The Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) seeks comment on a proposed rule regarding service animals on VA grounds. At present, VA facility heads or designees have the discretion to approve or bar the presence of service animals on VA property. In contrast, federal law, specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), more broadly permits guide dogs and other service animals when they accompany individuals with disabilities on federal government property.
As the proposed rule mentions, “Though the ADA and the regulations implementing the ADA do not apply to agencies of the executive branch such as VA, VA is not prevented from adopting standards similar to those in the ADA when appropriate and applicable.” The proposed rule would make VA regulations more consistent with the applicable federal law and would “establish nationally applicable criteria regarding the presence of service animals on VA property.”
The VA agrees with the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in limiting the category of service animals to dogs that “are individually trained to do work and perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” Pursuant to the ADA, the DOJ has asserted that only these dogs “should be defined as a ‘service animal’ for consistent admittance to and presence in a variety of public settings.” The VA excludes dogs in training to do service work from this category. Furthermore, dogs without formal training that provide emotional support or companionship will not be permitted on VA property because “the mere presence of a dog that is not trained to perform work or tasks is not required by individuals in the context of public accommodations.” However, service dogs “trained to mitigate the effects of mental health disabilities” will be permitted. All of these restrictions regarding the classification of service animals “will provide greater predictability regarding the presence of animals on VA property and facilities, and will reduce risks to the health and safety of those on VA property.”
Although service animals will be allowed on VA property, the proposed rule asserts that they will not be permitted in certain areas and that these restrictions are consistent with both the ADA and VA limitations on the public. The VA states that it would limit “the right of service animal access” in accordance with standards for patient care, patient safety, and infection control, “just as we restrict the right of members of the public.” For instance, with respect to VA property under the control of the Veterans Health Administration, service animals will not be permitted in areas such as operating rooms and surgical suites, acute inpatient hospital settings, and food preparation areas. With regard to VA property under the control of the National Cemetery Administration, service animals will not be allowed in open interment areas, construction sites, and grounds keeping and storage facilities. Where the public may not go, service animals may not go.
The VA reserves the right to remove any service animal that, based on objective indications from an individualized assessment, “poses a risk to the health or safety of people or other service animals.” In keeping with the ADA, if a service animal were not permitted on VA property, VA “would give the individual with a disability the opportunity to obtain services without having the service animal on VA property.”
Comments are due on January 20, 2015. Interested parties are invited to submit comments by any of the following methods:
- Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov;
- Mail or Hand Delivery: Director, Regulation Policy and Management (02REG), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave. NW., Room 1068, Washington, DC 20420; or
- Fax: (202) 273-9026.
All comments should indicate that they are submitted in response to “RIN 2900-AO39-Animals on VA Property.”
This post was originally published on the legacy ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Notice and Comment blog, which merged with the Yale Journal on Regulation Notice and Comment blog in 2015.