Rice Hospice, Willmar, MN: Level Three Partner

In my final two years as a Rice Hospice Social Worker, I had the privilege of participating in 43 “We Honor Veterans” Recognition Ceremonies.  From the simplest hospital bedside ceremony for a dying Veteran to an elaborate presentation at the Prinsburg Veteran Memorial Park, I was always moved, often to tears.  These Veteran men and women were proud, patriotic, and many had never been publicly acknowledged for their military service and sacrifices.  At the end of life’s journey, it seemed only fitting to salute and recognize these “heroes”, none of whom saw themselves that way.

In one instance, a young Veteran grandson placed a pin on his grandfather as he lay dying in a hospital bed.  Several days later, I learned that the grandfather had pinned this same grandson at the time of his West Point graduation not so many years ago.  Sixteen family members were present and there was not a dry eye.

A Vietnam Veteran acknowledged that he had dealt with anxiety for over 50 years, a condition we now refer to as PTSD.  After meeting his Hospice Veteran Volunteer, who later pinned and presented him with a WHV certificate, he learned that the two of them had served in the some Vietnam village, just a year apart.  In the patient’s words “he was the first person who ever understood me, no one else ever knew what I went through before.”  He died with greater peace.

Another veteran postponed his WHV Recognition Ceremony, not wanting to call attention to his military service.  He did not know “what all the fuss was about.”  He finally agreed to a ceremony and on the day of the pinning, he met us at the door of his apartment wearing his Air Force uniform jacket and hat.  He cried when he received his pin.

One Veteran grandson, recently returned from the Middle East, left a Colorado vacation early to be present for his grandfather’s WHV pinning ceremony.  In full uniform he proudly presented his grandfather with the WHV pin and certificate, along with a Veteran Volunteer from Willmar.  More than 65 family members celebrated with this Veteran who died not long afterward.

Many times I had suggested that if an old uniform jacket and hat had been saved over the years that the Veteran bring them to the pinning ceremony.  In almost every instance, that uniform was there, along with stories.  Many times the hats were now too small and the jackets too tight, but the pride in describing the insignia and the smiles made up for the years of aging and ill health. 

Whenever possible we tried to do the WHV pinnings at a time when family could be present.  A Rice Hospice Veteran Volunteer is most often present to do part of the presentation along with any Veteran family members.  We have had family travel many hundreds of miles to participate in these ceremonies. 

I believe that the “We Honor Veterans” Program is indeed one of the most powerful and meaningful things that we did for our Veteran Hospice patients.  It is a wonderful, joint effort between two strong and amazing organizations, Rice Hospice and the Veteran’s Administration.

Debbie Gillis, Rice Hospice Volunteer and Coordinator of the Rice Hospice WHV Program