The VA hospital put her dog out. We let him back in.
Army veteran Lisa Wilson just wanted to get back to work. Her service dog, Beau, is trained to help Lisa get up or to get help when she falls, to retrieve items, to provide balance and stability when she walks, and even to pull her in her manual wheelchair, thanks to a special harness. Lisa’s disabilities – partial paralysis and traumatic brain injury – make it unsafe for her to lead Beau on a leash, so the dog is outfitted with an electronic collar that Lisa has rarely had reason to use.
Her job with the veterans service organization Disabled American Veterans was located inside the VA Medical Center (VA) in Cincinnati. Shortly after beginning her work, the VA informed her of their policy that Beau would not be allowed in the hospital without a short leash. Explaining the situation did not change the VA's decision, so she complied with the request and started using a short leash, even though Beau was not trained to use one. Beau then began to bark at some people. His barking got him banned from the VA. With no way to get around safely, she lost her job, even though Disabled American Veterans made it clear that she could return when the problem with the VA was resolved.
“The frustrating part for me was that not only could I not go to work, I was not allowed to come to the hospital for my own primary care,” Lisa explains. “That was very stressful. I had to start going to Louisville, Ky., for care, 90 miles away.”
Depressed and frustrated, she called Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) for help. DRO Attorney, Jason Boylan contacted the VA multiple times in an attempt to work out a solution informally, but the VA refused to modify its leash policy or change its position toward Beau’s return. With the help of co-counsel John Marshall, DRO filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio. Under the pressure of this complaint, the VA eventually agreed to have Beau evaluated, which ultimately showed that he was not a threat.
“He did beautifully in his evaluation, as I always knew he would,” Lisa says. More than a year and a half after Beau was banished from the VA, the VA agreed to allow Lisa to return to the facility with her dog. They awarded her back pay both for her time away from work and for the cost of additional training for the dog - so he will be officially VA certified.
“My main goal the whole time was to get back to work, and here I am,” she reflects. “I hope my story ends up helping other veterans. This problem is not just a Cincinnati or Ohio problem, it’s all over.”