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A Veteran's Day Tribute from a VA Nurse

I have worked for the VA for quite a number of years, and I have taken care of countless veterans into their finals hours and then some. I was always touched by the post mortem procedures that the VA had in place.

Upon the pronouncement of death and after the family has had ample time to say goodbye, the nursing staff is to prepare the body for transport to the morgue. After preparation, the body is transferred to the morgue's gurney, the lid is placed on top. A black canvas backed shroud cover is arranged over the lid, and an American flag, stars over the veteran's heart, is draped on top with the corners squared, as you would see in a military funeral. After this is completed, the staff escort the body to the morgue where the family can arrange for a funeral home to come and pick up their deceased.

I recently transferred to a new unit, a long term care ward, within my hospital. Not too long after being their, we had our first passing of a vet. We began our post mortem care procedures just like always, when the charge nurse told me that when we we ready to transport, call the front desk.

"Ok, kinda an odd request." I thought.

After all was said and done, we were ready to move our deceased veteran. As requested, I made the call to the desk and opened the door into the hallway.

On the overhead paging system, taps began to play. I thought to myself, "Wow, the staff on this unit really goes that extra mile to honor these guys." I wasn't expecting what happened next.

As the bugle call echoed through the unit, all able bodied veterans came into the hallway and came to attention. As we passed with the morgue cart, it seemed as if there was a silent command to "present arms" because all at once, every veteran brought their right hand up into salute. As we rounded the corner, I saw more veterans at attention, saluting. Upon reaching the nurses station, EVERYONE; nurses, housekeeping, kitchen staff, had all stopped what they were doing and were on their feet. Those of them who were veterans themselves were also saluting. This continued until we had gotten on the elevator and the doors had closed.

Never in my life have I seen such a moving tribute to the human condition. These men didn't know him, several of them due to dementia didn't even know themselves; yet when they heard that bugle call, like clockwork, they knew exactly what to do. It didn't matter that they didn't know this man. All they knew was that one of their brothers had fallen and he needed to receive the honor he deserved.

As a VA nurse, I see the wounds of war, both visible and invisible. Of course I have veterans in my care that are missing various body parts, inexplicable scarring, etc. But then there are the invisible wounds. The metabolic disorders caused by Agent Orange exposure, mesothelioma from being around asbestos on ships, seeing a veteran dive on the ground during Independence Day fireworks because the booms are sending him back to his own personal hell that he experienced in the jungles of Vietnam.

So when you see a veteran, take time to thank them for their service. Shake their hand. Buy them their meal if you're at a restaurant. There is no way to completely repay our debt to them, but the least we can do is o keep up on the payments.

Edited by dantheman0904

No Stars In My Eyes

Specializes in Med nurse in med-surg., float, HH, and PDN.

Goosebumps!

Must have been so moving to witness that!

You brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful way to show respect.

RunBabyRN

Specializes in L&D, infusion, urology.

Beautiful! There is a kinship among vets that I never anticipated when I enlisted. It's an amazing connection to share, and there is an utmost respect among vets that is held to the highest regard, especially when it comes to something like this. Thanks for sharing!

donsterRN, ASN, BSN

Specializes in Cardiac Care.

I, too, got teary while reading this. It must have been amazing to experience. Thank you for sharing.

JBudd, MSN

Specializes in Trauma, Teaching.

I could see them in the halls, in my mind. Tears here too.

Here.I.Stand, BSN, RN

Specializes in SICU, trauma, neuro.

I'm the daughter of a Vietnam vet...this brought tears to my eyes too! Thank you for sharing, and thank you to all of our servicemen and women.

That is truly amazing.

When my father in law passed. We had a service at Rosecrans which is a military cemetery. I was unprepared for the honor given him in the military service. I had never experienced it before. Our Veterans do know the meaning of respect. It's quite amazing to witness first hand.

bagladyrn, RN

Specializes in OB.

That definitely brought the tears!

My dad died at the VA hospital in Tampa. I can't say enough about the wonderful care they gave both him, and the kindness to my mother while I was making my way across country.

Thank you for being there for our veterans!

This is moving! Love it, wonderful post!

My VA calls over the PA requesting an Honor Guard Formation whenever the desk is notified of the passing of a veteran.

I don't know if it's the same where you are as it is here, but if it IS, you would have found (if you had followed the gurney into the elevator) that the tribute continues right to the morgue......and from the morgue to the dock where the funeral home vehicle meets the staff to transfer the veteran to their care. The veteran never 'travels alone'.

I have attended several and found them to be a beautiful honor to the deceased; if anyone has a chance to witness this, they won't soon forget it!

You have me in tears. What a wonderful thing to have experienced. You captured the moment very well with your writing.

Your post reminds me why I loved working at the VA. I'd love to get back into one soon.

Jessica Quigley

Specializes in MENTAL HEALTH, EDUCATION,ADMINISTRATION.

thank you so much for sharing this story.... I have been employed by the VA for the last 6 years. When I first started working here I was the manager for a hospice/palliative unit. This was truly an eye opening experience for me. Such honor and respect was given to the patients and their families. We also participated in this type of "ceremony" when patients passed away. We also expanded our hospice training for all nursing assistants on our longterm care units to ensure all vets were receiving proper care and were part of the "no vet dies alone" initiative.

bb007rn

Specializes in Emergency room, Neurosurgery ICU.

While I am not a Vet, nor do I work in the VA, I am the wife of a US Army Desert Storm Vet. Both of my grandfathers served during WWII (one stormed the beaches at Normandy D-Day+2 and lived to tell about it, not that he did. The other served in the Pacific.) I cannot fully express my appreciation for you sharing this story, few things bring tears to my eyes anymore, but this did. I just HAD to read it out loud to my husband, that's when the tears fell. Thank you all for your care and devotion to our Vets!

Edited by bb007rn
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