A powerful story is circulating around Hospice of the Chesapeake. It is the tale of a recent Honor Salute, performed by a veteran Marine and her husband, an active duty Marine.
It was Marine Corps Veteran Nicole Richard’s first Honor Salute, a brief, moving ceremony where Veterans are thanked in their homes or by their bedside for their service to the nation by other Veterans or those presently serving. The patient’s daughter said he had become sullen and unresponsive, and she didn’t think he would talk. Upon learning the patient was a fellow Marine, Richard asked her husband, Jimmy Richard, who is assigned to Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., to join her.
The minute the patient saw the Richards in their Marine Corps uniforms, he perked up. “He talked so much. We used our terminology – oorah, semper fidelis – and he was smiling, telling us about his unit, where he served, what he’s done,” Nicole said. Before leaving, Jimmy removed the Eagle, Globe and Anchor pin from his cover and gave it to the man. There were tears all around.
The moment cemented the purpose of Hospice of the Chesapeake’s Veteran-to-Veteran program. When a Veteran Patient Care Volunteer first meets a Veteran hospice patient, an entire conversation takes place without anyone speaking a word. Navy Veteran Paul Mullenhoff of Bowie was with the Richards for that honor salute. He said the sight of the uniformed couple precluded a need for awkward introductions. “All of the sudden, the bond was there because they were all Marines.”
“He wouldn’t talk to others, but he was open to talking to use because we understand, the terminology, the values – honor, courage and commitment” Nicole said. The Veteran-to-Veteran program is part of the We Honor Veterans Program, a collaboration of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Program partners like Hospice of the Chesapeake use resources and education provided by the NHPCO and the VA to help Veteran Volunteers care for Veteran patients and their families. With more than 25 percent of Hospice of the Chesapeake patients checking off the “Veteran” box when being admitted, the need for Patient Care Volunteers who also are Veterans is growing. On any given day in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Counties, more than 100 patients who are Veterans are being cared for by Hospice of the Chesapeake staff and volunteers.
The tremendous need is why Director of Volunteer Services Diane Sancilio is looking to increase the number of Veteran Patient Care Volunteers by 100 percent. “We are committed to showing our unwavering gratitude every day to our Veteran patients. So, to paraphrase a very famous uncle, ‘We Want You!’ We need Veteran volunteers to help us,” Sancilio said. “In return, you will experience the heartfelt emotion that comes from honoring Veterans at their end of life.”
And maybe even healing moments of your own. Nicole said families will sometimes roll their eyes as a Veteran patient starts telling “another” war story. “But we get it. It heals us, too. We have our own mental and physical wounds. Just listening to somebody else kind of helps heal us, too.”
For more information about the We Honor Veterans program at Hospice of the Chesapeake, visit www.hospicechesapeake.org/the-life-center-109/we-honor-veterans-program. To volunteer, contact Volunteer Coordinator Allison Kuchar at 443-837-1513 or [email protected].