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11:53 PM Wed, Nov. 14th

VA: Service animals welcome on all its campuses

Courtesy photo<br>
Northern Arizona Veteran Affairs Health Care System veteran and volunteer Don Packard poses with his service dog, Sailor.

Courtesy photo<br> Northern Arizona Veteran Affairs Health Care System veteran and volunteer Don Packard poses with his service dog, Sailor.

PRESCOTT - The Northern Arizona Veteran Affairs Health Care System officials want their disabled veteran patients to be aware of updated agency policies that guarantee service animals are welcome anywhere on its campuses.

Of course, the rules that incorporate the American Disabilities Act provisions are specific that such animals must be trained to perform tasks for the veteran, and the animals must be of the four-legged, warm-blooded variety.

"There is no such thing as a service iguana," VA Public Affairs Officer Mary Dillinger said.

On Aug. 26, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs reaffirmed its policies related to service animals so as to assure that the rules are clear for all its medical center and offices across the country.

"Nothing about this is new," said NAVACHS Infection Preventionist B.J. Allgood.

The initial service animal policy was crafted in 2011. The updated policy simply affirms the rules and assures that all VA facilities across the country are following the same protocols, and posting the essential requirements so that staff, volunteers and patients are all aware of the ADA-based criteria.

In Prescott, the ADA's summer update of its accompanying technical document won applause from the service animal community. The document - Frequently Asked Questions - clarified regulations so as to avoid conflict between those with legitimate service animals and those with pets. Service animals are allowed in public places, such as restaurants and stores. But stores are not required to let them be in shopping carts, and restaurants can require they remain on the floor beside their owner.

The VA expects service animals to be trained appropriately to serve their veteran owner, Dillinger said. However, the ADA does not specify training or licensing, and the VA also does not require such proof, she said.

Adhering to the federal ADA requirements, VA personnel will not ask any veteran to detail personal information about their disability, the women said. But VA personnel can ask if the canine companion for a veteran is a service animal and what tasks that animal performs, they said.

The ADA regulations are clear that service animals are those that perform particular tasks for a person with a disability, whether they are blind, deaf, diabetic, need help with balance or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Veterans who require service animals need not fear intimidation by anyone who may otherwise object to a dog in a waiting room, or even a hospital room, Dillinger said. The VA policy is clear these animals are allowed in all places on the campuses as long as they do not hinder health and safety, Allgood and Dillinger explained.

Service dogs are not allowed in operating rooms, or food preparation areas, but certainly could accompany a veteran patient awaiting treatment in the emergency room, they said.

The only time a service animal would be required to leave the premises would be if it was to become unruly or proved a threat to the "health and safety of others," state the posters to be placed in the VA's various buildings.

Veterans with service animals are also required to make sure their dogs are properly groomed, and that they clean up after the animal, Allgood said.

"The new policy spells everything out so everyone can understand it," Allgood said.

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter@HutsonNanci Reach her at 928-445-3333 Ext. 2041 or 928-642-6809.