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American Airlines Settles Lawsuit with Army Veteran Over Service Dog

McCombs

By Debbie Gregory.

Decorated Army veteran Lisa McCombs, who suffers from PTSD, says flying the friendly skies with her service dog, Jake, has always been easy. McCombs relies on Jake to calm her anxiety and panic before it overwhelms her.

But that changed in 2015 when she and Jake, a Labrador retriever, were barred from boarding an American Airlines flight, in spite of the fact that Jake was wearing his service vest and was properly documented.

Now, American Airlines has settled a 2016 lawsuit filed by McCombs. Due to confidentiality, representatives for both sides declined to discuss the terms, though both said the case was resolved “to the satisfaction of all parties.”

During the trial, the veteran, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, told the court that Jake  was trained to distract her during panic attacks. On the day of the flight, an American Airlines representative treated her and Jake with disdain, according to her lawsuit.

“Ummmm, are you trying to fly with that?” McCombs says an airline employee told her.

Airlines are trying to find a balance between allowing service animals, most often canines, and an array of other emotional support animals (ESAs), such as a kangaroo, a turkey, a duck, and recently, a peacock.

Traditionally, airlines require small animals to travel in cages under the seat of their owner, while large animals travel in the cargo bay. ESAs, however, are allowed to travel with the owner in the open, without the restriction of being caged.

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 gives a broad definition for service animal — basically any animal individually trained to help a person with a disability, or any animal that provides emotional support to a person with a disability, unless they are too large for the cabin, too disruptive, or a risk to the safety of others.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Combat Veteran with PTSD Sues Airline For Not Being Allowed to Fly With Service Dog

Lisa-McCombs

By Debbie Gregory.

Decorated Army veteran Lisa McCombs, who suffers from PTSD,  says flying the friendly skies with her service dog,  Jake, has always been easy.

But that changed a year ago, when she and Jake, a Labrador retriever, were barred from boarding an American Airlines flight, in spite of the fact that Jake was wearing his service vest and was properly documented. McCombs has decided to sue the airline.

McCombs relies on Jake to calm her anxiety and panic before it overwhelms her.

Her lawsuit alleges that while she waited to board her flight, an airline agent approached her and asked “in a condescending tone, ‘ummm, are you going to fly with that?’” the suit states.

For the next 48-hours, McCombs says she was repeatedly interrogated, stressed and humiliated, causing her mental health to suffer.

After missing her scheduled flight,  McCombs said that she was “verbally assaulted” by two agents who loudly demanded, in “rapid succession,” that she tell them the nature of her disability and explain how her service dog helps.

Their conduct implied that McCombs was falsifying her disability, the suit claims, adding that their tone was so harsh that strangers began scolding the agents and trying to comfort McCombs.

“I have PTSD, look at me, I’m an anxious mess!” McCombs replied, according to the suit filed in federal court. “He’s my service dog! I don’t understand why I’m being treated like this!”

The Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that PTSD afflicts 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan and 20 percent of veterans of the war in Iraq.

According to the lawsuit, McCombs “was emotionally crushed and humiliated by the conduct of (American’s) agents, who discriminated against her because of her disability and publicly shamed her.”

The suit alleges negligence, breach of contract and violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and asks American Airlines to compensate McCombs for her airline tickets, legal fees and medical treatment.

Army officials say McCombs enlisted in 2005 and did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the time she was honorably discharged, in 2009, she had reached the rank of captain, according to military records. McCombs received multiple awards for service, including the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, the NATO Afghanistan Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

The Transportation Department requires that all U.S. airlines allow passengers to fly with their service animals in the cabin, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Staff Sgt. Brian Boone and His Canine Companions for Independence® Service Dog, Brindle

brianboone

By Brian Boone

There are 3.8 million veterans with a service-related injury in the United States, and I am one of them.

In 2011, I was on tour with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan when the truck I was in struck an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). I sustained injuries to my back and lost my leg below the knee.

During my recovery, I met a fellow wounded veteran with a Canine Companions for Independence assistance dog. He told me how beneficial an assistance dog can be for a veteran recovering from an injury.

Canine Companions for Independence provides highly trained assistance dogs that are capable of doing physical tasks for a veteran with a disability at entirely no cost to the recipient. Trained in over 40 commands, Canine Companions assistance dogs can pick up dropped items, open doors, turn lights on and off, and pull a manual wheelchair. They can also alert handlers who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds in the environment.

I really needed a dog to help pick things up. I struggle to bend over and knew a Canine Companions service dog could save me from a lot of pain associated with my injuries. Assistance dogs can pick up items as flat as a credit card, as small as a coin, or as bulky as a prosthesis.

In September 2014, I was matched with Brindle, a Yellow Labrador/Golden Retriever trained by Canine Companions for Independence and provided entirely free of charge. Brindle is a character and adds a whole element of excitement to our household. My son, who has autism, loves Brindle; definitely a benefit I didn’t expect for our whole family.

Brindle goes everywhere with me and helps me by retrieving my prosthetic leg or grabbing his own leash. I didn’t realize at first how much a dog would be able to help me, but he is so well trained. Brindle has brought me peace of mind knowing that my prosthesis is never out of reach.

Since Brindle is helping me conserve energy and mobility by retrieving things I drop, I can confidently say that Brindle always has my back.

Hundreds of people with disabilities are on a waitlist for a match with a Canine Companions assistance dog. By supporting Canine Companions, you can Give the Gift of Independence – and Give a Dog a Job.

Learn more at cci.org/giveadogajob.

 

 

Veterans with Mental Health Challenges Now Eligible for Veterinary Service Dog Program

service-dog

By Debbie Gregory.

Mobility service dogs are now available for Veterans with mental disorders that prevent them from leaving their homes or moving around.  And the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has announced a pilot program to cover veterinary health benefits for the service dogs.
To be eligible for the veterinary health benefit, the service dog must be trained by an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) in accordance with VA regulations.

These dogs are distinguished from pets and comfort animals because they are specially trained to help their owners perform tasks such as getting out of bed, going outside to shop, or going to social functions.

While the VA already covers veterinary care for service dogs that assist blind or deaf veterans and those with mobility restrictions caused by a physical disability, this is the first time the benefit is being extended to veterans whose primary diagnosis is a mental health disorder.

Dr. Harold Kudler, Chief Medical Consultant for the Veterans Health Administration, said many mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder can limit a sufferer’s mobility.

The VA veterinary service benefit includes the cost of travel to get the dog and veterinary care and equipment such as harnesses or backpacks for the animal, comprehensive wellness and sick care (annual visits for preventive care, maintenance care, immunizations, dental cleanings, screenings, etc.), urgent/emergent care, prescription medications, and care for illnesses or disorders when treatment enables the dog to perform its duties in service to the Veteran.

The veteran is responsible for the costs of food, over-the-counter medications, grooming, boarding and any other dog-related expenses.

Additional information about the VA’s service dog program can be found here.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.