Suncoast Hospice and Veterans Serving Veterans volunteer Richard Kimberley demonstrates part of the ceremony he presents to veteran patients.

Serving in the military is an ultimate honor to many veterans. It’s an experience many will remember and hold close for a lifetime. The Empath Health Veterans Program is committed to honoring and supporting the veterans in our care and in our community.

One special way we pay tribute to our veterans is military service appreciation ceremonies, which are often performed by our Veterans Serving Veterans (VSV) volunteers who’ve also served in the Armed Forces. These volunteers or our staff present certificates and pins while expressing gratitude to the veterans at their homes, our care centers or other places of care. The veterans, their families and the presenters are touched deeply by this honorable acknowledgement.

“The ceremonies are a great way to honor veterans. Many veterans are accustomed to getting medals and awards so the pins can be meaningful. Sometimes it opens the door to conversation,” said Helen Stellrecht, LCSW, who serves as a social worker for our Suncoast Hospice patients and families and on the Empath Health veteran representatives committee.

This past Veterans Day kicked off the newest ceremonial piece, stars cut from the cloth of retired American flags, one of our most treasured national symbols. The idea was borrowed from VSV volunteer Rudy Fontane’s Marine Corps League. The Veterans Day honoring continued that week, including hundreds of Veterans Day cards sent to our patients and Suncoast PACE participants along with recognition for employees and volunteers.

Flag Star Message (2)Empath Health Volunteer Programs Coordinator Melissa Moré oversees the VSV program and veteran representatives committee. She is thrilled to honor veterans in this new way with the stars. “One family who recently received a star and certificate was so appreciative and honored.”

Moré reports that the VSV program is going strong and making a valuable impact. Nearly 60 volunteers provided approximately 550 visits of companionship and support to patients and families this past year. Additional volunteers are always welcome and needed.

Admiring the camaraderie between VSV volunteers and veterans is community outreach specialist Elizabeth “Beth” O’Malley who’s new to the veteran representatives committee. She was pleased to meet VSV volunteer Michael “Mike” Couper at the recent Suncoast Hospice Sunset Stroll. The first-time event featured several designated areas for remembrance and reflection, including veterans.

“Mike told me what an honor it is for him to be part of the VSV program and that family members tear up every time he presents ceremonies at our mid-Pinellas care center. At the stroll, he would see people wearing military hats and salute them. I feel like that’s a special connection, like they’re eternal brothers,” O’Malley said.

We’re calling on all veterans in our community to join our Veterans Serving Veterans volunteer program. Thank you for supporting your fellow veterans and serving our country.