SAN ANTONIO -

Texas lawmakers passed a bill in June that seeks to further clarify the Americans with Disabilities Act , especially when it comes to those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

HB 489, also nicknamed the “Bootz Bill,” was authored by Rep. Jose Menendez, Dist. 124, and was passed in an attempt to educate and simplify what is already allowed under the ADA. 

The bill states that a person suffering from PTSD or any other disability must be allowed access to any area the public may go. 

The bill also changes penalties for establishments not in compliance with the law, and establishes penalties for those falsely representing a service animal.

In preparing the bill for passage, Menendez worked closely with Adan Gallegos, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, subsequently suffering from PTSD. 

Gallegos is the proud owner of “Bootz,” the Rat-Terrier for which the bill was nicknamed.

“If I'm out in a public place, I can focus more on him than everything else going around me,” Gallegos said. “To take medications, he reminds me of that. When I'm having night terrors, he can sense it and wake me up."

Gallegos said he has often been denied access to restaurants or business because his disability is not so obvious. 

Like the ADA,  HB 489 stipulates that when a person’s disability is not readily apparent, a facility may only inquire about whether the service animal is required because of a disability, and what type of task the animal is trained to perform. 

An establishment may not ask about the person’s disability, nor may they require proof of certification of an assistance animal.

“These are not your granddad's service dogs,” said Bart Sherwood, who trains dogs with the “Train A Dog, Save A Warrior” program. “It's a whole new system now of the invisible wound.”

To date, Sherwood, has trained more than 130 dogs for veterans, and said any breed can be trained for use as a service animal, despite what the public commonly perceives as acceptable breeds. 

More importantly, Sherwood said, it’s important that the public is aware that the dogs indeed serve a medical purpose.

“A service dog is a service dog.  Whether it's an eye dog for the blind, a mobility assistance dog, or a hearing assistance dog,” Sherwood said. “With all the PTSD, these are dogs that are not psychiatric service dogs, they're medical alert dogs. They alert the veteran that something is changing in their system, and they stay focused on the dog, then they can go ahead and take care of the PTSD attack itself."

Gov. Rick Perry signed HB 489 into law in June, and the bill goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

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