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Army policy has negative impact on disabled soldiers

Our readers in Colorado may be interested to learn that service dogs are being used more frequently by soldiers with disabilities in Army installations such as Fort Carson. In recent years, these soldiers, who usually remain on active duty only while being processed for medical retirement, have found a range of uses for service dogs. Some of the animals are trained to help soldiers who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that is being diagnosed more frequently as soldiers make the transition from military life to civilian life.

However, a new Army policy implemented at the beginning of this year has made it more difficult for soldiers to get service dogs when they are needed. At issue is the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not provide standards for certifying service animals.

The Army reports that no more than 60 active-duty soldiers currently use service dogs. However, for those soldiers who do, they must now comply with a new policy requiring that the animals be trained only by agencies certified by Assistance Dogs International. However, ADI does not have chapters in 18 states, and that leaves soldiers stationed in those states with no access to ADI programs.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is designed to offer protection for all Americans, including soldiers. Under the ADA, businesses and government entities must allow disabled individuals to bring their service animals into public places and to the workplace. However, because the ADA does not provide standards for certifying service animals, the Army has taken the matter in hand.

Service dogs can be life-changers for disabled veterans and civilians alike, and the ADA does offer some protections related to service animals. Still, it remains to be seen whether the Army will make any changes to its current controversial policy.

Source: MSNBC, "Controversial Army policy makes it difficult for soldiers to get service dogs," Rebecca Ruiz, June 4, 2012

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