A Veteran Adapts Thanks to a Service Dog, VA Social Rehab

Frances "Frankie" Torres volunteering for the community renovation project earlier this month at Tampa's K9s for Veterans.

If people get a little too close, Frankie Torres becomes anxious when he’s out in public. That’s when Hunter steps in to help shield Torres. Hunter is the Army veteran’s service dog.

I met Torres at Tampa’s K9s for Veterans. That’s not where he got his service dog. Instead, Torres was there volunteering with the Mission Continues and Home Depot community project to renovate the service dog facility earlier this month.

Torres used the volunteer project as a step on his way back from injuries. He’s part of the James A. Haley VA social rehab program. Many wounded veterans, like Torres, are uneasy when put in a civilian, social setting. It can feel foreign and destabilizing especially to a soldier dealing with post traumatic stress and brain injuries Torres said.

“I had a brain injury which I had to recover (from). I was in a wheelchair for a long, long time,” Torres said. “Thanks to the VA Hospital here in Tampa, they helped me cope with my injuries and learn how to deal with them with minimum medication.”

Frankie Torres proudly served on active duty for more than 18 years.

Proudly wearing an 82nd Airborne cap, Torres talks about his 18 and a half years of active duty serving in Panama, Columbia, Kosovo, Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, it’s an accomplishment to attend a local community event.

Torres credited his progress to his will to live, “It’s a lot of depression that sets in when you’re active duty and then you come out of it. And you can’t do what you could do before, but through the social rehab program I learned to deal with my inner self and try to kind of put the injuries aside.”

“I took that label that was supposed to be a label ‘oh, I’m an injured vet, I suffer from depression and anxiety’ to – I could go out there and do other things and enjoy life.”

Working on rehabilitating the buildings and kennels at K9s for Vets was a good fit because it reminded Torres of his service dog, Hunter.

Renovations included new fencing around the K9s for Veterans kennels and dog runs.

“I still suffer from seizures and my dog, he’s trained to, he senses when I’m going to have a seizure,” Torres said. “Also when he senses that I’m anxious, my heart rate goes up, he stands in front of me so if anyone comes too close – he kind of like pushes them away – to give me that space to be able to relax.”

Torres said some people view having a service dog as a crutch, but he disagrees.

“I could tell my dog secrets and talk to him and tell him how I’m feeling and I know he’s not going to go out there and blabber it out to people,” Torres said. And thanks to his service dog and the James A. Haley VA social rehab program – Frankie Torres – is reentering the civilian world a step at a time.


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