Fort Bliss institutes stricter standards for service dogs

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by ANGELA KOCHERGA

WFAA

Posted on March 14, 2012 at 9:55 PM

Updated Sunday, Mar 18 at 3:40 PM

EL PASO — At Fort Bliss, soldiers who rely on service dogs to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder are facing tougher standards that may force some to give up their dogs.

Brandi Dagle relies on her dog Tasha as part of her treatment and the two are inseparable.

“I’m diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression from a sexual assault that happened in Afghanistan,” said Dagle. She says she was sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier while deployed in the mountains of that country.

“I lost who I was. I lost all feeling. I lost the ability to love,” she said, fighting back tears.

Now back home, Dagle has lost her place to live at Fort Bliss. Under a new policy, service dogs will only be allowed in the barracks on a case-by-case basis.

“I was pretty much kicked out of the barracks. I found a place off-post, and as a lower enlisted I was barely affording it,” she said.

Fort Bliss said setting standards to determine who can have a dog on post to comply guidelines set by the ARmy Surgeon General outlined in a ten page memo dated January 30, 2012.

"Soldiers who don’t currently have a dog must get approval from their chain of command and designated military medical personnel. Unit commanders retain the authority to restrict access for dogs in order to maintain health and welfare standards for their Soldiers and the animals, ” said Lt. Col. Dennis Swanson, Fort Bliss spokesman

The stricter standards, outlined in a 10-page memo from the Army's surgeon general, make it tougher to qualify for a service dog, and the process is likely to take a lot longer — possibly months.

The status of soldiers who currently have dogs like Dagle is now under review.

Debbie Kendall’s organization, Military Working Dogs, turns shelter animals into service dogs for soldiers with PTSD.

“These dogs are the same as crutches, or a wheelchair, or a cast for soldiers who are suffering from hyper-vigilance, having panic attacks,” she said.

Brandy Dagle credits Tasha for helping in her recovery. "She's the reason that I live every day," Dagle said.

And for now that means living off-post if this soldier wants to keep her service dog.

E-mail akocherga@belo.com

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