Veterans service dogs legislation headed to governor’s desk

LANSING – With unanimous approval from the state House of Representatives and Senate, legislation to protect Michigan veterans who use service dogs is on its way to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.

The legislation is part of a bipartisan, bicameral package introduced in April that would protect Michigan veterans who use service dogs to better manage the effects of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Current state law does not protect veterans who use service dogs.

Three of the bills would expand current statute to include protections for veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, as well as others with psychological disorders that can use services dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The fourth bill would create a voluntary application process with the state Department of Civil Rights to obtain state-issued identification, dog tags and a patch for service dogs to be displayed on their vest. Additional language in the bills seeks to bring state statute in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“In the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s important to remember that not all wounds are visible,” legislation author Sen. David Knezek (D-11th District) said. “We’ve all heard the stories of veterans being asked to leave businesses because it didn’t appear that they suffered from any physical condition. This opened the door to conversations about the need for education and protection under the law.”

The Dearborn Heights senator and Sen. Margaret O’Brien (R-20th District) each sponsored a bill in the Senate. State Rep. Tom Barrett (R-71st District) and Rep. David Rutledge (D-54th District) sponsored a bill in the House.

“The therapy these dogs provide a veteran is incredible,” Barrett said. “Transitioning home from Iraq and Afghanistan isn’t always an easy process. We need to understand that, respect it, and do everything we can do to help welcome our veterans home.

“The bond between a veteran with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury and their service dog gives them both a new lease on life. They’re more than just a dog. They’re family.”

“I am absolutely thrilled these bills are headed to the governor’s desk for his signature,” Knezek said. “This is a great example of what can happen when we set aside partisan politics and work across the aisle to get things done for Michigan veterans.”