When we are sad or sick there really isn’t a replacement for friends and family. VA hospitals provide the best care anywhere, but during a hospital stay loved ones are an important part of the healing process.
Vietnam Veteran Robert Brown was recently in the surgical intensive care unit at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville recovering from surgery. While the Candler, North Carolina, native was recovering one of his most important loved ones was allowed to visit him in the hospital, his service dog Amy.
Amy is a seven-year-old golden retriever that has been with Brown for six years. According to Brown, Amy is considered a medical alert service dog. She helps with mobility and retrieving items. She also wakes him up if he is having nightmares by licking his face or scratching the door to his room.
“She takes a lot off my mind, she does so much for me. I just reach down and start rubbing her and all of the anxiety just seems to go away,” said Brown.
Brown served with the 25th Infantry Division and the 196th Light Infantry in Vietnam. His war time experiences had a lasting effect on him that later led to difficulties in his personal life. Brown says getting a service dog really helped him heal and resume a more normal life.
Amy is truly a friend to Brown, but it’s business first for both. Brown takes Amy’s status as a service dog seriously and is quick to point out the distinctions between a service dog and a normal pet. Attached to Amy’s harness is an ID card that make’s Amy’s status as a service dog official.
Amy had to complete rigorous training to attain her certification and once a year Brown and Amy must recertify by completing an official test to make sure Amy is maintaining her skills. They also go for periodic refresher training just to stay sharp on their skills.
Service dogs must be part of treatment plan
According to VA regulation and VHA policy, service dogs may visit or stay with inpatients if it is approved by the handler’s care providers and must be documented as part of the handler’s treatment plan. VA’s policy mirrors the Americans with Disabilities Act that covers service dogs in the private sector.
“There is a lot of evidence in literature that service dogs help reduce pain and anxiety and the need for medications,” said Russel Coggins, an Asheville VA registered nurse. “Just looking at the Veteran, his face completely changed when his wife brought the dog in.”
“Their bond is mutual, it’s not just for Robert’s benefit but also Amy’s,” said Brown’s wife, Cindy. “Amy was anxious too not having Daddy around.”
It’s obvious that Amy is a true professional. During her visit she was quiet and nearly motionless. She was completely calm but always kept one eye on Brown to see if there was anything he needed. Her high level of training was obvious.
Brown said he was grateful that Amy could spend some time with him during his recovery. He also said it’s important that more people are informed about what it takes for a dog to become certified and how important it is that service dogs are accommodated wherever a handler may need to go whether it’s a fast food restaurant or the emergency room.
Scott Pittillo serves as the MyHealtheVet Coordinator for the Charles George VA Medical center in Asheville promoting online services to Veterans. Pittillo also supports general facility communications through public affairs and medical media. Prior to working at the VA, Pittillo served in the United States Army from 2003 to 2008 as a broadcast journalist with the 1st Armored Division in Germany, the 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment in Fort Hood, Texas, and deployed with the 1st Cavalry Division to Iraq in 2007. Pittillo is a graduate of Western Carolina University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications. When he is not proudly serving Veterans at VA, he is working on his family’s farm raising cattle.