As a life-long lover of dogs, sometimes the hardest part of my day is not petting the service dogs that occasionally accompany my clients to meetings with me. I learned early on that those sweet dogs are there for work, not play, and therefore it helps them do their job better if I don’t distract them. It is tempting though.
For many years, service dogs were thought of by society as “seeing-eye dogs” assisting those with vision impairment and/or loss. However, dogs provide assistance to people with disabilities across a wide spectrum.
Keep reading to learn more about service animals and how having one can affect your disability benefits claims.
Who Can Benefit from Service Animals?
Stories like these grab national headlines, and rightly so, because we are continuously learning just how important dogs can be to those in need. Dogs can assist those with detection related issues, like when someone with diabetes has dangerous blood sugar levels. Dogs can assist emotionally, providing companionship and a calming influence to those with anxiety related emotional issues. Dogs are now employed by hospitals, courts, schools, and the United States Military to provide assistance and comfort.
According to the United States Dog Registry [i], service dogs provide help to thousands of people suffering from medical problems like:
- Mobility issues (including paralysis)
- Sensory issues (blindness, hearing loss, etc.)
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Bone and skeletal (such as osteoporosis, scoliosis, etc.)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
How the Need for a Service Animal Affects Disability Benefits Claims
For my job, helping clients obtain and keep disability benefits, I typically need to prove that my client’s disability is incompatible with work. This usually means showing that my client cannot perform either their own job, but sometimes I am required to prove that my client cannot perform any work in the national economy.
More and more, I am seeing doctors recommending and certifying the need for patients to be assisted by service animals. While the vast majority of service animals are dogs, certain species of monkeys and miniature horses provide assistance to those with disabilities.
A doctor’s certification that you need a service animal may go a long way towards helping me prove your medical condition is incompatible with work. This is especially true if I only need to prove you are disabled from your previous job. By way of example, a sales associate for the local cable company who needs a service dog to accompany him to each appointment, into and out of strangers’ homes, is likely incompatible with the material and substantial duties of that job.
Regulations Affecting the Use of Service Animals by Disabled Persons
I am repeatedly asked about the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Amendments Act on service animals. In terms of obtaining disability benefits, I am not as much interested in where the dog is technically allowed to go and under what circumstances. I am interested in showing the adjudicator in a disability benefits case that:
- My client requires a service animal due to his conditions.
- The utilization of a service animal during the course of full time work at a particular job is not possible.
It is critical to note that service dogs are amazing animals and are remarkably well trained. A service animal will not always be incompatible with every job. A careful practitioner should examine the definition of disability applicable to your case, inspect the material and substantial duties of the occupation in question, and possibly consult with a vocational expert on the issue of service dogs in the workplace.
Need Help with a Disability Benefits Claim? Contact Us Today!
The disability lawyers at Andalman & Flynn make it a practice to stay up to date on new regulations and case law to provide the most effective representation to our clients. We normally provide free consultations for clients looking to file for disability insurance benefits or appeal the denial or termination of those benefits, whether the claim is covered by ERISA or not. Please contact Peter Casciano for a free consultation today.
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