Gary Boseneiler’s passion for working with military veterans is plain to see—seven days a week. As Johnson County Director of Veteran Affairs, Gary helps connect local veterans with a myriad services. In his office, stained glass art created by daughter, Blake, illustrates Gary’s own military service: 21 years in the U.S. Air Force. But even in his free time Gary expresses this same passion—honoring terminally ill veterans for their careers or sitting at the bedside of veterans in their final hours.
Gary is one of several local volunteers, veterans themselves, involved with the Iowa City Hospice initiative We Honor Veterans. The program is a collaboration between the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Its goal: to recognize the unique needs of American veterans and their families and to support them through a peaceful end of life. Iowa City Hospice is a Level 3 Partner with We Honor Veterans, putting to use the program’s resources and best practices for local patients and families.
A key part of We Honor Veterans is a home visit where an Iowa City Hospice volunteer presents a certificate to the veteran. More than just a piece of paper, the certificate provides thanks and acknowledgement of veterans’ sacrifices. It can have a powerful impact. In one case, the family of a Vietnam veteran reported that he had never been thanked for his service.
“It often brings tears to people’s eyes when we visit and present the certificate,” says Gary, “and families especially appreciate seeing their loved one honored.”
We Honor Veterans also provides a listening ear when desired. Iowa City Hospice volunteer coordinator, Ann Coe, says a terminal illness often triggers a review of one’s life. And for a military veteran, this review can take on unique dimensions.
“It’s amazing that veterans who have been mute about their military experiences for years often want to tell their stories at the end of life,” says Gary. “They may share things they’ve never talked about before. And even after many years, their memories can be very vivid, detailed and personal.”
Gary and his fellow We Honor Veterans volunteers may meet with a veteran and family for five minutes or for an hour—or they may begin an ongoing relationship.
Gary reports that he hears many funny stories from hospice patients—perhaps about stealing a jeep or meeting up with girls. But other stories recount hand-to-hand combat or long-buried traumas—powerful memories that can resurface at the end of life.
“Veterans are people who raised their hand at one time and said, ‘Yes, I’ll volunteer my life for my country.’ I want to show respect for that and I don’t want to see veterans die alone,” says Gary.
“The professionalism and the compassion of the whole [Iowa City Hospice] team are extraordinary,” he continues. “I brag about this program all the time. I’m very proud and honored to be part of Iowa City Hospice.”
The 2016 Iowa City Hospice Walk for Dignity will be dedicated to all military veterans and the We Honor Veterans program.