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 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.

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Published on Jun. 22, 2018

Estimated reading time is 3.5 min.

Views to date: 168


  1. William Sasman June 30, 2018 at 9:20 am

    Very heart warming.

  2. Kathleen Haley June 29, 2018 at 8:09 pm

    Hey Veterans Administration – there are so many glaring errors in the following article you posted. There is no certifications for service dogs. The company that trained the dog may require re-certification but neither the ADA nor the VA do (2015 Federal Document). This is not common practice at every VA so do not write the article as if it were. If the dog were a medical alert dog the dog would alert to medical issues like low blood sugar not pick up objects or assist with mobility. I have a service dog and have been fighting with the VA for over 10 years to get everyone on the same page. This sounds like a PTSD dog which is great because that is what most of the veterans (including mine is) but the VA does not provide PTSD dogs nor supports them. I just want honesty when the VA prints a feel good story about service dogs because it confuses veterans who try to get the same treatment and fail miserably and 22 die each day.

  3. Richard G Kensinger June 29, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    Dogs especially offer object constancy and unconditional positive regard. Every combat Vet should have one; they don’t need to be trained service dogs.
    Rich, MSW

  4. Donald A McKinley June 29, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    I am also a Vietnam Combat Veteran and have had my service Mac for 5 years. He has made an enormous differance in my life which in turn let my wife have a life. “Mac” is going to retire this fall and I will be selecting and training my second service dog. Of course “Mac” will remain as a Retired Service Dog.

  5. JP HULLER June 29, 2018 at 11:28 am

    My thoughts are with Mr. Brown. I hope he heals quickly and completely, and that he and Amy live a long happy life.
    Every VA facility needs to follow the example set by Ashville. Vets know that some do not. I suggest that rather than leaving it open to local interpretation VA Health Services set a clear policy.

  6. James Fetterman June 29, 2018 at 10:36 am


  7. Kendall Brune June 29, 2018 at 10:07 am

    Great topic-!

  8. Kendall Brune June 29, 2018 at 10:03 am

    Nothing more healing than a support animal. Our rehab and retirement campus allows all pets-!

    Dr. B

  9. Jesse William Mitchell June 29, 2018 at 9:44 am

    God bless and keep watch over you and Amy and may he give you a speedy recovery from your illness.

  10. streaming bola June 26, 2018 at 3:26 am

    we hope that mr.brown can recover soon from the illness in his pain

  11. Kenneth Waters June 25, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    No better meds than a service dog. I was denied my SD into ER at Mountain Home. Said it was their policy. I was by myself and will not leave her. Maybe the VA needs to let all it departments know the rule. She has been with me every time have been to primary care. Did not know they had to approve it.

  12. Carolyn young June 23, 2018 at 6:10 am

    May Mr. Brown recover from his surgery really soon. In the meantime, may Amy continue to give him comfort and help him to heal. Amy certainly is more than a Service Dog, she is also a loyal canine companion. May both of them continue to be of comfort to each other. Get well soon, Mr. Brown!

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