The Empath Honors program is dedicated to caring for and honoring the service of veterans. They are looking for local Black veterans to tell their stories.
By Karen Davis-Pritchett M.Ed., Empath Health Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
PINELLAS COUNTY — Empath Health is committed to sharing the stories of Black men and women veterans. We understand the value and importance of these stories.
Empath Honors, Empath’s program dedicated to caring for and honoring the service of veterans, is planning a Veterans History Project Story Day specifically for African-American service members in February. The Veterans History Project collects first-hand accounts of combat veterans’ military experiences for future generations.
Specially-trained volunteers and staff are conducting video or audio interviews of the veterans. The recordings are then submitted and archived in the Library of Congress. Participants receive a copy of their interview, a certificate of participation and a record of where their stories are archived.
Empath Honors focuses on including African-American veterans’ valuable, often missed stories. We are also seeking veteran volunteers. Volunteers often find it rewarding to give back to veteran brothers and sisters. Beyond the history project, they help honor veterans by conducting pinning ceremonies at patient homes and facilities.
Trudy Beeler, Empath’s Veterans Community Partnership Liaison, found that veterans of all stripes tend to open up when interviewed by fellow veterans.
“That’s the power of the Veterans History Project for us,” Beeler said. “Any person can conduct the interview with the veteran. What we see is when it’s the veteran volunteer conducting the interview, there’s just an innate understanding of the experience. They have had similar experiences, even if the branch of service or era of service was different.
“The interviewee is more comfortable. They are sharing things that oftentimes family members, after the fact, tell us, ‘Wow, we never knew that. We never heard that story before.’ It’s an amazing gift we can give to our patients’ families and veterans and their families in the community. This becomes their legacy of service. Not only is it for them, but it’s shared at the Library of Congress for future generations to reference.”
Empath Honors’ Veterans History Project celebrated its 100th story in August 2021 with an interview with Joe Grecco, a 100-year-old Suncoast Hospice patient who described his World War II combat experience.
Beeler said the act of telling their story is cathartic for veterans. She described how a Korean War veteran from Gulfport reacted after being interviewed.
“You could just see by sharing his story with a veteran volunteer conducting the interview and being able to put it out there [that] it was a sense of peace. I’ve just seen the weight lift. His outlook is different. It’s more positive. He’s not as burdened through connecting with the veteran volunteer,” she said.
More details about the Veterans History Project Story Day will be forthcoming. To find out more, or to reserve a time slot, contact Beeler at TrudyBeeler@EmpathHealth.org or (727) 643-4939.
The Veterans History Project is just one part of Empath Honors services available to veterans in Pinellas County. Suncoast Hospice, a member of Empath Health, is a Level Five Partner of the We Honor Veterans program, an initiative of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. This commitment to gratefully acknowledge the veterans we serve extends throughout all areas of Empath Health under the Empath Honors initiative.
Empath Honors also offers military service recognition ceremonies and works with Honor Flight to bring veterans to their memorials in Washington, D.C., free of charge. The program sponsors Veterans Coffee Connections and Veteran Briefings to give former service members a social outlet and a chance to learn more about the benefits available from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Last month, Empath opened the new Empath Auer Szabo Adult Day Center to focus on veterans’ psychosocial and recreational needs and keep them healthy at home.
“This is how Empath Health and Suncoast Hospice honor and recognize and support veterans in the community,” Beeler said. “It’s connecting veterans to each other and to resources and services they don’t know about or don’t know how to access. We’ve been very successful at doing that.”
To learn more about Empath Honors, visit EmpathHealth.org/Veterans-Programs.