Near the End of Life, a Bedside Salute Means So Much To Veterans

end of life

By Chelsea Cook-McCarrell, General Manager for VITAS® Healthcare

As the family of patient José Pacheco gathered at his home for a veteran’s recognition ceremony, the elderly veteran began talking about his service during World War II. Some of Mr. Pacheco’s family members had never heard his stories, including a grandson who had asked to be excused from school that day to be at his grandfather’s side.

“Everybody knows how few and far between our WWII veterans are,” VITAS nurse Nancy explains. “It’s almost like you’re witnessing something indescribable. You know each veteran’s time will be short, yet here we are in the presence of an American hero. It makes everyone really emotional.”

VITAS Healthcare, the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care, honors veterans every day. Driven by a sense of duty and empowered by veteran-specific care, we help America’s treasured servicemembers navigate their final days, weeks, and months in comfort and dignity.

With over 40 years of experience providing hospice care to the nation’s veterans, VITAS has the expertise to address the physical, mental, and spiritual scars of war, and guide dying servicemembers toward closure and peace of mind.

Sharing Unique Stories

Even though she’s overseen numerous recognition ceremonies in her 30-year VITAS career, Nancy says each one is touching and profound in its own way.

Mr. Pacheco recalled how he had served on the front lines in Germany, and how he and his brothers in arms were en route to the beaches of Normandy in anticipation of the D-Day invasion when they were diverted elsewhere.

“Mr. Pacheco got emotional as he was telling us his story,” says Nancy, who also coordinates veteran outreach and oversaw the touching ceremony. “I’m sure that whatever Mr. Pacheco was envisioning in his mind as he shared these details stirred up emotions inside of him, and that caused everyone else to become emotional, too.”

Bedside salutes, Veterans Day ceremonies, and individualized care plans that honor veterans’ unique experiences and needs as they near the end of life are core components of VITAS hospice care. VITAS also supports the families of veterans by helping them secure benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, arranging military funerals and burials, and recording the details of their loved ones’ lives in touching Life Biographies.

Well-deserved Honors and Gratitude

Surrounded by the Pacheco family and an active-duty airwoman from U.S. Southern Command, Nancy presented the veteran with a certificate of appreciation, a pin, and a red-white-and-blue volunteer-crocheted afghan. She read touching lines from one of her favorite poems, “It Is a Soldier.”

It is the soldier, not the minister, who has given us freedom of religion…It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press…It is the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial…It is the soldier, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote…”

Then she saluted her patient, gave him permission to stand down, and thanked him for his service.

“His family kept saying that no one ever honored him the way we did,” Nancy says, “and that always makes me feel good.”

For more information about end-of-life care options, call VITAS Healthcare at 309.691.2381 or visit


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