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For Emmanuel Hospice, every day is an opportunity to honor veterans 

Staff pictured: Jessie Nestor, GVSU MSW Intern, David Veldt, spiritual caregiver and Navy veteran (in uniform), Matt Schipper, director of Support Services and Navy veteran (green and white shirt), Vern Bareman, spiritual caregiver (red shirt)

At Emmanuel Hospice, Veterans Day is more than a 24-hour period set aside to honor those who have served in our country’s military.

Nov. 11 is also an annual reminder to seek out opportunities every day to better serve the men and women who have put their lives on the line for a grateful nation and now find themselves in hospice care.

“Every time we meet a patient for the first time, we’re careful to document what sort of military service they might have,” says Matthew Schipper, director of support services for Emmanuel. “We chronicle all their connections to the military and develop a full profile of their service. We also involve family members where appropriate, all in an effort to deliver the best care possible to that patient.”

For Schipper, the work is personal, as he served 10 years in the U.S. Navy after graduating from a West Michigan high school in 2006.

“I signed the papers to enlist in 2005, even before finishing school, and served as a mechanic aboard nuclear submarines,” he notes.

Since joining Emmanuel Hospice nearly three years ago, Schipper has witnessed countless ways in which staff has dug deep to honor his comrades.

Some of the most moving revolve around “pinning ceremonies,” where a patient is formally honored while surrounded by loved ones, accepting a special pin as Emmanuel’s way of expressing its gratitude. The session can last up to a half-hour and include prayer, song, recitations and input from staff as well as family and friends.

“The service can have a tremendous impact on the patient and his family,” Schipper says.

Emmanuel Hospice offers these pinning ceremonies as part of the We Honor Veterans program, a collaboration of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and Department of Veterans Affairs, which guides the organization to meet the unique needs of vets and their families by offering education, specialized guidance and resources aimed at ensuring they meet a peaceful and honorable ending to their lives.

Emmanuel has worked in other ways to lift up veterans, including the use of Oculus Go headsets and the “Honor Everywhere” app, which offers a virtual reality experience for veterans who are too sick or frail to physically travel on an Honor Flight. Using this technology, veterans are able to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C. as if they were there in person.

Emmanuel Hospice also collaborates with the Ottawa County Juvenile Courts Lighthouse Program, a short-term residential program for girls, to engage area youth in making handmade cards for veterans and other patients.

“It’s all about expressing our gratitude, and in ways that are especially meaningful,” says Jenny Kellogg, Emmanuel’s support programs manager. “Toward that end, we provide our staff and volunteers with veteran-centric education, and create awareness of our patients who are veterans so we can address the unique needs they might have.”

Improving care for veterans aligns with Emmanuel’s mission in general, says Kellogg, noting that Emmanuel is focused on “how you want to live.”

“We create individualized plans that suit our patients’ physical, spiritual and emotional needs,” Kellogg explains. “Our veterans – and indeed all our patients – deserve nothing less.”