A veteran, who earned a Purple Heart for injuries that include a gunshot wound, toe amputation and blast-related brain injuries, broke down and cried when he received notice that his service dog was not welcome at the VA's American Lake facility near Seattle.
Since 2011, former Army Spc. Kermit Scott suffered with PTSD symptoms such as nightmares, social anxiety and anger. Scott had placed his hope of finding help for his PTSD by attending an in-patient program run by by the Veterans Affairs Department in Washington state.
It was program that had helped many of his friends who suffered with debilitating PTSD symptoms. In fact, Scott said that some those friends benefited enough to now be able to go out in public.
But with only 13 days until he was to be admitted to the 30-day in-patient program, the veteran received a a phone call from the VA's American Lake facility saying his service dog, Cooper, was not invited to come along.
"It was devastating," Scott said. "Cooper helps with my stability; he can tell when I'm having tremors and need assistance. He opens up doors, turns on the lights, gets my shoes."
That was when the combat veteran, who had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and earned a Purple Heart, broke down and cried. His service dog Cooper had been his constant companion for two years helping him cope with his PTSD.
Because it is an executive branch entity, the VA is exempt from the ADA, which requires private businesses or most public buildings to give access to service dogs at their facilities.
The VA did make changes to its service dog policies in 2014 - changes which aligned the department with ADA requirements. The VA policy, however, still reserves the right to decide whether a service dog can accompany a veteran in an acute inpatient setting or residential treatment program.
And in the case of former Army Spc. Kermit Scott, the VA seemed to have used that authority to deny his service dog access to the facility.
However, that is not what happened according to VA Puget Sound Health Care System officials who told Military Times in a statement that they "had not denied admission to any veteran due to [their] service animal policy."
Instead, they said, "Standard operating procedures for accepting a service animal into the treatment program were not in place due to the myriad accommodations that needed to be addressed."
Of course, now after Scott's complaint - and more likely the negative publicity - the VA facility has changed its tune and is allowing service dogs. Of course, for Scott, this change came too late.
"How surprising now, all of sudden after my complaint with the ADA and senators, [VA American Lake] hurries to put in place the policy to accept dogs to the program," Scott said. "It's the right thing to do. You have a lot of veterans out there who have service dogs."
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