Hospice of the Western Reserve Veterans Program Receives Tribute
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Western Reserve HospicePeaceful and Proud, a 15-year-old initiative that helps hospice and palliative care veterans in multiple ways, has gained national recognition.
This recognition is largely due to the work of the program’s 55 veteran volunteers, as well as non-veteran volunteers who, in the past 18 months alone, have provided care and support to 2,100 veterans.
One such veteran volunteer is Chuck Wirtz of Painesville, a Navy veteran (1974-2004) who started out as an enlisted man and rose to the rank of major.
Four years ago, Wirtz heard about the program and decided to help others who served the country. During those four years, Wirtz has helped veterans by participating in pinning ceremonies that recognize veterans’ service, taking veterans on dates, providing companionship to lone veterans, and in vigil services, during which he sits at the bedside of veterans during their very last hours. .
The work of volunteers like Wirtz made it possible to renew the Hospice de la Réserve Ouest for a second year as a “Level 5 Partner” with We honor veterans (WHV), a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
Level 5 is the highest designation WHV partners can achieve and demonstrates an exceptional commitment to meeting the specialized needs of veterans. Last year, Hospice of the Western Reserve became the first hospice in northeast Ohio to achieve this elite status.
Obtaining recertification this year required the completion of several activities.
“In addition to the requirements of existing partners, as a Tier 5 partner, we place a greater emphasis on staff training and support for veterans and Vietnam-era veterans,” said Nate Gradisher, responsible for supplier relations and, for 12 years, president of the agency’s Peaceful. and proud committee.
“We also mentor hospice organizations across the country who want to improve their programs.”
The family of each Hospice patient is asked on admission if the patient is a veteran and if the family wishes recognition of this status. The Peaceful and Proud program is implemented not only at the organization’s facilities, but also includes veterans living in nursing and assisted living facilities or in their own homes.
Speaking about his volunteer experience, Wirtz said, “I get immense satisfaction from being a veteran myself. I am very proud to be a veteran.
“Most people I meet at these (recognition/pinning) ceremonies are proud of their service. Even Vietnam vets, though they might not be so willing to say it. I just feel lucky to be able to pay tribute to these veterans who served their country and who are now facing the end of their lives.
During recognition/pinning ceremonies, volunteers read different stories, depending on when a veteran served. These stories cover World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Cold War era.
There are also stories for those who saw combat, those who did not, those who were prisoners of war, and those who served in peacetime.
“We talk to veterans right before we pin them,” Wirtz said. “Ceremonies for Vietnam veterans are much more poignant than for other war eras, because Vietnam veterans were generally not well liked.
“A lot of them went back to an America that didn’t want to see or deal with veterans. They were looking at veterans and all they saw was the Vietnam War,” he said. said.
“So it’s a little more difficult, but also more rewarding to do a recognition ceremony for a Vietnam veteran, because a lot of these guys have never been thanked.”
Wirtz wears his navy commander’s uniform when he participates in ceremonies, pins veterans and presents them with a certificate, and reads citations about service.
“I am very proud to stand in my uniform and salute a former serviceman,” he said.
Wirtz recalled a particularly moving ceremony involving a Vietnam veteran.
“He seemed very touched by the ceremony. It was a recognition in person, at home, and it was not a very well off person. And he had his brother there, living with him and taking care of him, and no one else, really. It was kind of a lonely environment, in a way.
“The nurse from the hospice was there, but it was just very touching for me, because it was obvious that he was affected.
“He was the one who expressed the fact that he had never really been thanked before. I know this is the case with many Vietnam veterans, but this patient told me this with tears in his eyes.
On the lighter side, Wirtz recounted hosting a ceremony for a World War II veteran.
“He was a card, a jokester,” Wirtz said. “He was 99 or 100 years old. He was very cognitive, could speak and understand very well. He still had some mobility.
Wirtz reviewed the man’s service record and found he entered as a private and exited the same rank.
Asked about the lack of upward mobility, the man said: “I kept getting arrested for playing poker, for playing cards.”
“After he left the service,” Wirtz said, “he actually moved to Las Vegas and made a living for five or six years playing poker.”
While every attempt is made to hold in-person pinning ceremonies, on Veterans Day 2020, amid the pandemic, more than 900 community veterans were recognized with hand-delivered care packages by veteran volunteers, Hospice of the Western Reserve staff and community partners.
Gradisher, who is not a veteran, first signed on to help the new program 15 years ago.
“When the program started, I just asked if I could join. I just want to make sure we’re giving the best possible care to those who have served our country,” Gradisher said.
“Those who have served our country have unique needs, and I wanted to work with committee members who wanted to meet the needs of those who have given so much to the United States.”
Although Hospice provides specialized training for its staff to better care for veterans, those who served, Gradisher said, often get along better with other veterans. He said many veterans are stoic and self-sufficient, but appreciate the voice of another veteran.
Nonetheless, Gradisher said Peaceful and Proud always welcomes new volunteers, whether they are veterans or not. Of the non-veteran volunteers, Gradisher said, “They can support patients at the bedside, or they can do a number of things with the agency — administrative/clerical work, help us with different supports in the office. They can phone patients if they don’t necessarily want to visit them in person.
“We have a thrift shop in Medina that they could staff. If you like gardening, you have the option to help us with our gardens or the patients with their gardens. There is a wide range of things that can be done.
Anyone interested in becoming a peaceful and proud volunteer should call 216-255-9090.