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Florida vets denied VA care due to service dogs without paperwork

By   /   May 21, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

Paws 4 Boots

SHUT IT OFF: A security guard tells Rory Dobis, founder of Paws 4 Boots, to stop filming during a confrontation at a Viera, Fla. Veterans Affairs facility. (CLICK ON PHOTO FOR VIDEO)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Several combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder were denied access to a Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Viera because their service dogs apparently didn’t have the proper paperwork.

The vets were rebuffed by security officers. But when they refused to leave the situation nearly spiraled out of control.

Rory Dobis, founder of Paws 4 Boots, told Watchdog.org that he was attempting to assist several veterans in acclimating their dogs to the VA facility where they regularly come to receive physical and mental health treatment.

“I was trying to take one or two of my service dogs inside and make sure they were behaving properly so that my veterans would know that it’s OK,” he said.

Dobis, who also suffers from PTSD and is a former U.S. Army military police dog trainer, said he takes his dog in all the time.

When he was rebuffed — even after asserting what he said are his rights under the American Disabilities Act — a confrontation ensued. The longer he stayed, the more security personnel arrived.

“I felt scared so I did the one thing that I knew would protect us. I took out my cell phone and I started recording, and that’s when they got real quiet,” he said.

Watchdog.org contacted the facility but was told they don’t speak to the media.

A public information officer from the Orlando VA Medical Center told Watchdog.org that Dobis was trying to bring in “companion” dogs and train them.

“Companion animals don’t meet the qualifications of service animals so they’re not allowed in our facilities by federal law,” Mike Strickler, a 24-year Air Force veteran said.

When asked why the administration deployed security rather than mental health counselors to assist the disabled veterans, the official said they didn’t ask, a point Dobis disputes.

“He came to make a scene,” Strickler said. “If they would’ve had an appointment then they could have come in and brought their service animals if they were properly trained and licensed.

“We have veterans that might not react well to dogs,” said Strickler.

Dobis eventually left after a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy arrived and told him to leave the scene.

“We were just trying to walk our dogs around. They’ve already been in training,” Dobis said. “They treated us like criminals. They could have brought out mental health counselors. Why did they have to be so aggressive?”

The VA is facing a larger public relations disaster as a result of allegations of “wait lists” and widespread institutional corruption that may have led to 40 unnecessary patient deaths.

Contact William Patrick at [email protected]

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William Patrick is Watchdog.org’s Florida reporter. His work has been featured by Fox News, the Drudge Report, and Townhall.com, as well as other national news and opinion websites. He’s also been cited and reposted by numerous state news organizations, including Florida Trend, Sunshine State News and the Miami Herald, and is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Florida Press Association. William’s work has impacted discussions on education, privacy, criminal justice reform, and government and corporate accountability. Prior to joining Watchdog, William worked for the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. There, he launched a legislative news website covering state economic issues. After leaving New York City in 2010, William worked for the Florida Attorney General’s Office where he assisted state attorneys general in prosecuting Medicaid Fraud. William graduated magna cum laude from Hunter College, City University of New York. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife and three young children.