A Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Florida has denied access to several combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder because their service dogs lacked proper designation by VA officials.
"I was trying to take one or two of my service dogs inside and make sure they were behaving properly so that my veterans would know that it's OK," Rory Dobis, founder of the Paws 4 Boots
organization, told Watchdog.org
Dobis said he was working to help several veterans adapt their dogs to the VA center in Viera when they were rebuffed by security officers.
The veterans regularly receive treatment at the facility, Watchdog.org reports. Dobis, who also suffers from PTSD, said he regularly takes his dog there.
He is a former U.S. Army military police dog trainer. Dobis established Paws 4 Boots last year in Florida to match dogs needing homes with combat veterans suffering from PTSD.
The incident comes amid reports of other abuses by VA officials
, including instances in which some VA centers kept secret waiting lists for veterans seeking care, to cover up failures to meet standards. Some veterans may have died while on the lists.
Dobis told Watchdog.org that a confrontation developed with security after he asked why he was being stopped. He said he was asserting his rights under the American With Disabilities Act.
"I felt scared, so I did the one thing that I knew would protect us," he told Watchdog.org. "I took out my cellphone and I started recording — and that's when they got real quiet."
He posted the video on his Facebook
Dobis left the center after a Brevard County sheriff's deputy arrived and told him to do so.
"We were just trying to walk our dogs around," he told Watchdog.org. "They've already been in training.
"They treated us like criminals," Dobis added. "They could have brought out mental health counselors. Why did they have to be so aggressive?"
Mike Strickler, a public information officer from the Orlando VA Medical Center, told Watchdog.org that the animals at issue were "companion" dogs — not "service" ones.
"Companion animals don't meet the qualifications of service animals, so they're not allowed in our facilities by federal law," said Strickler, who served in the Air Force for 24 years.
"If they would've had an appointment, then they could have come in and brought their service animals if they were properly trained and licensed," he added. "We have veterans that might not react well to dogs."
Under the ADA
, service animals are "any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government."
Strickler told Watchdog.org that mental health counselors were not dispatched in the incident because Dobis did not request them.
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