Honoring Veterans At The VNA

Veteran at Assisted Living facility being honored by fellow veteran with a salute.

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Every November, the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) holds a special celebration for Veterans Day to show our appreciation for those brave men and women who have given so much to our country. This special event is spearheaded by the VNA Director of Volunteer Programs, Sara Bumgarner, who ensures all runs smoothly. This year, the celebration was a two-day affair where Sara and her team, with the help of the VNA Community Liaison, Jessica Nettles, and sales staff visited several assisted living facilities in Vero Beach and conducted inspiring pinning ceremonies for all resident Veterans regardless of whether or not they were VNA patients.

Each celebration began with two patriotic songs led by the VNA Music Therapy Manager, Lauren Schaust, MT, BC, who did superb renditions of “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful,” followed by a lovely poem, “We Honor You Today,” by Susan Smith and read by Sara Bumgarner. Afterward, two VNA volunteers, Charlie Winters (Marines) and Karen Ferrando (Air Force), Veterans themselves, conducted the pinning ceremony.

Charlie began the ceremony with some moving words: “Thank you for your service to our nation. We have a sacred obligation to honor our Veterans and their families for their service and commitment to our country. We salute you… for serving our country and protecting our freedom.” Afterward, he and Karen took turns thanking each Veteran and placing the pin on them. The two Veteran volunteers did this many times at many different assisted living facilities over the course of the two days and were honored to do so. “I’m grateful for the opportunity,” said Karen. “For me, it’s the fact that they allowed me to serve because they served before me.” 

And the Veterans receiving the pins were visibly moved. One resident of Sodalis Senior Living, Nila McCreary, a nurse in the Air Force, said the ceremony was particularly meaningful for her because that time in her life was so incredible. “It was an adventure. My job was an adventure,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes. Fellow Veteran resident, Navy Lieutenant Commander, Robert Wilkie, agreed, adding that his favorite part of the ceremony was the music. “It was stirring hearing the music. It reminded me of the people I was with in the service. I met some really wonderful men and their families,” he said.

VNA Music Therapist Manager, Lauren Schaust, was not surprised to hear that Lieutenant Wilkie was moved by the music, as music therapy was essentially born out of returning Veterans from World War Two trying to reintegrate into society. “One of the few things the Veterans could still relate to was the music because it was on the radio abroad through the USO tours,” explained Lauren, “and music therapists, although they weren’t called music therapists at the time, were able to use that to help with the trauma… it’s expanded into so much more now. And it’s such an honor to be able to participate in these ceremonies.”

Each ceremony concluded with Lauren singing signature songs from each branch of the military followed by refreshments and from the looks of all present, every celebration was a huge success. “Our community Veterans truly enjoy being honored and appreciated and the VNA Volunteer Services, Sales, and Music Therapy teams look forward to Veterans Day each and every year,” said Community Liaison, Jessica Nettles.

The annual VNA Veterans Day pinning ceremony falls under We Honor Veterans, a program developed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in collaboration with the Department of Veterans that addresses the unique needs Veterans have when it comes to end-of-life care. The VNA joined the We Honor Veterans (WHV) initiative in 2020, much thanks to Sara Bumgarner’s leadership.

For Sara, recognizing Veterans isn’t just a part of her job. “As someone who does have military in the family, it’s personal as well as professional,” said Sara. “And it’s my goal to honor all our Veterans in our community every day, but on Veterans Day we do it publicly and intentionally.”

And it’s appreciated. “It’s a day that has a lot of meaning and a lot of memories,” said Army Drill Sargent Richard J. Goff, whose wife, Priscilla, resides at Brookdale Senior Living.

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