JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
The Department of Veterans Affairs marked its 42nd Annual National Salute to Veterans at South Texas Veterans Health Care System’s Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans’ Hospital Feb. 14.
During the week-long national salute, VA staff members strived to re-commit to their core values of ICARE—Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect and Excellence, and they offered patients a genuine connection with family, friends and the communities they serve.
Veteran patients are showered with surprise visits from law enforcement officers, super heroes, civic and military leaders, and community groups. They also receive special handmade cards from people of all ages.
“VA facilities across the nation are honoring these men and women, as we who are entrusted with their care reflect upon our obligation to serve those who have served us,” said Trisha Lodde, South Texas Veterans Health Care System, or STVHCS, assistant director and chief experience officer. “Their service has ensured our freedom as individuals, our freedom as a nation, and the freedom of our friends and allies around the world. Yet today, many of them are separated from family and friends, suffer physical or emotional pain, and face uncertain futures.”
Military City USA was heavily represented at the event, to include Joint Base San Antonio’s military ambassadors. The ambassadors visited patients throughout the medical center and handed each a special Valentine card made by local school students.
Patients and their families in a waiting room, elevators, or in hallways walking to their appointments were surprised to see young service men and women in uniform in the medical center greeting and smiling and remarking, “Thank you for your service!”
“The VA National Salute to Veterans is a pure act of gratitude, compassion and unconditional love for all who serve,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ernie Nieves, one of JBSA’s Army ambassadors. “From those before me, those with me and the ones to come … thank you. Every cause has an effect and every act of selfless services comes at a cost.”
Petty Officer 1st Class Wendy M. Cajas, a JBSA Navy ambassador, reflected on her visits with patients, recalling a specific Army VA patient who told her, “All I wanted is to talk to someone, and then you all came into my room.” She replied to the patient, “It was meant to be.”
Cajas said her visit to the VA hospital left her with a bittersweet thought. While wearing the uniform, these heroes were, as a great leader once said to her, “ONE TEAM, ONE FIGHT!” Yet, it seemed once the uniform came off, the veterans found themselves abandoned and alone, she said.
“It’s our duty as military members to never leave anyone behind, regardless of their branch, rank or status,” Cajas said. “This event brought to light how much more we need to volunteer and just be a friend, an ear, or just company to people who paved the way for our generation to serve. We have to give back to those who gave us the chance!”
Senior military leaders also visited veterans at the hospital and thanked them for their service. They were able to have conversations and laughs with the patients; smiling and sharing family photos; taking selfies and handing out handmade cards.
Among the senior leaders to visit were Col. Pete Velesky, Joint Base San Antonio and 502nd Air Base Wing vice commander Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Lantagne, JBSA and 502nd ABW command chief; Col. Pete Velesky, JBSA and 502nd ABW vice commander; and Richard Oliver, honorary commander and director of partner and community relations at Visit San Antonio.
“There are no words that can adequately express what their sacrifices have meant to the nation, but we can take time to express our personal thanks and appreciation to them,” Lodde said. Personal contributions of time and expressions of care are the Annual National Salute to Veterans hallmark and the foundation of VA Voluntary Service, which coordinates and organizes events and visits like the ones during this year’s salute.
Voluntary service is a key link between veterans who seek care within VA and in their local communities and is an avenue through which every citizen and organization can show veterans, young and old, that America cares and remembers.