Posted on Jun 5, 2014
LTJG Benjamin Finnell
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I arrived at the VA Hospital in Salt Lake yesterday morning (6/4/14) much like any other time I have gone there, with my service dog Norman at my side. This time, however, I was met at the entrance by a uniformed Police Officer. Yes, the VA has their own police force, but that is a different issue. The reason the VA Police officer cited for stopping me was that the Salt Lake City VA Hospital does not recognize PTSD service dogs as being service animals. He refused to recognize the prescription from my physician, the tags identifying him as a service animal, and the federal law (Americans with Disabilities Act) that requires that they grant access to ALL service animals.

Instead, the administration of the VA Healthcare System in Salt Lake have created a sub-class of service animal that they have declared "of no real use" (the officer's words). He claimed that dogs cannot be trained to performs tasks for PTSD, that they either "are born with the instinct to do it, or not, but it can't be trained." Regardless of the falsity of his logic, federal law requires ALL service animals be granted access, not just some.

After much lecturing and telling me how I was wrong for calling my dog a service dog (I have a prescription from my physician and he is properly trained to do specific tasks, which makes him a service dog), the officer provided me with a copy of the VAMC Salt Lake City policy (dated March 5, 2014) on which he highlighted the section covering therapy, companion, and emotional support animals (because that is what he said they considered my service dog). Nowhere in their guidance does it prohibit PTSD service dogs by name, but the VA Salt Lake City Police are using this document to categorically discriminate against servicemembers who have PTSD and use a service dog to help manage their PTSD. When I pointed out that it did not prohibit PTSD service animals and listed the tasks that Norman (my service dog) performs, he stated that only physical tasks were recognized. He then proceeded to discount the necessity of having a service dog for epilepsy or diabetes because "we are in a hospital, so if they need medical care, they are right here." He continued to lecture and berate me for fifteen minutes while I attempted to excuse myself (I wouldn't leave without a written copy of the policy, so he delayed making the copy while he lectured some more).

Interestingly, the VA themselves are currently running a clinical trial on the benefits of service dogs for PTSD (http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/study/NCT01329341). If they are willing to concede that there is likely a clinical benefit to having a service dog for PTSD, why then would they not allow someone who has a service dog and at the same time to access the health care that they are entitled to?

Some of you may wonder, "What does a service dog actually do for PTSD?" The reference at (http://www.iaadp.org/psd_tasks.html) has some wonderful answers, but the truth is that just like every other service animal, they are trained to perform specific tasks that aid their owner/handler in dealing with/overcoming their disability. But the key thing is that these must be specific, concrete, identifiable tasks that you can point to and say "This is what my service dog does to deal with my disability."

During my service, I earned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star (with combat "V"), and am now rated 100% disabled due to my PTSD. The VA should not deny me access to care based on the fact that I have a service dog. Please consider signing my petition on Change.org to encourage the investigation and repeal of this policy at: https://www.change.org/petitions/sen-orrin-hatch-investigate-the-systematic-violation-of-the-americans-with-disabilities-act-ada-by-the-va-medical-center-in-salt-lake-city


More links on service dogs for PTSD:
http://www.americanhumane.org/interaction/programs/servicedogsforveterans/
http://www.nami.org/ADVTemplate.cfm?Section=Advocate_Magazine&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=109134
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Responses: 19
MSG Brad Sand
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LTJG Benjamin Finnell

Should have just said, "Who is that? Someone is talking to me? Can you step closer? This is my see eye service dog."

Really, just take his name and badge number and talk to his supervisor and remember that arguing with police is like trying to push more buttons to get your computer to work faster...not really going to help. The officer was just doing what he was told. He doesn't know, or care, what the right answer really is, he is just going to do what he was told.
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SPC Charles Griffith
SPC Charles Griffith
7 y
THAT is the problem MSG Sand. He took an Oath of SERVICE NOT an Oath of just blindly fallow orders. He lacks Integrity and Honor It's called Nullification and applies to rules and regulations just as it does to jury's. Just because it's a policy does not make it right, and to think they think they can make policy to supercede a LAW is just stupid IMHO.
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MSG Brad Sand
MSG Brad Sand
>1 y
In truth SPC Charles Griffith I have no idea what oath he took or where is heart is on any oath. He has to look at himself in the mirror in the morning. Some days we just need to make it through the day.
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SGT Louis Perrault
SGT Louis Perrault
>1 y
As a disabled Vet I find this appalling, I don't have PTSD but I know what animals can do to help...I see it all the time. I stopped going to the VA because of their terrible care, so I am not surprised they could do such a thing. Some people that work there see us as a burden to their daily chores and forgot why they have a job.
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SgtMaj James Kuiken
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LTJG Benjamin Finnell, I don't know if you've gotten any definitive answer on this yet, but when my service dog was trained and certified (under the ADI), we were also issued a card JUST FOR THE VA... and it states:

"HR 1627 Sec. 109 - Use of Service Dogs on Property of the Department of Veteran's Affairs.

(f)(1) The Secretary may not prohibit the use of a covered service dog in any facility or on any property of the Department or in any facility or on any property that receives funding from the Secretary.

(2) For the purposes of this subsection, a covered service dog is a service dog that has been trained by an entity that is accredited by an appropriate accrediting body that evaluates and accredits organizations which train guide or service dogs."

Signed into Law August 6th, 2012.

The ADI (Assistance Dogs International) is one such recognized "appropriate accrediting body".

I hope this helps.
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1SG John Stepaniak
1SG John Stepaniak
7 y
I go to the VAMC in Boston and I know that do not and will not deny a veteran with PTSD service if he/she brings their service dog with them.
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LCpl Steve Smith
LCpl Steve Smith
>1 y
OoRah SgtMaj. I've seen lots of Covered Service Dogs go in and out of The Loma Linda V.A. Out here in California without the Veteran being denied Service.
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MAJ Operations Officer (Opso)
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I have seen and experienced service dogs working with those who suffer from PTSD and others who were just going through a rough patch. It is amazing to see the reactions that these people have had (to include me) and watch the stress leave their face for a few minutes and the dog, well, he loved it too.

It is ashame that not everyone recognizes it. Good luck with your petition.
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LTJG Benjamin Finnell
LTJG Benjamin Finnell
>1 y
Thanks! I appreciate all the support I have gotten from all corners. I am really hoping that I can get this policy changed so people without the robust support system that I have can rely on the one thing that gets them by (their service dog).
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