By Debbie Gregory.
Decorated Army veteran Lisa McCombs, who suffers from PTSD, says flying the friendly skies with her service dog, Jake, has always been easy.
But that changed a year ago, when she and Jake, a Labrador retriever, were barred from boarding an American Airlines flight, in spite of the fact that Jake was wearing his service vest and was properly documented. McCombs has decided to sue the airline.
McCombs relies on Jake to calm her anxiety and panic before it overwhelms her.
Her lawsuit alleges that while she waited to board her flight, an airline agent approached her and asked “in a condescending tone, ‘ummm, are you going to fly with that?’” the suit states.
For the next 48-hours, McCombs says she was repeatedly interrogated, stressed and humiliated, causing her mental health to suffer.
After missing her scheduled flight, McCombs said that she was “verbally assaulted” by two agents who loudly demanded, in “rapid succession,” that she tell them the nature of her disability and explain how her service dog helps.
Their conduct implied that McCombs was falsifying her disability, the suit claims, adding that their tone was so harsh that strangers began scolding the agents and trying to comfort McCombs.
“I have PTSD, look at me, I’m an anxious mess!” McCombs replied, according to the suit filed in federal court. “He’s my service dog! I don’t understand why I’m being treated like this!”
The Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that PTSD afflicts 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan and 20 percent of veterans of the war in Iraq.
According to the lawsuit, McCombs “was emotionally crushed and humiliated by the conduct of (American’s) agents, who discriminated against her because of her disability and publicly shamed her.”
The suit alleges negligence, breach of contract and violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and asks American Airlines to compensate McCombs for her airline tickets, legal fees and medical treatment.
Army officials say McCombs enlisted in 2005 and did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the time she was honorably discharged, in 2009, she had reached the rank of captain, according to military records. McCombs received multiple awards for service, including the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, the NATO Afghanistan Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
The Transportation Department requires that all U.S. airlines allow passengers to fly with their service animals in the cabin, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.