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November 4, 2013

Host: Richard Ruelas

AZ Giving and Leading: Soldier’s Best Friend

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  • Veterans returning from war sometimes do not return alone. They may be accompanied by post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries. Soldier’s Best Friend is a Glendale-based organization that pairs up service or therapeutic companion dogs with soldiers suffering the impacts of war. Most dogs are rescued from local shelters. We’ll take a look at veterans who are benefiting from service dogs provided by Soldier’s Best Friend.
Category: Giving/Leading   |   Keywords: arizona, veterans, PTSD, glendale, service dogs, ,

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Richard Ruelas: Every month we feature an Arizona organization working to help better the community in our giving and leading segment. Tonight, a week before Veteran's day, the focus is on returning soldiers. Arizona is home to more than half a million Veterans. They include 150,000 who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them face multiple deployments. Transitioning from military to civilian life can be difficult, especially for those Veterans dealing with medical issues. Producer Christina Estes and photographer Steve Aron show us how an Arizona veterinarian came up with a plan to help veterans.

Christina Estes: 16-month-old Lucky is like most puppies.

Jason Bedore: He's full of energy.

Christina Estes: And he loves toys stuffed with peanut butter.

Jason Bedore: Good boy.

Christina Estes: It's never easy to separate a dog from his treat but in Lucky's case --

Jason Bedore: Once you put on the vest and the collar, he knows he's going to work.

Christina Estes: Work means protecting a man who spent a decade protecting others.

Jason Bedore: I did five tours to Iraq. In 2007, I was hit with an improvised explosive device, IED, and sustained injuries, from head injuries to, to knee injuries.

Christina Estes: After years of surgeries and therapy, staff sergeant Jason Bedore medically retired.

Jason Bedore: I had a disconnect, I didn't know what to do.

Christina Estes: A bad knee was the most visible scar, while the post-traumatic stress and brain injuries stayed mostly hidden, except from Jason’s family.

Jason Bedore: I always had to have my wife with me. I don't go to the grocery store. I don't go -- I hate traffic, so I take the same routes that I know won't have traffic.

Christina Estes: Jason was fortunate his wife understood better than most. She also serve in Iraq; that's where they met.

Jason Bedore: My wife does a lot, spends a lot of her time taking care of me, so it's like she's taking care of two kids, my daughter and myself.

Christina Estes: Until Lucky came along. Someone discovered the lab mix in a dumpster and took him to a shelter where Jason adopted him.

Jason Bedore: Through Soldier's Best Friend, he was able to help me, I guess, come out of my shell.

Christina Estes: Soldier's best friend is a nonprofit that pairs veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries with dogs to be trained as service or therapeutic companion animals. Jason and Lucky are halfway through the program. They meet with a professional trainer once a week and join other veterans and dogs for public outings, visits to stores, restaurants, and the airport. Lucky's biggest job is to help calm Jason. Especially during nightmares.

Jason Bedore: He's there so I know that it's ok. If I wake up from a dream, or if I'm acting out the dream, he'll wake me up. He'll interrupt me, whether it's with his, his me wanting to pet him or him rubbing his body against me. It brings comfort.

Mac Pieper: He's not going anywhere, unless I'm going with him.

Christina Estes: After months of training, former army sergeant Mac Pieper and his dog, Cal, recently graduated from the program.

Mac Pieper: It makes me really happy and proud because I was able to teach him how to do it and make him understand that he needed to do it. It makes me feel safe because he's a good judge of character.

Christina Estes: While serving three tours in Iraq, Mac endured multiple traumatic brain injuries. He was also diagnosed with PTSD. And then just four months after leaving the military, Mac was hit while riding his motorcycle. The driver took off leaving his bleeding, broken body on the street, and stealing much of his eyesight.

Mac Pieper: It's called bitemporal peripheral vision loss. Basically, it means that on my right eye, I can't see anything from, basically, the middle of my eye out. And on the left side, the same thing, but from the left side.

Christina Estes: The brain injuries make it hard for mac to concentrate and recall things.

Mac Pieper: I will ask my fiancée what's going on for today. And she will tell me. And in five minutes later I will be like, what are we doing today? Because I don't remember it. I don't remember asking her.

Christina Estes: And then, there are the angry outbursts.

Mac Pieper: After my accident, they got to the point where I would roll down the window and scream at people that were not driving the way that I thought that they should be. Or, you know, walking down the middle of the parking lot when we are trying to drive through the parking lot. And things like that. And, I actually, I had to have Krista explain to me, we live in a state where people carry guns. And they might not just shoot me, they might shoot her, too. And that kind of -- that really made me want to get some help and make myself better.

Christina Estes: Cal is always there to calm Mac and to watch his back.

Mac Pieper: We'll stop somewhere. At the grocery store. I will be looking at a shelf or something like that. And he'll automatically turn and face back and be watching the people walking by. And making sure that people are not coming up behind me and doing anything crazy.

Christina Estes: The idea for soldier's best friend came from veterinarian John Burnham.

John Burnham: I wanted to help the military. And I also wanted to help with our overpopulation of pets.

Christina Estes: About half the dogs come from shelters and rescue groups. The program has graduated more than 50 pairs, but it's touched many more lives.

John Burnham: Just the other night we had a graduation, and I had a mother that has been the caretaker of this Veteran, and, and she put her arms around me and hugged me and thanked me because now she can sleep in because her daughter can take her kids to school now. To where before, mom always had to do that because the daughter was not willing to leave home. So, those are the kind of stories we hear on a regular basis.

Mac Pieper: Let's go. Come on. If it wasn't for him, I don't know that, that I would not have been shot at already.

Jason Bedore: Good boy. I just -- I didn't know how to thank him. He's -- it's amazing.

Christina Estes: Sounds like soldiers' best friend has more than one Lucky guy.

Jason Bedore: Yeah.

Richard Ruelas: Soldiers' best friend offers training in Phoenix, Prescott, Tucson and Sierra Vista. Thanks to volunteers and donations, there is no cost to the veterans. For more information, visit That's all for this edition of "Arizona Horizon." Thank you for joining us. See tomorrow night.

Education Success Report

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  • A new report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, “The First Eight Years: Building a Foundation for Lifetime Success,” addresses how states can help children thrive. The report shows problems children are facing and also points to solutions. Dana Naimark of the Children’s Action Alliance will discuss the report.
  • Dana Naimark - Children’s Action Alliance
Category: Education   |   Keywords: education, children, report, solutions, success,

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Richard Ruelas: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Richard Ruelas in for Ted Simons. A new report from the Annie E. Casey foundation, called "The First Eight Years: Building a Foundation for a Lifetime of Success," addresses how states can help children thrive. The report shows problems children are facing and also points to solutions. Dana Naimark, President and CEO of the Children's Action Alliance, is here to talk about the report and how it applies to Arizona. Dana, thanks for joining us. This report is sort of the kids’ account report. Give us a synopsis about what it says about the nation and Arizona.

Dana Naimark: This report says the nation is struggling, in terms of kids and their first eight years, and we now have longitudinal data showing that a large majority of third graders are behind in their cognitive skills, social and emotional skills, and their physical skills.

Richard Ruelas: What makes third grade such an important marking point?

Dana Naimark: Third grade is really a benchmark time. Our state has really focused on third grade reading, and that’s for good reason. Up until third grade, kids are really learning how to learn, and they are learning how to read, and how to be part of a group. And sharing skills. After third grade you are expected to read to learn, and to learn content. So that really is a turning point in education.

Richard Ruelas: If the nation as a whole is doing poorly, it seems that we have spent a decade or more of No Child Left Behind and trying to ramp up to solve the problem of kids not being able to read by third grade. What's happened and what have we missed?

Dana Naimark: We have missed consistency and ongoing commitment. And so, there has been a lot of talk, which is great, and attention to early childhood. But, if you think about it, our attention kind of ebbs and flows and other things take over. And even just looking at Head Start we have long waiting lists for Head Start, and that's, that's an area that we know really helps kids from low income families start kindergarten so they are not behind. So, our commitment has really lagged some of our conversation.

Richard Ruelas: Typically, we hear Arizona being worse than the nation. Are we going to hear different news tonight from you?

Dana Naimark: We are behind, even further behind the nation. We have more kids living in low-income families. And we have fewer young children in preschool. And again, that means that more are starting kindergarten behind. We know that quality preschool is something that parents want; they want that to be available. They know it helps their children learn those social skills, learn how to be part of a classroom, and get those basic academic skills started.

Richard Ruelas: So, it seems as people talked about preschool, they sort of diminish it by saying they are just doing arts and crafts stuff, but it's that interaction of being away from mom and dad and being with other children.

Dana Naimark: Right. It is the foundation, that's why the first eight years so important; it is literally laying the architecture of the brain. Happens in those young years, and so how you are interacting with teachers, with caregivers, with the world around you, that is literally shaping your brain; that will affect how you learn and succeed the rest of your life. It is critically important, and we know now, business leaders around the state are recognizing that. And as we are raising our expectations, in this state for educational success, business leaders have come together with educators, with early childhood professionals to say, how we start early? We know that waiting until third grade is it too late. How you can we start early?

Richard Ruelas: You were mentioning a group called Build, I imagine, that's an acronym, what does that stand for?

Dana Naimark: Build is part of a nationwide network focusing on early childhood issues. And so in Arizona, we have the Greater Phoenix Leadership, the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, along with educators, nonprofit leaders, childcare professionals, and so we're looking at it from all angles. How do we do right for our economy, for our workforce, for our families? And everybody agrees we have to focus more on those early years.

Richard Ruelas: So, the business leaders, coming into it, are looking at not just third grade, but down the road, graduate level? That they need workers to attract the jobs to fill their office?

Dana Naimark: Absolutely. We hear a lot from the business community now that when they hire folks, they need a lot of help and a lot of extra training. And we hear from our higher ed folks that a lot of students who start in higher ed need remedial classes. So, we know that our pipeline is not as strong as it should be. All the way along.

Richard Ruelas: Do you think that the business leaders will change the message you’re giving? Or I guess, will the business leaders being attached to this message, help it when the legislature opens up again?

Dana Naimark: I do think so. I think it's very important to have a broad coalition, and to show that we're not just bleeding heart liberals. In fact, we are tough-minded economists. We are looking at what it means for taxpayers, again, what it means for the workforce, and meeting those educational goals that Arizona has agreed on, we have much higher standards for third grade reading, and we want fewer drop-outs from high school. How do we get there?

Richard Ruelas: The tie, we have seen it nationally, and I imagine it's the same in Arizona, the tie between poverty and lack of cognitive skills, what causes that and what do you see here in Arizona?

Dana Naimark: It's a combination of factors. So, it's the fact that many poor families, parents are stringing together multiple jobs. They are under extreme stress because even with those jobs, they are having trouble making ends meet, and they have trouble getting to work. They don't have books and school supplies at home. They don't have the time or the energy or the know how to help their kids with homework and they don't -- they are intimidated about going to their children's school and getting involved. So there is a whole variety of factors, often they are worried about safety, in their neighborhood, in their areas area, so they are focused on that. Or how are they going to put groceries on the table and what's the next meal going to be? If that's what you are thinking about you are really not spending time doing the math homework but thinking about how am I going to feed my children to get through the week and the month.

Richard Ruelas: Are there some policy ideas that you want to put forth next year as the legislature opens up?

Dana Naimark: Yes, and I think these will be long-term conversations, on what Build is recommending, we expand access to quality, voluntary preschool for three and four-year-old children. And we know that's something that parents at all income levels want for their kids. And also expanding mentoring for parents.

Richard Ruelas: Explain voluntary preschool. You mean like free?

Dana Naimark: Well, I think there is a variety of ways to do that. We have not worked out the exact strategies yet. But, I think certainly, we need some state funding, we need to leverage Federal funding and private funding, so that we can make more opportunities available.

Richard Ruelas: And you mentioned another plan?

Dana Naimark: Yes, expanding mentoring for parents. There is a strategy called home visiting services, which has a ton of research about how effective it is. And that is when mentors come into a family's home, and so they are really helping the family with everything that they are doing with their kids. And if we are worried about get the next meal on the table, how do we address that? And then be able to move on to helping the kids with homework.

Richard Ruelas: Yes, so the mentor can come in and not only see how the home environment is, help the parent out, see how the child is doing, step in if there is some intervention that needs to take place.

Dana Naimark: Exactly, and one of the impacts of those kinds of services has been increased employment among parents. Because they basically increase their confidence in their skill set, while they are doing better with their kids, they are also able to move up the economic ladder.

Richard Ruelas: Well, we'll see if this report causes some minds to change at the state legislature. I know that you will probably be down there in January every day. I appreciate you joining us this evening here on Horizon.

Dana Naimark: Thank you.

Electronic Devices on Planes

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  • The FAA has approved allowing expanded use of portable electronic devices during all phases of a flight, including take off and landings. Air passengers will be able to use the devices, with some exceptions. Michelle Donati of AAA Arizona will detail the changes.
  • Michelle Donati - AAA Arizona
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: electronic, devices, plane,

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Richard Ruelas: The FAA has approved expanded use portable electronic devices during all phases of flight, including takeoff and landing. Michelle Donati of AAA Arizona is here to detail the changes. Thanks for joining us. AAA, we associate with cars, but AAA also is involved with all types of travel.

Michelle Donati: We are. We are an advocacy organization representing the motoring and the traveling public, so a lot of people equate us with our roadside assistance, and road trips, but we're also a full-service travel agency. So, when the FAA approved this proposal last week, this is something that we've been watching very closely. Because any change in airline regulation or policy does require some attention, especially because we know that we're going to get calls from our consumers, AAA members and nonmembers asking questions about this new policy, and what it means for them.

Richard Ruelas: And I guess, yeah, thinking of it with the interest of the traveling public, I guess the traveling public will decide whether this ends up being a good thing or not, but so far, people seem to be excited about the idea.

Michelle Donati: So far, consumers do tend to be, or travelers are pleased with the idea. You know. A lot of folks in the industry think that this has been a long time coming. These regulations are replacing those put in place in the 60s. And so a lot of people think that, you know, aircraft has evolved since that time over the last 50 years. Technology has evolved. And so, a lot of the sentiment is that it's time for this change to take place as well. As an advocacy organization, AAA's position is that the number one needs to be safety, so if you are going to change a policy, so long as safety is the number one priority, that is the most important thing when it comes to traveling, and especially with air travel.

Richard Ruelas: So, what will be the difference? Meaning, we just won't hear that announcement saying, please turn off your device as we taxi down the runway?

Michelle Donati: That is to be determined. So, the FAA placing or approving this and really now, putting it in the court of airlines to take the next step. So airlines will now have to seek out approval from, from the FAA, individually, before they can implement the policies on their aircraft. So, the policies may vary per aircraft in terms of what may happen, or how the announcement is made, may be put into effect, but there are some -- whether it comes to the personal electronic devices, that will not be allowed, so there will be no voice communication allowed, no text communication allowed. And devices must be used in airplane mode, so, for example, if you are using an iPad, it would need to be in airplane mode, so because there are a number of stipulations with the new policy, AAA is hoping to see TSA coming out with a campaign that can alleviate the consumer confusion.

Richard Ruelas: Because essentially, in airplane mode a cell phone cannot send or receive information. It just works as almost an audio or video device?

Michelle Donati: Correct, so you can watch a downloaded TV show or a movie, if you wanted to, but again, it would need to be in airplane mode, so we want to make sure that consumers know how to do that with their devices, there are so many types out there, so, it's important that consumers are aware of a number of things with this, this policy taking place. And including that it doesn't take place immediately, we could see a few months go by before airlines start allowing the personal electronic devices to be used during all phases of the flight, including takeoff and landing.

Richard Ruelas: And it's airline by airline, not airport by airport. It's not something that Sky Harbor or LAX decides but something that each airline decides?

Michelle Donati: Correct. So, the airlines will individually have to seek approval through the FAA, they will have to go through that approval process, and be granted that approval, and they will be able to implement the policy aboard their aircraft.

Richard Ruelas: And if the FAA has already -- I imagine, just reading stories about this, that there's been tests run where, essentially, they have an iPad going, and the Kindle going. So if the FAA decided this is safe, what do the airlines have to show the FAA that they are doing?

Michelle Donati: Well, the airlines will have to go through a safety application of sorts to gain the FAA's approval. So, the FAA formed a committee that included all phases of the airline industry. So, pilots, crew members, and technology manufacturers, and even passengers in order to arrive at this decision. And so, what airlines will be required to do is seek out their approval, they will have to go through a safety process and a safety screening process, and before they can gain that approval, and then grant that expanded use of those devices to their passengers.

Richard Ruelas: And so retraining essentially the personnel onboard, and I imagine, a bit of the script, what they say, is that FAA given or does each airline come up with its own to the passengers?

Michelle Donati: Again, that's to be determined, there are some things that, that we know that airlines are going to do passengers and as an advocacy organization AAA wants to see passengers put those devices to down and pay attention to crew members when giving safety briefings and instructions, something H. for example.

Richard Ruelas: The whole thing at the beginning.

Michelle Donati: Right, but it's something to pay attention to, each and every time you are aboard an aircraft. So, you know, those things, will still be very important, and it will be rolled into how the airline introduces the policy. And then also, it's important for consumers to know that if a crew member needs you to put away your portable electronic device, they can ask you to do so at any time, so it's important to be a responsible traveler and listen to those instructions when given.

Richard Ruelas: We know the story of Alec Baldwin playing words with friends and getting in trouble with the crew for not putting it away when needed to.

Michelle Donati: We hear a lot of those stories.

Richard Ruelas: Do you see this being something positive going forward that we are able to use this stuff?

Michelle Donati: You know, it's -- at this point, in the beginning, a lot of consumers are showing that they are happy about this change and you know, as an advocacy organization, our priority is safety for travelers. So, as long as safety is that priority, and then, you know, as an advocacy organization, as a full service travel agency, AAA is ok with the change.

Richard Ruelas: And I guess this shows sort of the power of the traveling public. Because the airlines, I imagine, flight attendants were not asking for this change. It must have come from the traveling public that this was created?

Michelle Donati: You know, it's come from a variety of sources, it's been a topic that's been a hot topic in the industry for the last several years, and especially, with the explosion technology, and if you look at the society, it's just huge, and there were two billion portable electronic devices sold last year, and some of the fastest growing devices are the wireless, or the wireless iPads and the tablets. And so, with that -- those have become a traveler's best friend, and I know that I never get on the airplane without my iPad. It is my best friend. And however, making sure that you are a responsible traveler is also important, so making sure that you are paying attention to the safety briefings and the crew members when they give instructions is important. But, you know, we'll see how this plays out and how each airline implements the policy and go from there.

Richard Ruelas: I imagine that there will be times during a weather situation where they may say put it away and will the public be convinced now, it's important, this is real, we need to put it away.

Michelle Donati: And one of the things that is kind of interesting, is, and usually during takeoff and landing you are asked to stow your belongings, including the electronic devices. And the reason that was put in place. It did not have a whole lot or everything to do with that device being on. But, it was more, during takeoff and landing, you want those things secured. So that --

Richard Ruelas: So they are not flying around the cabin.

Michelle Donati: It is more a safety issue.

Richard Ruelas: And we'll see if the airlines charge us from being able to use it, but I appreciate you joining us. Michelle Donati, AAA, Arizona. Thank you.