MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - In the state of Mississippi, veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are currently not included in the list of qualifying disabilities for them to have a service animal.
According to Mississippi Code 43-6-7, every person that is totally or partially blind and or deaf are the only people who have the rights to be accompanied by a guide dog in a public place without having to pay a fee.
However, when veteran Nikki Best was denied service because of her service dog, she felt the law needed to change.
Best served in the US Army from 2007-2008. She was stationed in Fort Hood before being deployed to Iraq. Best was diagnosed with PTSD in 2008.
Best said that she's been with her dog Jingles for five years and that he never leaves her side.
"He keeps me calm when I have PTSD and anxiety attacks," said Best. "Whenever we go out in public, he's always by my side."
She said that a Mississippi business denied her service because she was not deaf, blind or physically disabled, despite Jingles having on his service dog attire.
"They basically told me to my face that they were going to refuse service to me because they didn't believe he was a service dog and I was not disabled," said Best. "They basically said that because I wasn't blind, I didn't need a dog."
Best said there has been several businesses that has denied her service due to Jingles accompanying her.
"After that incident happened, all I saw was red," she said. "I was so hurt."
Shortly after, Best came in contact with dog trainer and Marine Corps veteran Jeff McCall. McCall is the owner of The International K9 Foundation in Summit, Mississippi.
McCall said he was shocked and saddened by Best's situation.
"She started to tell me that she was having some problems with some businesses being asked to leave," said McCall. "So, I started looking at the current Mississippi statue and realized that there was a problem."
According to State Law, the blind and deaf are the only ones with full rights to be accompanied by a guide or hearing dogs. Three years ago, McCall wrote a bill to send to the house to include not only veterans with PTSD but anyone with the disorder to be included in the list of qualifying disabilities. However, the bill died in the first session.
Late last year, Best made phone calls to representatives to bring more awareness on the issue. McCall was eventually called by representatives to rewrite the bill. The bill is sponsored by Representative Sam Mims (R), Rep. Kathy Sykes (D), and Rep. Dan Eubanks (R).
Currently, the bill has passed through the House and is on its way to the senate. McCall said as of right now, he's told that there doesn't appear to be opposition against the bill.
"If you need a service dog and they help you, stand up for what you believe in and what you think is right," Best said.