SPOKANE, Wash. - Posttraumatic stress disorder is a diagnosis the VA hospital is all too familiar with. In many cases, veterans who suffer from PTSD are given service animals to help them through their day-to-day life.
Veteran William Morisette was prescribed a service dog to help with his anxiety caused by PTSD by a doctor at a VA hospital in Colorado. He has had his service dog for more than a year now and says the dog has helped him tremendously.
However, Morisette says the VA Medical Center in Spokane will not let him bring the dog to his dental appointments.
"The very hospital that prescribed him now wants to take him away and I don't get that," Morisette said. "Providers are supposed to be there to provide a service for you and to get you better. This is not getting me better."
Morisette served twenty-one-and-a-half-years in the Army, participated in ROTC at Gonzaga and served his last tour as an officer in the Gulf War. He says his golden retriever named Sport goes with him everywhere and helps him deal with health issues he did not expect to have when he returned from the war.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals are allowed to be in all areas of a building where the public is normally allowed to go. This includes hospitals, patient rooms, clinics, exam rooms and even cafeterias.
However, a service animal can be excluded from operating or burn rooms where the animal's presence may compromise a sterile environment.
We requested the policy for service animals from the VA Medical Center in Spokane and were told we would have to file a formal request to obtain it. However, we were able to see the copy of the policy Morisette says he was given and it does state that service animals for people with PTSD are allowed.
Morisette however, sometimes feels that because his disability is not a physical one people can see right away, he often is treated differently.
"You have traumatic brain injuries which I do suffer from. You have PTSD which I do suffer from. You have depression and anxiety, which I do suffer from. They are all internal," Morisette said. "I look normal on the outside. The egg looks great on the outside, but on the inside it's scrambled."
We did receive a statement regarding service animals from the Spokane VA Medical Center. The statement reads:
"Spokane VAMC does have a policy and recognizes the essential role Service Dogs have with some Veterans with certain conditions. When there is a need for the Service Dog to be present, that is honored and we have a process for that. A clinician has the responsibility to decide when it may be inappropriate to have the service dog present during a setting or procedure that may interfere with staff or the well being of other patients. Spokane VAMC has high standards for safety and infection control measures in place for our staff, patients and visitors."
According to the ADA, a person with a disability cannot be asked to remove the service animal unless the dog is out of control or the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that service animal to be removed, the staff at the location must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain the service without the animal present.