There are more and more veteran needing the use of a service dog. A trained service dog will perform several tasks of a veteran suffering from PTSD:

  • Watch your back. This is critical to a veteran who constantly looks over his/her shoulder for perceived danger.
  • Place himself between the veteran and others who come too close. This is also essential for veterans with PTSD who cannot tolerate crowds or persons standing too close
  • Provide simple comfort. Dogs can “read” a person’s emotions and provide critical warmth when the veteran is suffering an anxiety attack

The federal regulations regarding the use service animals require that service animals be trained to perform some task it would not normally do. These are some of those tasks. To a veteran with PTSD, these are no small tasks.

So, it is a little surprising that one major employer, Schlumberger Technology, will disregard a request to bring a service animal to work for some six months. But, in the case of Juan Alonzo-Miranda, that is what his employer did when the Iraq veteran asked to bring his service dog to work. Schlumberger finally approved his request in November, 2012. The veteran of three tours had to wait six months until he appealed the request to the CEO. He was working at the Von Ormy facility repairing pieces of large oil-field equipment. The employer said it was asking for medical documentation from the physician during that six months. It wanted to hear from the physician who prescribed the use of the service animal. But, there was no doctor who prescribed it. Mr. Alonzo-Miranda’s physician eventually completed a form in which he said the veteran could not function without the dog. But, no one actually prescribed the dog, so no physician could explain why it was prescribed. Some service animals are not prescribed by a physician. Often, the veteran requests a dog on his or her own, or a veterans counseling group suggest the use of a dog.

Even so, the use of a dog can still be mandated under the ADA. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not require a physician suggested accommodation. That has become a customary practice, but the statute does not require a prescription for any accommodation. Schlumberger only allowed the dog after Mr. Alonzo-Miranda personally appealed to the CEO. Most plaintiffs support their request or accommodation with medical documentation. But, that medical documentation is more to explain the nature of the accommodation. If the employer understands the nature of the medical condition, then medical documentation is actually not required.

Mr. Alonzo-Miranda sued the company. About a year later, he was fired for reasons that sound suspicious. But, the plaintiff’s claim for retaliation was dismissed from his lawsuit, presumably because he filed the EEOC charge too late. See San Antonio Express-News report (account required).

The trial has begun in federal court here in San Antonio, Texas. The first day’s testimony included a company Human Resources representative, Jean-Remy Bellanger. Mr. Bellanger said the company required Mr. Alonzo-Miranda to bring the dog through a side door, not the front door. The HR representative explained they did not want visiting company officials or investors to see the dog “wandering around.”

That observation suggests the company did not make a genuine attempt to discuss the matter with the employee. Most, perhaps all, service dogs stay very close to the veteran. That is the whole point of any service animal, to stay close and provide necessary protections. If the HR representative was not aware that a service animal is always close to the veteran, that suggests to me that the company did not engage in a discussion to understand the nature of a service animal. An employer is required to engage in an “interactive process” to discuss the accommodation. If the company did not understand something as basic as where the animal would be, that suggests the company did not engage in that interactive process. So, it is little wonder that mis-communication might result.

The reporter noted that the dog stayed by the plaintiff’s feet during the first day of trial. Yes, indeed, that is what service animals do. See a second San Antonio Express News report.