Eight veterans gathered in the dining room of Oakcrest assisted living facility on a recent morning to reminisce and share stories about their military experiences. Known as ‘Vet-to-Vet Cafés,’ these gatherings are part of Gilchrist’s We Honor Veterans program, which addresses the growing need for veteran-centered care, especially as veterans age.
Gilchrist volunteer Mike Lachance, a Vietnam veteran, helps coordinate and facilitate the veteran cafés along with other volunteers.
He has experienced firsthand the need to talk about his service to other veterans—the only ones who can truly relate. When he returned home from Vietnam, he did not feel welcomed. Some of his fellow servicemen were spat upon by those who opposed the war, and Vietnam veterans were largely met with disrespect.
Mike had risked his life to serve, yet he was met with disdain even from older veterans who were against the war. He began to feel disillusioned.
“I buried my experience after Vietnam for many years,” Mike recalls. It was only after finding VA sponsored ‘rap groups’—venues for veterans to discuss troubling aspects of the war and their experiences after returning home—that he felt understood.
Gilchrist’s Vet-to-Vet Cafés offer a similar opportunity for older veterans living in residential care facilities. The cafés are open to veterans of any era and branch of military.
Mike went on to have a rewarding career in the Aging Services industry. When he retired, he found meaning in volunteer work with Gilchrist and other organizations. He learned about Gilchrist’s We Honor Veterans program after attending Gilchrist’s Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans event last March. He has been volunteering with Gilchrist’s veteran patients for the past several months.
During the Vet-to-Vet Cafés, there is no set agenda. After introductions, participants usually share stories—some funny, some troubling. Mike or another Gilchrist volunteer may prompt the group with questions, but conversation usually flows spontaneously. The veterans talk and laugh until time runs out, and then they are eager to meet again.
So far, attendees have included veterans from World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and all branches of the military except the Coast Guard. Mike says the veterans are grateful for the opportunity to share. Even a patient who had difficulty speaking because of dementia said that despite being unable to contribute much about his own experience, he really enjoyed sitting with fellow veterans and listening.
As a volunteer, Mike gets a lot out of the discussions too. “It’s a rewarding experience,” he says. “My volunteer work is so enriching…it’s an engaging win-win for everyone involved.”
For dates and locations of upcoming Vet-to-Vet Cafés, or to learn more about volunteering with Gilchrist’s We Honor Veterans program, call 443.849.8337.
About We Honor Veterans
Gilchrist proudly supports veterans in our community through our We Honor Veterans program. The program is a partnership with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and the Department of Veterans Affairs to address the growing need for veteran-centered care, especially as veterans are aging and need access to palliative and hospice care. Through We Honor Veterans, Gilchrist is committed to addressing the complex end-of-life care needs of veterans. To learn more, visit gilchristcares.org/whv.