Skip to main content

Military Health System

Important Notice about Pharmacy Operations

Change Healthcare Cyberattack Impact on MHS Pharmacy Operations. Read the statement to learn more. 

Honoring Facility Dogs Across the Military Health System

Image of Honorary U.S. Air Force Maj. McAfee, a facility dog, bops the fist of U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Deydre Teyhen, then the commanding general, in acknowledgement of his commissioning order at Brooke Army Medical Center, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, June 6, 2023. McAfee is BAMC’s second official facility dog and the first to be commissioned into the U.S. Air Force. His handler is U.S. Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Scott Penney, a pediatrician. System. (DOD photo: Jason W. Edwards). Honorary U.S. Air Force Maj. McAfee, a facility dog, bops the fist of U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Deydre Teyhen, then the commanding general, in acknowledgement of his commissioning order at Brooke Army Medical Center, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, June 6, 2023. McAfee is BAMC’s second official facility dog and the first to be commissioned into the U.S. Air Force. His handler is U.S. Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Scott Penney, a pediatrician. (DOD photo: Jason W. Edwards)

McAfee, a Golden Retriever, recently joined the ranks of honorarily commissioned or enlisted military facility dogs. He’s part of a growing number of specially trained facility dogs who boost staff and patient mental health while reducing stress every day at hospitals and clinics across the Military Health System.

Mac, as he’s known, became an honorary U.S. Air Force major June 6, 2023. He is the first commissioned Air Force facility dog at Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base-San Antonio, Texas. As a U.S. Air Force commissioned officer, Mac wears a jacket that denotes his rank and service, as do many of the facility dogs across the MHS.

The value of facility dogs for mental health is increasingly recognized.

“McAfee's presence here is not only symbolic; it represents a profound transformation in the way we deliver health care,” said then-BAMC Commanding General U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Deydre Teyhen. “As we strive to bring joy back to medicine, Mac’s role becomes paramount.”

Facility dogs have been around the MHS for nearly two decades working full-time at their assigned locations with virtually free range to visit patients and staff. Their mission became even more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic as health care personnel faced high stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout caring for patients.

“The most important thing is to understand this is about the morale of our patients and staff and raising people's spirits,” said Amy O’Conner, facility dog program manager at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland.

Ceremonies and the Evolution of Service Vests

O’Conner and others in the facility dog community are working to create standard operating procedures for commissioning and enlistment.

For now, O’Connor responds to requests for commissioning and enlistment ceremonies with scripts tailored to each facility and service. She coaches the requestor through the process, offering templates for the ceremony’s invitations, and even party suggestions.

At Mac’s commissioning, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Eric McEllen, BAMC’s equal opportunity advisor, read the official orders, tailored from O’Connor’s script. The orders stated, in part: “Mac, effective with this commissioning, you are charged with the duty to comfort and cheer others and will direct and require all dogs of lesser grade to render obedience to appropriate orders … you are responsible for the smiles of humans and for the safety, professional development, and well-being of your handlers. You will bring joy and comfort to all that need you while observing and following the orders and directions of your dad, [U.S. Air Force] Maj. Scott Penney, as well as the BAMC facility dog handlers.”

“These ceremonies, which bring our Marines together, or our soldiers together, or our sailors together to experience this with us, it's just a beautiful way to bring joy to them,” O’Connor said. “And it's not hard, to do. People feel pride in the ranks when [the dogs] are commissioned.”

“We would never want to diminish an active-duty member’s status, or uniform or anything like that. It is all honorary for the betterment of our community,” O’Connor said.

You also may be interested in...

Video
Aug 22, 2023

3 Easy Tips for Hard Conversations - Part 2

3 Easy Tips for Hard Conversations - Part 2

Part 2 - Find the Words Is a friend having a tough time? Do you want to talk to them and don't know how? Dr. Joshua Morganstein gives 3 tips on how to talk to a friend or colleague who you think might be having a hard time. 1. Set the stage for a conversation 2. Find the words 3. Follow-up This is the second video in a series that gives ...

Video
Aug 22, 2023

3 Easy Tips for Hard Conversations - Part 1

3 Easy Tips for Hard Conversations  - Part 1

Is a friend having a tough time? Do you want to talk to them and don't know how? Dr. Joshua Morganstein gives 3 tips on how to talk to a friend or colleague who you think might be having a hard time. 1. Set the stage for a conversation - find a time when you both have the time and aren't rushed 2. Find the words 3. Follow-up This is the first ...

Video
Aug 22, 2023

3 Easy Tips for Hard Conversations - Part 3

3 Easy Tips for Hard Conversations - Part 3

Part 3 - Follow Up Is a friend having a tough time? Do you want to talk to them and don't know how? Dr. Joshua Morganstein gives 3 tips on how to talk to a friend or colleague who you think might be having a hard time. 1. Set the stage for a conversation 2. Find the words 3. Follow-up This is the third video in a series that gives advice on ...

Article Around MHS
Aug 18, 2023

Pet Therapy at Keesler: Creating a Paw-sitive Environment

An airman in training from the 81st Training Group plays with a therapy dog at the Levitow Training Support Facility on Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, on July 13, 2023. Volunteer teams of therapy animals and their handlers visit the 81st TRG weekly to help alleviate stress for airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kimberly L. Tou)

Overall, both military men and women are nearly twice as likely to report feeling high levels of stress in their military work (39%) than in their family life (22%), according to the National Library of Medicine. Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi provides multiple resources for airmen and their families who may need physical or psychological ...

Article Around MHS
Aug 1, 2023

Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital Celebrates Dog Days of Summer

Piper, an English Bulldog, loves sleeping and cuddling with her human, Carmen Rutledge, a military health assistant with managed care at BJACH.  (Photo: Carmen Rutledge)

“Dogs are like little mood boosters in hospitals,” said U.S. Army Capt. James Walker, hospital chaplain of Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital. He submitted a photo of his dog, Scout, to participate in DHA's Dog Days of Summer campaign, which raises awareness of facility dogs across the MHS. Everyone, including the hospital and dental commander, and ...

Article Around MHS
Jul 25, 2023

Defense Public Health Experts Investigate If Minority Group Service Members are More Likely to Experience Behavioral Health Problems

A recent Department of Defense study found American Indian and Alaska Native U.S. Army Soldiers had higher rates of suicidal ideation than white soldiers. The DOD is investigating behavioral health disparities among minority groups in the military to see how they might mirror similar disparities in the civilian population. (Graphic illustration: Steven Basso, Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen)

U.S. public health agencies such as the National Institute of Mental Health have recognized that certain minority groups appear to experience greater risk for certain behavioral health disorders. The higher rates of adverse health problems in minority groups are often referred to as “disparities.”

Last Updated: September 28, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery