Stop harassing war vets.
Lonnie Hodge
Park Ridge, IL

My PTSD service dog Gander and I have been shooed out of at least 5 different Starbucks in the past year. This is not only humiliating, its illegal. I want Starbucks to educate their staff about the American with Disabilities Act regulations and stop harassing war vets and others with disabilities who need service animals.

My name is Lonnie Hodge. I am a Vietnam veteran who began to feel the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) much later on in life. The only thing that has successfully managed my PTSD has been my service dog Gander. Before Gander, I failed at suicide twice. My heart rate fell from 120 beats a minute to 80 within a week of meeting him and has stayed normal. My nightmares and night terrors are diminished, and I am much more social. Now, I travel around the country teaching schools and organizations about the value of service dogs in the treatment of soldiers with PTSD.

But over the past year, on several occasions, I have been refused service from Starbucks because I entered with my dog. PTSD causes extreme fight or flight. Being yelled at in Starbucks across a crowded room can easily push a vet over the edge. From the simple refusals to being rushed and yelled at by employees, their treatment towards me was beyond stressful. Each time, I called, wrote and emailed my experiences. Starbucks handled the complaints the same way they might if you received a drink with sour milk inside. They sent me two free drinks. I have even offered to speak to their policy directors. I would happily, and for no charge, work with them to create a program to educate their staff. But over and over they have said they would intervene, but nothing has changed.

A service dog is medical equipment, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. I need Gander to function. He is there to help me with mobility and to mediate stress and social anxiety. Today, 30% of veterans returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from some level of PTSD. More and more veterans will use service dogs to help them get through the day. Making sure veterans have access to the care and equipment they need to manage PTSD — including service dogs — will help prevent suicide and other negative outcomes of PTSD. And that means not being kicked out of places like Starbucks for bringing their dogs.

Starbucks says they care about the welfare of the veteran community. I want them to prove it and allow us to freely enter their stores without being harassed. Join me and ask Starbucks to educate their staff about vets and service dogs.


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