Blind Denver veteran: VA won't allow my guide dog

VA defends policy in oral surgery
Posted at 11:04 PM, Sep 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-08 01:05:11-04

DENVER -- A blind Denver veteran is fighting the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, after the dental clinic would not let him bring his guide dog into a dental appointment.

Since Army veteran Chuck Vaile lost his sight in the line of duty, his guide dog has replaced his eyes.

But he said when he went to the VA Dental Clinic in Denver last week, staff tried to take that away, telling him he couldn't bring his service dog into the dental treatment room, even though they had allowed it for the same periodontal procedure a few months before. 

"I'm tired of being treated like a second class citizen and something they scraped off the bottom of their shoe," said Vaile.

It is not the first time Vaile has complained about the issue. In 2014, the VA changed its service dog policy as a result of Vaile's efforts.

"There were some aspects in the old policy that were flat-out illegal," said Vaile, who thought the issue had been resolved until last week.

"For certain procedures, we do reserve the right to restrict access to service animals to certain areas of our hospital," said Daniel Warvi, a spokesman for the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System. "In the case of oral surgery, it's just not appropriate to bring an animal into that procedure area." 

The agency's policy states that service dogs are not permitted during invasive surgical or oral surgery procedures.

"This is a patient and staff safety issue," said Warvi, who stated that the procedure was not the same as the last one. "They were slightly different procedures that involved a little bit less invasive procedures."

Still, Warvi said, they tried to accommodate Vaile by offering to allow the dog to sit behind him but not at his feet as Vaile requested.

"He helped us change the policy, and we've made some changes," said Warvi. "But just because he helped us make that policy doesn't mean he gets to determine the exceptions to it."

"This may be more of a power struggle than an actual need to exclude a dog from a sterile area," said Julie Reiskin, the executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, questioning why if the dog was allowed in the room there was an objection to it being by the owner's feet. 

After reviewing the VA policy, Reiskin said the agency may not have broken any laws, but it could have handled the situation better.

"I can see why he was frustrated," said Reiskin. "A much more effective way of dealing with it would be to use what we call an 'interactive process', which is a fancy way of saying 'talking to the person' and having a dialog and treating the person as an equal adult."

Meanwhile, Vaile left the clinic without having the procedure done, but he said he plans to fight the decision to prohibit his guide dog.

"I don't want to walk into the VA, get something done, then walk in the next time and be told I can't get it done because I have my dog with me," said Vaile. "I just want a consistent policy that makes sense."

Warvi said the VA will offer to pay for Vaile to have community treatment outside the VA to have the procedure done.

"We just want him to get the treatment he needs," said Warvi.


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