DURHAM, N.C. — Thousands of veterans receive care at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Many have physical issues and others are looking for mental health therapy.
One veteran is trying to overcome both with the help of his dog.
Dan Portaro and his dog Bailey serve other veterans.
Portaro was connected with Bailey through Veterinarians to Veterans United. The nonprofit unites service dogs with veterans for a better quality of life.
Bailey follows the 72-year-old into every emergency department patient’s room at the VA.
She can bring comfort to sick and hurting veterans while sticking by Portaro's side.
“She sorta knows the way,” Portaro said.
Portaro and Bailey have quickly become celebrities at the Durham VA hospital.
“We’ve been volunteering here once a week for the last eight months or so,” Portaro said.
When they make their visits, Portaro stops to talk to veterans.
“I hope they get to you soon and fix whatever is ailing you,” Portaro said to a man in the emergency department waiting room.
Portaro is a Vietnam War veteran.
“I thank you for your time, sir, and I thank you for your service. We are going to go in here and see if we can’t cause some trouble,” he said.
It’s the kind of trouble almost no one can resist.
“Good to see y’all again,” Portaro said as he waved to the staff inside the emergency department.
Bailey, a boxer-beagle mix, has cross-training as a therapy animal.
Portaro’s greatest health issue is post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the Vietnam War.
"I’ve always had a desire that if I’m going to give back, I want to give back to my fellow veterans, my fellow veterans in arms,” he said.
Vietnam War veterans didn’t receive the ticker tape parades like the heroes from World War II who came before them.
“You have to blot it out," Portaro said. "The one thing I remember is trying to assimilate back into civilian life. That was tough."
Dr. Terry Morris, the director of Vets to Vets United, the organization that paired Portaro with Bailey, said that by Jan. 1, the group surpassed its donation goal of more than $5,000 for 2022.