Legal Advocacy Group Files Case on Behalf of Iraqi War Hero

Posted on

October 18, 2012

Edie Surtees
Communications Director

SAN ANTONIO – Some military members return from war with wounds that aren’t easily seen, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic head injuries, 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. But in recent months, Disability Rights Texas (DRTx), the legal protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities in Texas, has noticed a rise in complaints from veterans with service dogs who are being refused entry to public facilities. Denying access in these situations amounts to illegal disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state law. DRTx is committed to enforcing these laws and helping veterans in these situations.

Adan Gallegos of San Antonio is one such person who has faced this illegal discrimination. A decorated veteran who returned from Iraq after serving more than three years in the U.S. Army, he came home at the age of 22 with life-altering disabilities, including depression and PTSD as a result of intense combat and exposure to an explosion.

In October of 2011, Gallegos and his service animal, Bootz, entered Billy Bob’s Beds on Tezel Road in San Antonio. Rather than allowing him to be in the store as others without disabilities, the owner yelled, swore and demanded that he and his service animal leave the store. The owner did these things even though Gallegos told the owner that Bootz is a service animal and even though Bootz was wearing an identifying service-dog vest at the time.

On October 17, 2012, DRTx filed a federal lawsuit on Mr. Gallegos’s behalf against the store.

“As veterans return, we’re seeing an increase in these violations,” said Denette Vaughn, an attorney with DRTx. “We want to help more people understand that some disabilities are not seen but are just as real, and people with these issues, including war veterans, have a legal right to use service dogs.”

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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Disability Rights Texas (DRTx) is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities in Texas. Its mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society.