FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
December 13, 2012
HARKER HEIGHTS, TX – Some military members return from war with wounds that aren’t easily seen, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), and other “invisible” disabilities that may not be obvious to the naked eye. Fortunately, assistance from specially trained dogs – often known as “service animals” – can help these veterans in their daily lives.
Federal and state law generally allows veterans and other individuals with disabilities to use service animals in public. Denying access in these situations amounts to illegal disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state law. Disability Rights Texas (DRTx), a nonprofit legal protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities, is committed to enforcing these laws and helping veterans in these situations. It is also dedicated to ensuring that establishments understand the rights of people with disabilities so that discrimination is prevented.
Unfortunately, Jason Dameron experienced issues when he attempted to enter Wild Country Night Club in Harker Heights, Texas, earlier this year. Dameron, a Purple Heart recipient, served six tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and has multiple disabilities including physical injuries, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and disabilities that substantially limit one or more major life activities. His service dog, Isabel, is trained to assist him and meets both federal and state requirements for service animals.
On February 11, 2012, Dameron visited Wild Country Night Club with several friends and was accompanied by Isabel. One of his friends called ahead to notify the establishment about the dog even though advance notice is not legally required. Even so, Dameron was stopped at the door and refused entry, and a club security guard made verbal threats that he would harm him and his dog if they did not leave the premises.
DRTx has filed a complaint on behalf of Jason Dameron with the United States Department of Justice against Wild Country Night Club. “We have seen an increase in the number of complaints that business owners and their employees are excluding people with service dogs from their places of businesses,” said DRTx attorney Denette Vaughn. “Some disabilities are not seen but are just as real. As more veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury return home to the U.S. from active duty, it is regrettable that we are seeing more and more of them become the target of this type of discrimination. We are committed to enforcing the law by assisting these veterans with administrative complaints and/or lawsuits in appropriate cases.”
Vaughn and another DRTx attorney, Lucia Ostrom, have already filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of another veteran in the San Antonio area after he experienced similar discrimination. That lawsuit is currently pending.
Under the ADA, state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. State law has similar requirements.
Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with PTSD during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.
In addition to guaranteeing equal access to public facilities, the ADA also limits the questions that can be asked about the service dog when it is not obvious what service the dog is providing. Individuals cannot be asked for details about their disabilities but can be asked whether they are using the service animal because of a disability and what work or task the service animal is trained to perform.
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If you are a person with a disability or know someone with a disability who needs help, call our statewide intake line at 1-800-252-9108. Although we cannot directly assist every individual who contacts us, DRTx is committed to enforcing the nation’s laws protecting individuals with disabilities, and we want to know if you or others you know have experienced similar problems.