Serving Those Who Served Our Country

Matt Gerrish, University Communications

One of four Americans who die this year will be a veteran. When their country needed them most, they were there. Now, in their time of need, there are veterans’ homes and hospice facilities providing care for this generation that has already given so much.

Among their caretakers are many current and former Weber State University students. Some of them are businessmen and women. Some of them are volunteers. But the ones on the ground floor — the ones building relationships with veterans every day — are the nurses.

The George E. Wahlen Ogden Veterans Home serves 120 veterans and their spouses. Upon opening in 2010, administrators immediately developed a partnership with WSU’s School of Nursing, establishing a pipeline of welltrained nurses to veterans in need.

“We send our students to the veterans’ home for clinical rotations, and, inevitably, some are hired upon completion of the nursing program,” said Susan Thornock, chair of the WSU School of Nursing. “Often, administrators refer certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to Weber State so they can work toward their nursing degrees.”

While the partnership has been mutually beneficial, the veterans receive the biggest benefit.

“It allows us to find the brightest students and hire them,” said Kelly Snowball, administrator at the veterans’ home. “Working with WSU is dear to my heart. It’s a great program that provides our veterans with the finest care. We have high expectations, and that’s why we hire a lot of Weber State graduates.”

Caring for Veterans

Katarina Nelson — who earned her bachelor’s degree at Weber State in the spring — has worked at the veterans’ home for three years, first as a CNA, then as a licensed practical nurse, and now as a full-time registered nurse. 

Every day is different for Nelson, despite the normal redundancies of any job.

“I get there in the morning and get reports from the night nurse,” Nelson said. “I get patients their medications, help pass out the breakfast and help people that need assistance with eating.” Afterward, she moves on to treatments — some residents require special help with incisions from hip or back surgeries, and many have ailments that are unique to a wound they received during their time serving in the military. This is when she hears her most interesting stories.

“Some of our residents have dementia and can’t always tell you the whole story,” Nelson said. “I had one patient who was shot in the leg in battle and lost a huge part of his calf muscle. He had to lie in the grass and hide for more than 24 hours before crawling to safety. He’s very proud of the Purple Heart he received. 

“We even have one resident who always talked about his pet moose. We just assumed he was a bit confused. But it turns out, he really did have a pet moose that he would ride, and he actually had pictures of it.”

Working with veterans can be difficult at times. Because Nelson works in long-term care, part of the job involves watching residents she has built close relationships with pass away. “There are a lot of them I already miss.”

But that doesn’t stop her from going above and beyond the call of duty.

“I had one resident who wouldn’t eat anything for three days. I knew he loved McDonald’s, so I asked my husband to pick him up a hamburger. He was so excited for the McDonald’s; it was really cute.”

Lance Miller also is a registered nurse at the veterans’ home. He completed Weber State’s associate’s degree nursing program in 2011 and is working toward his Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

“I was working in Brigham City earlier this year when I found a job opening down here at the veterans’ home. I immediately jumped on it. My favorite residents in Brigham City were always the veterans — so I figured if these are my favorite residents, why not go where all of them are veterans,” Miller said. 

Working so closely with residents, Miller is learning things he never thought he would. “They’ve experienced a lot of life. Listening to them helps me become a better person. I learn a lot from those guys. I know I’m helping them out, but I think they are helping me out even more.”

Just like Nelson, Miller admits not every day is easy.

“A lot of these veterans are dealing with post-traumatic stress, and it’s hard to see them have a hard time socializing,” he said. “It’s hard sometimes to hear their war stories because they are so traumatic. One patient will show me every day where he got shot through the neck.”

On the other hand, there are also plenty of uplifting stories. “There is one resident who is 90, and he’s been learning to play the ukulele. His outlook on life is pretty dang cool. You know, to be motivated at that age to try something new. It’s pretty inspiring.”

Understanding Veterans’ Needs

According to the Hospice Foundation of America, only about 20 percent of aging veterans end up in a veteran’s home. This creates a need for more areas of the U.S. health care system — hospitals, private nursing homes, hospices and others — to understand veterans’ issues and help manage their care.

Ryan Cook is an RN case manager with VistaCare Hospice in Ogden. He completed Weber State’s nursing program through the Davis Applied Technology College in 2006 and joined VistaCare in 2012. There, he is the “eyes and ears” of the doctors, tackling administrative duties, such as scheduling CNAs and making sure the social workers are organized for the doctors.

“I work very closely with veterans at Gentiva (the parent company of VistaCare), from colonels in the Air Force to enlisted men from World War II,” Cook said. “We work with veterans quite frequently at all different levels, whether it be their health care or their benefits.”

Gentiva partners with “We Honor Veterans,” a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the Department of Veterans Affairs that recognizes living veterans. For example, Cook and VistaCare helped with a float featuring veterans at a July parade in Riverdale, Utah.

“These are very proud men,” Cook said. “They like things done a certain way and want to make sure you are following all the rules, that you are not wasting money and are being conservative on their care. It’s a great honor for me to take care of them and give back to them for what they’ve given me today.”

“We recently honored a veteran who is one of the strongest men I’ve ever seen. He’s suffering from a cardiac condition, but he gets up every day, he cares for his wife and has been working his entire life. He retired and went back to work at one point. It doesn’t matter how much pain he has, he just gets up and goes every day, and nothing ever gets him down.”

In a month when we honor our veterans, Weber State University salutes the men and women who served their country, and says thank you to the nurses who care for them, physically and emotionally.

One of four Americans who die this year will be a veteran. When their country needed them most, they were there. Now, in their time of need, there are veterans’ homes and hospice facilities providing care for this generation that has already given so much.

Among their caretakers are many current and former Weber State University students. Some of them are businessmen and women. Some of them are volunteers. But the ones on the ground floor — the ones building relationships with veterans every day — are the nurses.

The George E. Wahlen Ogden Veterans Home serves 120 veterans and their spouses. Upon opening in 2010, administrators immediately developed a partnership with WSU’s School of Nursing, establishing a pipeline of welltrained nurses to veterans in need.

“We send our students to the veterans’ home for clinical rotations, and, inevitably, some are hired upon completion of the nursing program,” said Susan Thornock, chair of the WSU School of Nursing. “Often, administrators refer certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to Weber State so they can work toward their nursing degrees.”

While the partnership has been mutually beneficial, the veterans receive the biggest benefit.

“It allows us to find the brightest students and hire them,” said Kelly Snowball, administrator at the veterans’ home. “Working with WSU is dear to my heart. It’s a great program that provides our veterans with the finest care. We have high expectations, and that’s why we hire a lot of Weber State graduates.”

Caring for Veterans

Katarina Nelson — who earned her bachelor’s degree at Weber State in the spring — has worked at the veterans’ home for three years, first as a CNA, then as a licensed practical nurse, and now as a full-time registered nurse. 

Every day is different for Nelson, despite the normal redundancies of any job.

“I get there in the morning and get reports from the night nurse,” Nelson said. “I get patients their medications, help pass out the breakfast and help people that need assistance with eating.” Afterward, she moves on to treatments — some residents require special help with incisions from hip or back surgeries, and many have ailments that are unique to a wound they received during their time serving in the military. This is when she hears her most interesting stories.

“Some of our residents have dementia and can’t always tell you the whole story,” Nelson said. “I had one patient who was shot in the leg in battle and lost a huge part of his calf muscle. He had to lie in the grass and hide for more than 24 hours before crawling to safety. He’s very proud of the Purple Heart he received. 

“We even have one resident who always talked about his pet moose. We just assumed he was a bit confused. But it turns out, he really did have a pet moose that he would ride, and he actually had pictures of it.”

Working with veterans can be difficult at times. Because Nelson works in long-term care, part of the job involves watching residents she has built close relationships with pass away. “There are a lot of them I already miss.”

But that doesn’t stop her from going above and beyond the call of duty.

“I had one resident who wouldn’t eat anything for three days. I knew he loved McDonald’s, so I asked my husband to pick him up a hamburger. He was so excited for the McDonald’s; it was really cute.” Lance Miller also is a registered nurse at the veterans’ home. He completed Weber State’s associate’s degree nursing program in 2011 and is working toward his Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

“I was working in Brigham City earlier this year when I found a job opening down here at the veterans’ home. I immediately jumped on it. My favorite residents in Brigham City were always the veterans — so I figured if these are my favorite residents, why not go where all of them are veterans,” Miller said.

Working so closely with residents, Miller is learning things he never thought he would. “They’ve experienced a lot of life. Listening to them helps me become a better person. I learn a lot from those guys. I know I’m helping them out, but I think they are helping me out even more.”

Just like Nelson, Miller admits not every day is easy.

“A lot of these veterans are dealing with post-traumatic stress, and it’s hard to see them have a hard time socializing,” he said. “It’s hard sometimes to hear their war stories because they are so traumatic. One patient will show me every day where he got shot through the neck.”

On the other hand, there are also plenty of uplifting stories. “There is one resident who is 90, and he’s been learning to play the ukulele. His outlook on life is pretty dang cool. You know, to be motivated at that age to try something new. It’s pretty inspiring.”

Understanding Veterans’ Needs

According to the Hospice Foundation of America, only about 20 percent of aging veterans end up in a veteran’s home. This creates a need for more areas of the U.S. health care system — hospitals, private nursing homes, hospices and others — to understand veterans’ issues and help manage their care.

Ryan Cook is an RN case manager with VistaCare Hospice in Ogden. He completed Weber State’s nursing program through the Davis Applied Technology College in 2006 and joined VistaCare in 2012. There, he is the “eyes and ears” of the doctors, tackling administrative duties, such as scheduling CNAs and making sure the social workers are organized for the doctors.

“I work very closely with veterans at Gentiva (the parent company of VistaCare), from colonels in the Air Force to enlisted men from World War II,” Cook said. “We work with veterans quite frequently at all different levels, whether it be their health care or their benefits.”

Gentiva partners with “We Honor Veterans,” a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the Department of Veterans Affairs that recognizes living veterans. For example, Cook and VistaCare helped with a float featuring veterans at a July parade in Riverdale, Utah.

“These are very proud men,” Cook said. “They like things done a certain way and want to make sure you are following all the rules, that you are not wasting money and are being conservative on their care. It’s a great honor for me to take care of them and give back to them for what they’ve given me today.”

“We recently honored a veteran who is one of the strongest men I’ve ever seen. He’s suffering from a cardiac condition, but he gets up every day, he cares for his wife and has been working his entire life. He retired and went back to work at one point. It doesn’t matter how much pain he has, he just gets up and goes every day, and nothing ever gets him down.”

In a month when we honor our veterans, Weber State University salutes the men and women who served their country, and says thank you to the nurses who care for them, physically and emotionally.