Denny Bash’s military career is one of steely dedication — the Vietnam-era veteran served 32 years in the Navy, spending nearly half of that time providing medical support for the Marines. And when his children joined the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, he joined it too.
The Surprise resident is a pretty tough cookie. But each time he pays a tribute visit to a fellow veteran at end of life, the Hospice of the Valley volunteer gets emotional.
“I cry at every one of them,” he confesses. “I love the service. The military has given me every break in my life and that’s the reason I’m giving back.”
Bash is one of 45 volunteers — all veterans — with our agency’s Saluting Our Veterans program. Since its inception in 2011, the program has honored more than 2,700 veteran patients for their service to our country.
These volunteers normally provide special recognition in a face-to-face visit, but all that has changed in recent months due to the coronavirus. Instead of being there in person to present a ceremonial pin and small flag, volunteers like Bash are invited into a family’s home through a video screen.
Just like before, the two veterans are able to spend time reminiscing about their service — one last chance to share experiences. It’s quite obvious how much pride and gratitude veteran patients feel, as they recall special times of camaraderie and accomplishment. And their families are grateful to have some precious new memories to treasure after their loved one has passed.
“Even during a global crisis, we want to make sure our veteran families know how grateful we are for their service and sacrifice,” says Stacia Ortega, director of volunteer services at Hospice of the Valley. “We knew we could find a way to make that happen.”
COVID-19 has certainly caused some challenges, but our volunteers agree: Virtual visits still provide a beautiful way to honor the brave men and women in our community who are facing an end-of-life journey.
“The veteran-to-veteran connection gives our hospice patients an opportunity to unpack some things they’ve never shared with anyone, things they will only tell another veteran,” Bash said.
“When I ask them if they would like to talk about their service, they jump at the opportunity to discuss what they’ve done, where they’ve been, what the service meant to them.”
Every veteran is unique. And each has a unique story.
Chester Dorr stormed the beaches of Normandy in France in World War II. Prior to the pandemic, volunteer Rodney Dehmer, a Vietnam War veteran, honored the 99-year-old on the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Dorr’s family was overcome with emotion during the ceremony. “This is one hell of a program!” said his son, Jim, also a Vietnam veteran. “It just tops the cake.”
Arizona is home to more than half a million veterans. Many were never recognized or thanked for their courage. That’s particularly true for the men and women who fought in Vietnam.
The prestigious We Honor Veterans national program has recognized Hospice of the Valley for providing superb care to all veterans, with special emphasis on the unique needs of Vietnam-era and combat veterans.
“In good times and hard times, it’s our extraordinary honor to pay tribute to these heroes in our community!” says teary-eyed volunteer, Bash. “It feels incredibly rewarding.”
If you are a veteran and think you’d enjoy volunteering for Hospice of the Valley’s Saluting Our Veterans program, please visit hov.org/volunteer/saluting-our-veterans or call (602) 636-6336 to find out more.
Lin Sue Cooney is community engagement director at Hospice of the Valley.