Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals, and Disability Claims

Service animals for PTSD.Over the last decade, the number of people diagnosed with PTSD has skyrocketed, both due to medical professionals being more attuned to the symptoms and the results of continuous overseas deployments of America’s military. For example, the Veterans Administration has seen an explosion of cases, noting up to 20% of veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are diagnosed with PTSD.

Independent psychological studies report similar percentages with victims of sexual assault and trauma. Including recent studies about EMT’s, firefighters, and police finally coming forward to report symptoms of PTSD. Multiple studies, including those from The National Mental Health Alliance, support estimated levels of PTSD among first responders is around 25%.

Effective Treatment for PTSD Is Essential

Faced with this increasing number of people asking for help, the VA and the medical community have developed new therapies and treatments. PTSD is best treated right after the trauma through medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (talk therapy). This enables the patient to process the trauma before the mind wraps around the injury and creates barriers and harmful reactions.

Sadly, there are millions of people who never received immediate treatment. Treating these folks is a much more difficult task, often lasting years with failed attempts to pierce denial and, commonly, substance abuse habits complicate treatment. The VA discovered decades ago that PTSD sufferers need to feel safe to process the trauma and heal. The symptoms of the disease, though, fight any sense of safety, from beliefs that “no one could possibly understand,” to “no one will love me because what happened,” to “everyone is a possible danger,” make connecting with the sufferer difficult. It can impossible for the trauma to be addressed and processed.

Service Animals Can Be Very Beneficial to Sufferers of PTSD

In these situations, service animals can greatly aid in recovery. A trained service animal is not a pet. It is a tool. Highly trained and loving, these animals soothe, are vigilant, always accept their owner, have heightened senses for danger, and can be trained to recognize dissociative episodes (and can bring the sufferer out of them), and make the patient feel safe. This creates a space where the patient can use cognitive behavioral therapy to handle the other symptoms in a more effective manner.

In my experience, my almost home bound veterans with service animals can leave their homes alone, travel to unfamiliar hearing sites, and go to the doctor’s offices for treatment. In short, for someone with PTSD so extreme that it is disabling, a service animal can often let them leave the house and approximate a normal life. They are a remarkable and wonderful benefit for their owners.

Service Animals and Social Security Disability Benefits

In the context of the Social Security Disability process, proving the necessity of a service animal can often be the difference between winning and losing a case. For all the pink and yellow ribbons that Social Security judges undoubtedly place on their cars, they are not, as a rule, people inclined to discern the difference between moderate cases of PTSD and severe ones. Social Security judges are, like me, just lawyers and not doctors. As such, we are not qualified to determine whose symptoms are serious and whose symptoms are mild.

The difference between the judge and our experienced attorneys at Keller & Keller are twofold. First, we know our clients and have more experience with them. Our office has communicated with our clients for a year or more before a hearing. The second difference is that we tend to believe people (our clients) and their doctors (medical professionals) and judges often do not.

Service animals are wonderful and expensive gifts to their owners. However, once the recommendation has been made from a doctor, the process of receiving a service animal is difficult and being granted one is rare. Additionally, and more importantly, the person who testifies at the hearing about workplace factors will invariably testify that needing a service animal to go to work will eliminate work in most competitive settings. So, the acquisition of the service animal not only helps the patient’s therapeutic outcomes, it often wins a disability hearing.

We should be clear that some judges hate this fact. Obviously, you do not become a judge without being the sort of person who likes to judge things. Something like this occurrence galls a judge. It’s like magic words that take the power away from the judge. We should note that there are plenty of people who go to the pound, get a dog, and call it an emotional support animal. Judges know this and they do not approve those applications. Folks who need service animals will need to provide proof that a doctor advised them of the need for a service animal, AND they often need to prove their companion came from a specialized training facility or service.

Our Social Security Attorneys Are Here to Help

At Keller & Keller, we have decades of experience with preparing these cases for hearings, through appeals, and, even in Court. We know how to document these cases and how to win them. If you suffer from this terrible disease and have a service animal, please contact us today. We will get it done.

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