Queens veteran and service dog teach others to move forward

Captain James Van Thach and his dog, Liz. (Courtesy of Captain James Van Thach)
Captain James Van Thach and his dog, Liz. (Courtesy of Captain James Van Thach)

Captain James Van Thach was in his 30s, a recent law grad and ready for two years as a soldier in Iraq.

When he came home, he was a disabled veteran moving in with his parents.

“I felt like a shell of myself,” Van Thach told Metro of his return to New York in 2008 after being injured two separate times in Iraq.

The Queens native is working his way toward recovery with the help of Liz, a mixed Labrador and golden retriever service dog, and helping others do the same.

Both will be honored Thursday night at the Hearts and Heroes Gala in Manhattan.

Van Thach, 37, who lives in Bellerose, was first injured by an improvised explosive device, then again when a rocket exploded steps away, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury, blurred vision in his left eye and post-traumatic stress disorder.  

He received both a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Canine Companions for Independence, a Medford, N.Y., group that matches people with disabilities with dogs, set him up with Liz last year.

“I take 21 pills a day just to survive,” he said. “If I drop my pills or my pill bottle, I’m not able to pick them up. I can give her the command, she can pick up the item off the ground, hold it in her mouth, not chew it or anything, and release it in my hand.”

Liz also grabs clothes, keys or anything else that he needs, he said.

He added, “It’s a life saver. I’ve gained more independence.”

Earlier this year, he traveled to Afghanistan with a group called Troops First Foundation, which runs Operation Proper Exit.

He told about 1,500 soldiers about his experiences, knowing many might be struggling with psychological and physical stresses or even suicidal thoughts.

“Seek help and move forward in your life, like I am,” he told them.

Thursday, Liz will be by his side at the gala.

“She’s my ticket in,” he said.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Bloomberg launches $50 million anti-gun violence effort

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million on a grassroots anti-gun violence network to challenge the National Rifle Association.

Local

East Village woman fights off rape attempt from…

An East Village woman fought off an attempted rapist that she woke to find standing on her bed over the weekend, police said.

International

Nearly 300 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes

Almost 300 people were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea Wednesday, in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years.

Local

Police look for man suspected of threatening Muslim…

Police seek man suspected of calling a teen Muslim girl a "terrorist" and spitting on her multiple times while on a Queens bus.

The Word

Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg are engaged

If Donnie Wahlberg wants to get vaccinated against anything, he should do it soon: he and Jenny McCarthy are engaged, she just announced on "The View."

Television

TV watch list, Wednesday, April 16: 'The Americans,'…

'The Americans' Philip and Elizabeth face "painful turns" in their missions. Maybe next week they'll have a nice easy mission with no moral ambiguity? Probably…

Movies

Curtain raiser: The Tribeca Film Festival arrives this…

The Tribeca Film Festival begins its two-week run in Lower Manhattan on Thursday, boasting dozens and dozens of films of all stripes.

Movies

Review: 'Bears' is a cute Disney doc about…

Disney's latest nature doc, "Bears," doesn't completely shy away from the fact that its subjects would devour you (or eachother) if they had the chance.

NHL

Islanders back to rebuilding mode after disappointing season

One season after qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2006-07, the Islanders finished 2013-14 with a 34-37-11 record.

NFL

Jets confident despite Chris Johnson leaving with no…

Jets fans clamored for a playmaker on offense all offseason. It looked like they were going to land that player on Tuesday when Chris Johnson…

NBA

Knicks, Nets rivalry never materialized despite national attention

When the NBA schedule was released, the league anticipated an intense rivalry between the Nets and Knicks with all four games slated for national TV.

NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could…

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could the Mavericks surprise?

Wellbeing

Could a facelift give you the edge at…

It's not just women lining up for procedures.

Home

Steal home decorating tips from Nattystyle blogger Natalie…

Despite the towering ceilings and enviable exposed brick, it’s easy to see how Natalie Decleve’s apartment could be considered a challenge. Perched above the streets…

Home

How to plant a garden in the city

Small on space but big on gardening? You can still have that welcoming oasis of fresh air with an urban garden. Peter Smith, owner of…

Style

Personalize your massage at a private practice

CityTouch customizes spa treatments to meet client's needs.