Rob Douglas: Invisible war wounds

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Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

It’s a safe bet that most readers of the “Veteran alleges discrimination by Steamboat Springs motel owner” article in Monday’s Steamboat Today were offended by how Western Lodge motel owner Peter Guler allegedly treated Joseph Metzger, a disabled U.S. Army veteran who wanted to stay at the motel Saturday night along with his German shepherd service dog.

As the Today reported, “Metzger, a Denver resident, arrived in Steamboat on Saturday with his girlfriend and service dog for a weekend getaway at the hot springs. The 26-year-old has served four deployments in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. In 2007, he broke his back in an improvised explosive device attack and was injured by a hand grenade in 2009. Today, the wounded warrior suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has his working service dog Ruud for companionship and therapy.”

After initially checking in to the Western Lodge without incident, Metzger told the Today that he was approached by Guler, who “flipped out and gave us a whole bunch of trouble. He wanted me to give him extra money to stay there, and then he said he didn’t want us to stay.”

Guler has declined to speak to the Today about the specifics of the incident but told me Thursday that he thought the newspaper had taken Metzger’s side. “I disagree with many things” in the Today’s news report, Guler said, “but I cannot talk for legal reasons.” That may be wise, as Metzger stated he is “definitely” going to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice alleging that Guler violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If Metzger does file a complaint, it may be the first case to arise since the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs issued a controversial ruling last September that the department no longer will provide mental health service dog benefits to veterans with PTSD until the department determines whether “mental health dogs are appropriate treatment tools for mental health impairments.” Given the VA ruling, it is conceivable DOJ will have to re-evaluate whether mental health service dogs for veterans continue to fall within the parameters of the ADA.

But let’s leave the legalities to lawyers and consider the more compelling issue of human compassion when it comes to recognizing that a significant number of combat veterans suffer invisible war wounds. Metzger’s allegations against Guler highlight the misconception that too many Americans have when it comes to battlefield wounds that leave no obvious physical trace while scarring the psyche. According to Metzger, after showing Guler the paperwork for Ruud along with proof of having been awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries, Guler questioned whether Metzger truly was disabled.

“He didn’t believe me that I was disabled and said that I looked fine,” Metzger told the Today.

Of course, how a veteran looks physically is not an indicator of whether PTSD is present. According to the experts the VA cites on its website, as many as 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have PTSD. Couple that with the 10 percent of Gulf War veterans and 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans who battle PTSD, and there is no doubt that a significant number of the men and women who go to war on behalf of the United States come home with a mental health challenge.

Tragically, upward of 6,500 veterans kill themselves every year — that’s one every 80 minutes. Are all veteran suicides attributable to PTSD? Of course not. But studies indicate that combat veterans — especially those serving multiple tours, as Metzger did — face a significantly higher risk of suicide than the overall population.

What can those of us who’ve never gone to war on behalf of our country do to assist those who answered the call and are now burdened with invisible wounds? At a bare minimum, law or no law, we can demonstrate our heartfelt gratitude and humanity by giving our veterans a little latitude when they ask to have their service dog by their side in circumstances where others might be denied.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Comments

Brian Kotowski 1 year, 2 months ago

My great-uncle Satoru served in WW2, and never discussed his experiences there, even with an annoyingly curious nephew. Even my gregarious Aunty Shizu, willing to discuss anything with anyone, deferred to Uncle Sat's reticence. All she would say was that it was difficult for him, and left it at that. It wasn't until years after Uncle Sat died that I became aware (quite by accident) of the decorations he was awarded for his conduct there. Only then did Aunty Shizu become somewhat more forthcoming about Uncle Sat's service. Even then, she provided only the most bare-boned account out of respect for Uncle Sat's feelings about it. It was clearly something he struggled with until the day he died.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 2 months ago

Mr Guler must know the laws regarding public accommodations if he is going to operate a motel. That he apparently so blatantly violated the law is probably going to cost him. It is possible that he could argue that the service animal was ill behaved and thus he was within his rights to not treat it as a service animal, but as a pet. Though, it does not appear that is what he claimed at the time so it will be harder to argue that in court.

I am not sure that anyone other than Mr Guler doubts a veteran's claims of PTSD. In Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers served many tours of duties that would obviously affect people.

The ADA's definition of service animals does not appear to be affected by what the VA will provide to vets. The ADA says that service animals will be trained to behave and so are not to be considered pets, but service animals that are needed and trained to go where ever the person they are assisting goes.

The VA is concerned that they are providing a costly service to vets than lacks solid scientific research showing that any more effective than less costly options. A pet dog may be as effective as a service animal in helping with PTSD.

Even if VA declines to pay for service animals for treating PTSD then that would not stop a vet from having a PTSD service animal.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 2 months ago

http://www.mnn.com/family/pets/stories/veteran-affairs-wont-cover-costs-of-ptsd-service-dogs

Training service dogs can also be a form of therapy, according to Rick Yount, founder of Warrior Canine Connection, an organization that has PTSD patients train service dogs. After completing a 2008 training program at a veteran’s hospital, many participants reported lower stress levels, decreased depression, better impulse control and improved sleep.

Yount says that it might be most effective for veterans with PTSD to train a service dog before receiving one themselves.

"They have to convince the dog the world is a safe place, rather than letting the dog prove to them that the world is a safe place,” he told MSNBC.

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 2 months ago

I would like this to be settled, the courts and lawyers will make out just fine without extracting a pound of flesh. In life most encounter unjustice occasionally, but not to forgive is often self destructive..

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