Forever A Hero team honors veterans in hospice care

Chaplain John Tetreault performs a pinning ceremony at the in-home hospice of George Woods, a veteran.

Approximately 30 to 40 times each month, Health First’s Forever a Hero team conducts a formal pinning ceremony to recognize its  veteran patients. The veteran is presented with a military-folded American flag, a personalized certificate and an American flag pin.

The Forever A Hero team — a chaplain, a social worker, a musician and sometimes one or two other volunteers — falls under the auspices of the We Honor Veterans program. It celebrates veterans at the end of life and offers an opportunity to share part of their life story and guides them toward a more peaceful ending. Family and friends are invited to attend the ceremony.

Chaplain John Tetreault, an ordained minister, has been a hospice chaplain for the past eight years and recently retired from the U. S. Army National Guard. He said his mission as an Army chaplain is "to protect the religious rights of the patient, to care for the living and the wounded, and to honor those who have died."

At the pinning ceremonies, "Sometimes patients talk about some of the things they have carried since their wartime deployments — mostly about the loss of fallen comrades or innocence. Sometimes, they talk about the way they were treated when they returned — heartbroken about  being misunderstood and mistreated. Mostly, they reminisce about the people they served with and the chance to serve in something greater than themselves. I think that is something we are all looking for — to be part of something greater, something with purpose," Tetreault said.

"Having a sense of meaning and purpose becomes more important at the end of life," said Susan Miller, an Air Force veteran who is the volunteer coordinator for Hospice of Health First. She currently oversees the We Honor Veterans program.

"Overseeing this program is a nice way for me to stay connected to our veterans and feel like I’m still part of the military community. I enjoy attending the pinning ceremonies as often as I can,’’ Miller added. 

We Honor Veterans is a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Hospice of Health First has been a member of We Honor Veterans since 2012. It implements this program at all four Health First hospitals.