselves as the alternative to the Liberal party on the health care issue.

    “They could see it as a political opportunity to distinguish themselves from the governing Liberals,” she said.

    Crandall notes that the Liberals have tended to campaign and hold themselves out as a party of fiscal restraint, as they have become the first government in a decade to achieve back-to-back balanced budgets.

    In the last update, Finance Minister Karen Casey projected a $28.9-million surplus for 2017-2018, about $7.6 million higher than forecasted in September when she presented a revised budget initially tabled ahead of last spring’s election.

    Some of that has been achieved through tough labour tactics with public sector unions.

    Those unions and thousands of public school teachers are among those who will have keen interest in what’s in the fiscal document.

    McNeil has promised the budget will include a significant investment for classroom inclusion ahead of a report that is expected next month. He called the report an opportunity to signal to teachers that the government is serious about providing classroom support for students with special needs.

    Classroom composition, and inclusion of students with special needs, was a major issue that was seldom discussed publicly during a 16-month contract dispute that saw teachers walk off the job for a day and stage a protest outside the provincial legislature just over one year ago.

    During Monday’s news conference, Fran Morrison, whose son committed suicide in 2010, said she’s also calling for an independent review of the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s hiring practices.

    She says that those hired have not succeeded in reducing waiting times or delivering front-line services.

    Carla Adams, a spokeswoman for the health authority, said in an email that the organization “has processes in place to ensure our recruitment and selection process is objective, fair, transparent and based on merit.”

    Follow (at)mtuttoncporg on Twitter.

    Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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