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The Men of Big Bend Hospice: Valor Team Volunteer Jack Pittman

Editor’s note: More than 300 volunteers work alongside Big Bend Hospice staff to provide compassionate care and support to patients and their loved ones. The majority of these volunteers are women. “The Men of Big Bend Hospice” is an occasional series featuring male volunteers and the important role they play in Hospice care.  

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 372 Veterans die every day. As a Big Bend Hospice Valor Team Volunteer, Jack Pittman, a 22-year Army Veteran who served in Vietnam, is ensuring that these servicemen and women receive the care and recognition they deserve.  

Bend Hospice is a proud partner in the national We Honor Veterans program and has made the highest commitment to Veteran-centric care through the Big Bend Hospice Valor Program. Jack has served dozens of Veterans and their families the past five years as a Valor Team Volunteer. He writes Legacy Documents, which preserve Veterans’ stories; conducts Valor Ceremonies, which bring friends and family members together to thank the Veteran, and visits one-on-one with Veterans to provide support and understanding. 

Jack retired as a lieutenant colonel, and his last duty station was Fort Stewart, Georgia. He and his wife, Jackie, lived in the same neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland, when they were teenagers and have now been married 55 years. They have two children and four grandchildren and live in Tallahassee. 

In the Q & A below, Jack shares his passion for volunteering and talks about the special bond among Veterans. 

Question: What do you do as a Valor Team Volunteer? 

Answer: The purpose of the Valor Team is to ease the suffering and emotions of Veterans who are fighting their last battle. I also do Legacy Documents. If a Veteran has a particular story to tell, then I will try to tell that for him or her, particularly if they’re a war Veteran, to highlight what they did in World War II, Korea or Vietnam. We’ve also had a couple Veterans who were Gulf War Veterans. If I can write a good document and provide that to the Veteran and his family, then that’s part of what I really like to do. 

Q: Do you encounter many Veterans who have never shared the details of their service? 

A: Yes. I think this is pretty much true with all Veterans, but particularly World War II Veterans, and my own father was like this. They went overseas in Europe or the Pacific and some of them did really heroic things, but when they came home, and someone said, “What did you do in the war?” they said, “Ah, I don’t want to talk about it. I’m back at being a civilian again, and I just want to get a job and raise my kids.” … This is the first time some families hear in detail about their loved one’s military service.  

Q: How urgent is the need to preserve Veterans’ stories?  

A: All of the World War II veterans are in the 90s. All of the Korean War Veterans are in their 80s. These two generations are more and more going into Hospice care, and these are the Veterans we work with the most in the Valor Program. Most of the Vietnam Veterans are in their 70s like me, and we’re starting to see more of them come in too. We feel a great sense of urgency in working with these Veterans to record their stories.

Q: How is serving as a Valor Team Volunteer meaningful to you? 

A: I’ve had a lot of different jobs, but being a Veteran, I can always immediately associate with other Veterans. It’s listening to their stories, being with them and doing things for them, like the Valor Ceremony, which honor their service, that I appreciate the most.  

Q: Why is it important to have men in the ranks of BBH volunteers? 

A: As you’re going toward the end of life, sometimes you want to talk to another male who’s had some of the same experiences you’ve had. There are so many things about going into the military and basic training and having a drill instructor that are common, shared experiences that other Veterans can immediately relate to and understand. 

Q: What role do women play on the Valor Team? 

A: We value and welcome female team members. We did a Valor Ceremony for a female veteran, and most of the team was made of women volunteers. There are a lot of things that women can relate to best with other women. That’s important, too. 

Q: What type of special bond do Veterans share? 

A: It’s camaraderie and an instant connection. If I see a Veteran in Publix or anywhere else, I will always go up and ask them about their service. I don’t care what kind of hat they’re wearing, whether it’s Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. Sometimes I say, “Thank you for your service,” and we move on. Other times, we’ll stand in an aisle in Publix and talk for a half-hour. It’s great. 

As Jack’s story demonstrates, men have a special role as BBH volunteers. The Valor Team welcomes men and women. You do not have to be a Veteran to volunteer with the Valor Team. For more information, contact the Volunteer Department at 850-878-5310 or visit https://www.bigbendhospice.org/volunteer. Read more about the Valor Program below.

Big Bend Hospice Valor Program 

Big Bend Hospice has been a proud partner in We Honor Veterans, a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the Department of Veterans Affairs, since 2013. In 2014, BBH attained Partner Level 4, the program’s pinnacle level. BBH has made the highest commitment to Veteran-centric end-of-life care by developing a variety of services and programs to serve and honor Veterans. These services include: 

Valor Ceremonies 

A Valor Ceremony is available for many BBH and Transitions patients who are Veterans. These ceremonies, filled with honor and tradition, bring together friends and family members to thank the Veteran and preserve his or her legacy. 

Trained Valor Volunteers (Veterans and non-Veterans) conduct each ceremony, which includes: 

The Pledge of Allegiance and patriotic music. 

A certificate of appreciation and letter of gratitude. 

Presentation of a Hospice-Veteran lapel pin and a table-top American flag. 

The ceremony concludes with the greatest show of respect one Veteran can give another – a salute. 

Valor Volunteers conduct these ceremonies wherever the patient calls home, including assisted-living facilities and the Margaret Z. Dozier Hospice House. Ceremonies can also be held after the death of a patient with presentations made to family members. 

Vet-to-Vet Program 

Coping with a terminal illness, contemplating death or experiencing physical pain can trigger complicated emotions. Sometimes a Veteran can only open up to a fellow Veteran. Volunteers, who are also Veterans, provide a comforting presence and camaraderie. This program provides social interaction and connection to create an environment in which life review and healing may occur. 

Veterans Memorial Garden 

Veterans designed and created this memorial at our Jean McCully Family House to pay tribute to all U.S. military Veterans and to emphasize that regardless of rank or branch of service, “We are all the same.” This beautiful garden includes: 

A large American Flag prominently lit and flown in accordance to Presidential proclamations. 

Custom designed emblems representing each branch of service and prisoners of war. 

A sound system that plays "Taps" daily at noon and for special occasions. 

A walkway lined with Veteran Memorial Pavers. 

We host services to dedicate pavers purchased in honor of Veterans and an annual Veterans Day service in the garden. 

Tree of Life Dog Tag 

Thanks to a generous donor, we provide complimentary dog tags for every Veteran in our care. One tag is permanently placed on the Valor Tree at the Jean McCully Family House in the Veteran’s honor, and one is given to the family as a keepsake. 

Veterans Liaison 

In 2018, BBH created a Veteran Liaison position to provide dedicated assistance to Veterans at the end of life. The person filling this role must be a Veteran and have a background in counseling. The Veteran Liaison: 

Coordinates Valor Ceremonies and Vet-to-Vet visits to Hospice patients and Transitions clients. 

Creates and strengthens partnerships with Veteran-centric groups in all eight counties of the BBH service area. 

Connects Veterans and their families to resources. 

Recruiting volunteers for the Valor program. 

For more information on these programs or to get involved, please contact Big Bend Hospice at 850-878-5310.