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In Honor of Our Veterans

Our "We Honor Veterans" program has evolved so much in the past year. To date we’ve done somewhere in the vicinity of 40 pinning/recognition ceremonies. For Veteran’s Day, we made personal deliveries to our veteran hospice and palliative care patients acknowledging their service with a customized cards & patriotically decorated cupcakes (thank you cupcake bakers and drivers!).

And we collaborated with two local facilities, the Hunt Community and the Huntington, to offer ceremonies recognizing over 70 veterans.

Thank you all to those who participated today in reaching out and honoring these veterans in our community!

The following is an article from The Nashua Telegraph:

Merrimack hospice effort honors, awards veterans

Staff Writer

NASHUA - Scott Monroe isn't big on recognition.

"Me? I'm not a big ceremony guy," he said recently, sitting in his comfortable room at the Community Hospice House in Merrimack. Monroe, known to his friends and family by the nickname "Tops" because of his rank of First Sargent in the U.S. Army National Guard, is as gaunt as he is quiet and humble. But his handshake is rock hard. "I know for a lot of people it means a lot."

Monroe, 63 and originally from Nashua, is a 40-plus-year veteran. He entered the military when he was 19. A recent ceremony that gathered together dozens of friends and family - some of whom have not seen him in years - isn't something he'll talk about freely.

"Scott is incredibly humble," said his wife Deborah Rioux of Nashua. "I think the ceremony made him realize his time in the military did have an impact on the people around him. There were at least 50 people there. All had served in some capacity. Every person there said essentially that he was a mentor to them or had steered them in the right direction in life."

The ceremony, held in the building's central common room, was part of a process of continuing care provided by Home Health and Hospice and the Veterans Administration, lovingly organized and presented by a team of volunteers.

Home Health and Hospice is on a mission.

The Merrimack-based specialists in end-of-life care have implemented a program to make sure veterans are receiving all the benefits due them and that their sacrifices receive a dignified and heart-felt thank you before they pass away.

The "We Honor Veterans" program is a national effort conducted by the National Hospital and Palliative Care Organization in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Sandy Duggan, chairman of the effort centered in Merrimack.

Local efforts include helping veterans connect with valuable VA services - health care, counseling, medication assistance - providing companionship, or even something as simple as help assembling photo albums.

"We'll do anything we can in terms of what we can offer. The quicker we can find out what the needs are, we can respond," Duggan said.

Since implementing the program, Duggan said, "Now we know who the veterans are. We didn't know who the veterans were before. The sooner we can identify them and share with the interdisciplinary team, everybody can get together and create a full-bodied plan that meets these unique needs. That's huge."

There are 1,500 hospices providing end-of-life care in the country and "every hospice implements it in the best way they can," said Duggan.

"What they realized is we had opportunity to say thank-you to them. We have an imperative to recognize the very unique needs they have for care because of psychological, physical (and) spiritual impacts from their service."

Perhaps the most visible and moving portion of the work is the pinning ceremony for hospice care veterans.

The format is somewhat flexible. As much information as possible about the veterans' service is gathered from the family and a meeting is arranged for wherever the veteran may be receiving care.

The event features patriotic music, a reading of what is known of the vet's service, an opportunity for family photos and ultimately the presentation of a certificate honoring the soldier and a pinning by a volunteer presenter, who presides over the event.

A special quarter-sized commemorative pin is affixed to a recipient's lapel or hat. At the conclusion, the presenter makes a solemn salute. The ceremonies can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as necessary, based on the veteran's abilities and condition.

The research portion with the family, said Duggan, can be challenging.

"Almost without fail, we don't get anything," she said. This is evident by a tale told by volunteer Kay Porter, who recalled the aftermath of one particular event.

The man being honored told her, "For 20 years I never told anybody I was a veteran," because of the things that happened after he got back from Vietnam, she recalled. "He did not speak up at the ceremony, but he talked about it after."

Bill Sturgeon of Nashua, one volunteer presenter out of a group of several dozen, relies on his own military service to make a connection to fellow soldiers nearing the end of their lives.

Sturgeon, now retired, was in the Army in the mid 1950s. His anti-aircraft missile battery helped protect San Fransisco from threats coming in over the Pacific Ocean. He was in his early 20s.

"Some of the things I talk about to the veteran I have never said to my family, to my kids," he said.

Sturgeon, articulate and spirited about his involvement with hospice, said, "I was raised as a kid with a loving family. I had probably the best upbringing you could ask for."

He relies on this, as well as the one thing in particular about his military life that helps him form the connection with his fellow veterans.

"Basic training is something we all had to go through," he said. "Every one of us. Here I am for six weeks learning to kill. These are things that the person I'm talking to and myself can talk to each other about and relate to. I think we make a connection. At least I strive for that."

When Sturgeon meets a fellow veteran at a ceremony, "It's never formal. It's always 'Hi, I'm Bill,' " he said.

Sometimes honorees are bedridden. Sometimes they're sitting up. It makes no difference. Sturgeon leans in as close as
he can and the
conversation begins.

Duggan said there are about 25 veteran volunteers from veterans groups in Hudson, Hollis and Bedford, plus another unaffiliated dozen or so people who help. Many others come and provide veterans with companionship.

"Every single ceremony is unique and beautiful and emotional," said volunteer Kay Porter.

"It isn't just about recognition," Duggan added, "It's a collaborative with the VA and National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. They came up with this because they wanted to make sure benefits were being utilized."

U.S. Census data indicates there were almost 113,000 veterans living in New Hampshire in 2013, the largest number
having served during the Vietnam era.

We Honor Veterans states that out of 2.4 million deaths in the country each year, about 680,000 of them are veterans.

"We're are all part of trying to help them find greater peace at the end of their life," Duggan said.

But undoubtedly the signature component of the multi-faceted care approach is the pinning ceremony.

"You signed a blank check for your life and we will always appreciate you eternally for protecting our freedom," said Duggan, whose late father was a paratrooper during World War II and saw action in many of the European Theatre's big battles.

"I feel like when someone is passing, I would like to be there for them if nobody else is, especially for veterans. This is the most intimate moment of anyone's life, trying to facilitate that is so meaningful and so important," she said.

The recent ceremony for Tops in Merrimack, "Wasn't just for him, it was for everybody in his life that he'd come in contact with," Deborah Rioux said of her husband. "The idea we can all come together and let Scott know that what he's done with his life has had meaning and purpose. It has kind rippled out, sort of like when you throw a rock into the water and it creates those ripples."

Rioux's father, Sylvio - a Korean War veteran - pinned Monroe himself.

"It's very powerful to see that. Again, it's powerful to have all these people come together here," Deborah Rioux said.

The veterans, Rioux said, are at a point in life where they evaluate what they did with their life.

"We talked over summer. Having the ceremony gave him understanding that he didn't have before - that he mattered, 'I did something good,' " she said. "For a humble man like that, it had a big impact. It's internal. I could see it in his face."

For Sturgeon, who said he keeps his retirement calendar full, it's simple: "This is number one with me. These people are my buddies. I don't know them. Never met them before in my life, but they're military. They're our people. You've heard it before. You never leave them behind. You don't walk away and leave them."