Honoring Veterans: WHV partners taking their mission seriously

Categories: Community Engagement.

Due to the efforts of Suncoast Hospice, 91-year-old “Mac” finally received nine military service medals that were never sent to him. And because of Hope HealthCare Services, numerous Veterans who are now at the end of life are being thanked for their service in the most honorable of ways.

Like 2,000 other hospices around the country, Suncoast Hospice and Hope HealthCare Services participate in NHPCO’s We Honor Veterans (WHV) program — an initiative that is bringing needed awareness to the special needs of Veterans and encouraging hospices to meet those needs in a variety of ways.

Here are two examples from WHV partners that are moving examples of how hospices are helping Veterans feel valued and find closure as they near the end of life.

“Mac” – Suncoast Hospice

McPherson Plecker — known fondly as Mac — served as a machinist mate on the World War II Navy destroyer, USS Schley, and spent nearly four years as a prisoner of war in Japan and China.

After the war, he submitted his paperwork to receive his service medals. But he, like many other Veterans, never said a thing when they failed to arrive.

Fortunately, he finally did — during conversations with members of his care team at Suncoast Hospice. Upon hearing of the missing medals, the team took the lead in correcting that oversight, with help from Veteran liaison, Daphni Austin, the offices of former Congressman Michael Bilirakis, and numerous others.

On September 14 —about 70 years after submitting his paperwork —Mac was treated to a full military ceremony at a special outdoor venue in Largo, Florida. USAF Veteran General James B. Davis read the POW Prayer, and Congressman Bilirakis, now retired, presented Mac with all nine medals.

“They didn’t forget us and they really do care,” Mac shared with attendees.

Honor Guard – Hope HealthCare Services

Hope HealthCare Services formed an Honor Guard (HG) in 2009 to conduct a brief but poignant ceremony to honor the Veteran patients under its care.

The HG is made up of volunteers who are Veterans themselves or who have expressed interest in supporting Veteran patients. Additionally, there is a pool of volunteers who make patriotic quilts in the colors of the flag and “camo-material” buddy bears that are given to the patients during the ceremony. 

“We developed the HG ceremony over time, replicating the model of ceremonies we experience in the military,” says outreach chaplain, Jonathan Scalone, MA., DMin., who is a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force. “But we also usually find out personal aspects of the Veteran patient’s experience and weave that into the presentation.”

The ceremony, which typically lasts about 20 minutes, is coordinated with the patient’s family so it can be scheduled at a time convenient for them. Once the time, date and place are set, a blast email is sent to HG volunteers, asking whomever is able to attend. “Usually within an hour we will reach our goal of having at least three HG volunteers present, with one representing the Veteran patient’s branch of service,” says Scalone. 

“One of my most favorite experiences with HG involved a Veteran patient who had become non-responsive to touch and verbal stimulation,” Scalone recalls. 

“We asked his daughter, who was his only living relative, if she would like the HG ceremony for her father and she agreed. When we arrived to perform the ceremony, the patient was comfortable, lying in bed with both hands by his sides and beneath the bed sheet. The ceremony was conducted as usual, but in this case, the HG leader spoke softly into the patient’s ear. Toward the end of the ceremony, when the HG saluted the patient, the patient brought his right hand slowly out from under the sheet and returned the salute. All of us were stunned to tears.”

Naval Academy Honors Veterans

A cadet at the Annapolis-base U.S. Naval Academy had been a hospice volunteer at Hospice of the Chesapeake where she saw firsthand the significance of honoring Veterans at life’s end. Learn more about the Naval Academy’s Honor Salute program.

Learn More About WHV and Enroll Too

To learn more about the ways hospices can support Veterans —from using the WHV Military Checklist at intake to awareness of common psychosocial issues — visit www.wehonorveterans.org.

Information about participating in the program is also available at www.wehonorveterans.com/enroll.


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