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.