Veteran With PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury Told He Can't Fly With His Service Dog

| by Brendan Kelly
Captain Jason Haag and his service dog AxelCaptain Jason Haag and his service dog Axel

A wounded veteran was prevented from bringing his service dog on an American Airlines flight, even though the dog was recently named Service Dog of the Year.

Marine Corps Capt. Jason Haag was heading home on Sept. 20 with his service dog Axel from the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards, where Axel was voted Service Dog of the Year by millions of Americans, when the airline refused to let them on their flight, KUTV reports.

Haag and Axel have been together since three years ago, when Haag was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Haag served a tour of duty in Afghanistan and two tours of duty in Iraq. He earned a Purple Heart when he was shot in the leg and an IED explosion left him with a traumatic brain injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

According to Haag, when he returned home from his deployments and tried to readjust, he turned to alcohol to cope with the symptoms of his PTSD, The Daily Caller reports. He also tried over 30 different medications. Then in 2012, his wife recommended that he reach out to the organization K9s for Warriors, who work to pair service dogs with veterans. The organization paired Haag with the German Shepherd Axel, who helped Haag turn his life around.

At his lowest point before meeting Axel, Haag slept in a basement with a gun under his pillow every night. He had locked himself down for most of the year and a half leading up to that, only texting his wife when he needed something.

When the two met, things started to turn around for Haag. Axel helped him function and calm down when he started to have panic attacks.

"There's no doubt in my mind that if it wasn't for Axel, I'd be six feet underground now," he told Today in 2014. "I'd have become a PTSD statistic."

Axel may have helped save Haag's life, but Haag did the same for Axel; the German Shepherd was set to be put down before being paired with Haag.

On Sept. 20 (though The Daily Caller reports the date of the incident as Sept. 19), when they tried flying back home to Fredericksburg, Virginia, Haag and Axel were stopped by American Airlines. Haag followed regulation and gave them verbal confirmation that Axel was a service dog, though Axel did have on a harness and vest indicating that already. An employee of the airline interrogated Haag about his disability and asked him for more documentation.

That employee later told the American Humane Association that Haag needed a medical alert card, but American Airlines has no such policy. In fact, American Airlines' website states that service animals are welcome on all flights. 

"It was extremely upsetting," Haag told KUTV. "It was disrespectful. If I wasn't as far along in my recovery from PTSD, this would have set me back years. It would have put me back in my basement where I was three years ago."

Haag said that he just wanted an apology. The airline apologized quickly after he made his statement. 

"We apologize to both Captain Haag and his family for the confusion with the travel plans, yesterday," the statement, released on Sept. 21, read. "Thank you, Captain Haag, for your service to your county. We are extremely proud to fly you, Axel and your family."

Haag was scheduled to land at Reagan National on the night of Sept. 21.

Sources: Daily Caller, KUTV

Photo Credit: Daily Caller