Man claims he's being discriminated against because of PTSD and service dog

SHOSHONE, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) A military veteran and former police officer in the Magic Valley, believes he's experiencing discrimination in his search for employment because of his service dog.

Former police offer and veteran Michael Thompson explains how his service dog Ziva helps him cope with PTSD.

Michael Thompson is a Shoshone resident who previously worked for the Bellevue and Shoshone police departments. Prior to that, he served in the U.S. Military and saw combat during the invasion of Iraq.

"I did the initial invasion for Iraq," Thompson said. "We were the group that was embedded with special forces that jumped into north Iraq and worked our way south."

Thompson has lived in Buhl most of his life and his time in the military was a big change for him, especially going overseas.

""I went from small town kid to a gunner in a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), where we were actually fighting and taking over areas as we worked our way south," Michael said.

Thompson says that as they moved down south, they were asked to take a town roughly the size of Boise. That town was Kirkuk, located about 150 miles north of Baghdad.

"We ended up having to take the airfield," Thompson said. "Once we had a safe house away from the airfield, we went there and lived in the community where we pretty much had constant contact."

Thompson says he was active duty from 2003-2005 with the U.S. Army, and then was with the National Guard from 2006-2014, that ultimately stationed him in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

"I got put in the national guard unit that was there in charge of perimeter patrol for the base."

When Thompson came back home to Idaho, he said he worked some small jobs before finding his calling in law enforcement. A profession where he could take the skills he learned in the military and use them to hopefully make a positive difference in people's lives.

"I found my nick right in law enforcement.," Thompson said.

Unfortunately, Thompson's time in the service of others took a toll him. Today he's unemployed, living in Shoshone, and grappling with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"What I had when I got back out from the military was made worse through law enforcement," Thompson said. "Because we get to see the ugly side of society."

Thompson said his PTSD is the reason he's not a police officer anymore. But that things have recently gotten better, thanks to the addition of his service dog, Ziva. Thompson said he could tell she would make a huge difference in his life, from one of the first times they met.

"I had a severe panic attack," Thompson said. "I laid on the grass trying to take care and the first thing she did was come over and lay on me, and from then I knew. It was kind of like love at first sight."

While Thompson believes Ziva has undoubtedly helped him find peace, he believes she might also be preventing him from finding a job.

"I can't prove it," Thompson said. "I have applied for 267 jobs, I've had 15 interviews, and all 15 I've had her with me."

In his search for employment Thompson said he believes there's a misconception that Ziva isn't a service dog, but rather an emotional support animal. And that he may be the victim of discrimination because people still don't understand the difference between the two.

"It's frustrating because I know I'm not the only veteran out there that's having this issue," Thompson said. "I work with a group called Guardian Paws Service Dogs. The founder and co-founder actually went before the Idaho Senate and got it changed to where the PTSD service dogs are now covered under ADA. There not ESA's (emotional support animals) anymore, they're now seen as service dogs"

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act a service dog is defined as "dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities".

The act defines examples of what work constitutes as:

"....guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties."

KMVT spoke to Bren E. Mollerup, a managing partner and lawyer with Benoit Law in Twin Falls to find some clarification on Thompson's predicament.

"You have to have a recognized disability under the law, be able to perform the job with or without reasonable accommodation, and then if there's discrimination, it has to be because of the disability" Mollerup said. "So it depends on the dog. If the dog for PTSD, if it's not there just for general comfort, it would be covered."

Asked what kind of accommodation an employer would be required to make under current law, Mollerup says the employer only has to make a "reasonable" accommodation that ultimately depends on the type of employer as well as the type of work the employee does.

"For example, a food plant or food service place, a dog wouldn't be acceptable there under any circumstances where it may be at another business," Mollerup said.

Thompson said he's had potential employers ask him for paperwork or documentation regarding his service animal and condition. Mollerup said employers are entitled to ask you what the dog's role is for.

"For example, if the person is to say 'hey, it's a general comfort dog, that's one set of problems," Mollerup said. "If the potential employer or employee says this dog is trained to take care of anxiety for PTSD, to remind me to take medication. Then employer's supposed to take that at face value and they don't get to inquire further."

Asked what he believes is the most important factor to point out during scenarios like potential employment discrimination and the use of a service dog, Mollerup says it's "whether it's a current employee or perspective employee, the reasonableness factor is what governs all of this." "And it's interactive, they're supposed to be able to some give and take between employee and employee and with all that there is no reasonableness."

Mollerup, also says not every employer is governed by the same set of laws. Under the Idaho Human Rights Act you have to have more than 4 employees and for the ADA to apply.

For Thompson, he hopes that further education of what constitutes as a service animal, and how veterans like him function with their service animal by their side will ultimately lead to more with PTSD finding employment.

"I hope to find many more veterans get employment," Thompson said. "I know I'm not the only one."

Thompson said he obtained his service dog through an organization he's worked with, a="https://www.guardianpaws.comhttps://www.guardianpaws.com/">Guardian Paws, and he encourages veterans to reach out them if their struggling with PTSD or think a service dog would benefit them.

As early as this year, Governor Brad Little signed Senate Bill 1075, an update to what constitutes a service dog, and provided those living with disabilities the same ability to train a service dog as trainers.



 
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