VA clinic turns away Veteran because of service dog

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VA Clinic Turns Away Veteran Because of Service Dog

A U.S. Army veteran from the Houston area says his dog, Jack, got him turned away from his local VA clinic.

"A guard stopped me in the hallway and said, 'You can't come in here with that dog,'" John Sutton told KRIV.

John Sutton served in the Vietnam War and says his dog is trained to help with his post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Jack has helped John Sutton after three suicide attempts," Fox News reporter Heather Nauert said.

The Bronze Star recipient had previously brought Jack with him to numerous PTSD therapy sessions at that VA outpatient clinic in Conroe, Texas.

This is where the story gets really interesting, and it centers around whether VA policy and federal law defines Jack as a service dog or an emotional support animal.

The only types of service dogs currently allowed inside VA hospitals are ones that help with vision, hearing and mobility problems -- as well as seizure-response dogs.

The distinction appears to be that service dogs are specially trained to perform a task that the handler either can't do him or herself, or that the handler needs as a direct result of the disability.

Although the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website has a whole page on service dogs for PTSD, it does say it hasn't yet determined whether "there are things a dog can do for a Veteran with PTSD that would qualify the animal as a Service Dog for PTSD."

However -- and here's where it gets really murky -- it looks like federal law has. A look at guidelines from the Americans With Disabilities Act shows that it actually includes language about PTSD service dogs.

An example of a service performed for someone with PTSD is explicitly provided as "calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during an anxiety attack."

The ADA also says that to be a service dog for a person with PTSD or any other psychiatric disability, the animal would need to be trained to perform tasks "directly related" to the issue, such as:

- Reminding the handler to take medicine

- Providing safety checks or room searches

- Turning on lights for persons with PTSD

So there is, under federal law, at least a recognition that a PTSD dog can be a service animal deserving of the same access as other service animals. At the very least, it's a little confusing.

Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs is looking into changing its rules to include all types of service and support dogs.

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