Legislation would codify service dogs used for PTSD/TBI in state statute

LANSING – State legislators unveiled a bipartisan, bicameral package of legislation today that would protect Michigan veterans who use service dogs to better manage the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Current state law does not protect veterans who use service dogs.

“In the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s important to remember that not all wounds are visible,” said Senator David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights). “We’ve all heard the stories of veterans being asked to leave businesses because it didn’t appear that they suffered from any physical condition. While I don’t believe there was any hostile intent, this opened the door to conversations about the need for education and protection under the law.”

Senator Knezek and Senator Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage) will each sponsor a bill in the Senate. Representative Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) and Representative David Rutledge (D-Superior Twp.) will each sponsor a bill in the House of Representatives.

“The therapy these dogs provide a veteran is incredible,” said Rep. Barrett. “Transitioning home from Iraq and Afghanistan isn’t always an easy process. We need to understand that, respect it, and do everything we can do to help welcome our veterans home. The bond between a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury and their service dog gives them both a new lease on life. They’re more than just a dog. They’re family.”

Senator Knezek and Representative Barrett are the only Iraq War veterans serving in the state Legislature. They were joined at a press conference today by Army Veteran Tom Jones, who uses a service dog in his everyday life.

“I’m thankful for my right hand man, Baxter,” said Mr. Jones.  “He has led me to open many new doors. He is a part of my family and he has changed my life. I was a hermit for a long time but he has brought me out of that. I reached the point where I knew I couldn’t do it by myself. I didn’t know a dog could change that. But he did.”

“Most of us have family members or friends who have served our country,” said Sen. O’Brien, Chairwoman of the Veterans, Military Affairs and Homeland Security committee. “I am committed to promoting policies and services that provide a helping hand to our brave men and women. This is a bipartisan, bicameral effort to ensure that Michigan veterans are better protected.”

Three of the bills would expand current statute on service dogs to include protections for veterans with PTSD or TBI, as well as others with psychological disorders that can use services dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The fourth bill would create a voluntary application process with the state’s Department of Civil Rights to obtain state-issued identification, dog tags and a vest for service dogs. Additional language in the bills seeks to bring state statute in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We should be working hard each and every day to ensure that Michigan veterans make a smooth transition home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Rep. David Rutledge. “Far too many come home and fall through the cracks; those who are fortunate enough to get help with a service dog shouldn’t have to worry about going out in the public and being turned away from a store or restaurant. This legislation is common sense and protects those who protected us.”

The bills will be introduced in the House and Senate this Thursday.