When Willie Clarkson was not quite 17, he asked his mother to sign him up for the Army.
Between active duty and the reserves, he served his country for 32 years and retired in 2000.
Now he is battling multiple myeloma – a blood cancer – and is cared for by Hospice Care of America.
Hospice Care of America recently joined We Honor Vets, a national program to give veteran-centered care to hospice patients who have served in the armed forces.
“They don’t want to be recognized. They just want to be remembered. Everybody wants to be acknowledged for what they do,” said Account Executive Anthony Horton, who retired from the Navy himself after 20 years of service.
We Honor Vets has four levels that an organization can achieve based on level of care offered by the organization and the education of its employees and volunteers.
Hospice Care of America is considered a recruit and is currently working to educate staff and volunteers and to adopt policies that will establish it as a Level One partner.
Patients, if they wish, are matched with volunteers who have also served in the military. Volunteers help in whatever capacity they are needed, even if it’s just lending an understanding ear.
Horton said he understands the unique bonds that form among members of the military.
Friday, he offered to help Clarkson and his wife, Yudell, work with the Veterans Administration to apply for benefits that relate to Clarkson’s exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam.
Horton thumbed through Clarkson’s photo albums from the war and tried to help Clarkson remember where he was stationed.
He said he would have helped anyway because he feels it’s the right thing to do, but helping veterans get all of the benefits they are entitled to is another one of the ways a We Honor Vets hospice serves veterans.
Seated between Clarkson and Horton was Ricky Love, a certified nurse’s assistant employed by Hospice Care of America who has been caring for Clarkson for about three weeks.
Love was drafted into the Army at the end of the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged a short time later.
They talk sometimes of Army life.
Clarkson said he feels so comfortable with Love that he once fell asleep while in his care.
“That’s something I don’t usually do when somebody strange is around,” he said.
Part of their bond comes from a shared military experience, Love said.
Clarkson said it meant a lot to him to have a caregiver who could understand his military service.
And that is why Horton said he was excited to sign the company up for the We Honor Vets program. It ensures that veterans receive the recognition and care they are entitled to, even as they battle with their health.
“Particularly with his state of health, you’ve got to say ‘I love you’ now,” Horton said.