By FATHER JOHN C. KIERAN, Commentary | Published November 17, 2016
Veterans Day on November 11 was an occasion to honor all our esteemed service people. Many throughout the country gathered for parades or for other similar events to remember and give thanks to the millions of veterans who have served in any branch of the military.
This is a time for all citizens to pay respects to those who have served, both the retired and the active, their families and their supporters. It is a time for joyful celebration to honor those we should not forget.
Originally called Armistice Day, November 11 recalls the ending of World War I at the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month, 1918. In 1954 the new name, Veterans Day, was established so as to emphasize the debt owed to all our service people for their heroic human contribution.
My work at the Veterans Hospital in Decatur makes me more aware of the sacrifice made by veterans. As you walk the halls and visit hospital floors you see much evidence of human cost: amputees, young people confined to wheelchairs, dejected faces with the marks of PTSD and the distressing stories of nightmare nights. It is estimated that there are 50,000 homeless vets in the United States; many have deep feelings of rejection and guilt.
Fortunately we have a strong chaplains’ team led by an innovative chief. All chaplains strive proactively to deliver comfort and hope to patients hospitalized at the VA Medical Center and at 14 satellite service centers across northeast Georgia.
As Catholic chaplain on the team, I prioritize visiting all known Catholic patients. I am greatly assisted by Deacon Tom Badger and deacon aspirant Bruce Goodwin who do rounds with me on Mondays. Many patients, especially the more senior ones, are disconnected from parish life; thus we are given glorious opportunities to reunite and spiritually renew the inactive, by the help of God’s grace.
Long-term patients are a particular joy to minister with. One man has been with us since May. When he came in, he could read his Magnificat prayer book daily and received Eucharist regularly. Staff and chaplains have met his needs, doing more for him as his condition declines. Knowing his history and being part proxy for his family and his neighbor friend, who cannot visit often, gives the patient comfort and the team satisfaction.
Our mission at the VA is outcome-oriented. Each patient and care recipient is assessed so as to achieve the outcome most appropriate for him or her. All staff at the Atlanta VA promise to provide care second to none, the best care anywhere; to maintain and expand veterans health care services whenever possible; and to ensure that every veteran will be personally satisfied with the care that they receive, based on the highest quality of outcome.
Family and friends can assist VA chaplains:
By making sure that the patient’s religious affiliation is recorded on admittance forms;
When acute illness occurs, by phoning the Chaplain’s Office at 404-321-6111, extension 6870. This is especially important when the patient cannot speak for him or herself;
By attending the Monday morning Mass at 11:30 a.m. at the VA chapel and joining others in prayer for the well-being of all.
We are all connected with veterans. All benefit by the service rendered by our vets to ensure our freedom and protection. All rely on our current military personnel for our continued liberties and peace. Certainly, all should participate in some public way to show gratitude and appreciation for our veterans, past, present, and to come.
So let all celebrate this November, honoring our U.S. veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. We are indebted to them.
The Atlanta VA Medical Center is located at 1670 Clairmont Road, Decatur, GA 30033. The chapel is located on the first floor of the medical center, room 1C 182 B.