Program at VA Hospital ensures 'no veteran dies alone'

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The basis of a national mission is that 'no veteran should die alone.' Volunteers are needed to come and sit with veterans during the final hours of their life at Louisville's VA Hospital.

On Saturday, Air Force Veteran and avid U of L fan, Tim Webb got the visit of his lifetime from U of L football players Will Gardner, Jimmie Terry and Colin Holba, along with Kentucky Female Veteran of the Year Lindsay Gargotta.

"As soon as those three players walked in the door, he sat up in bed, he was smiling. They handed him a U of L football that was autographed. It just made his life, he has a short time left and it was what he wanted at the end," said Renee Finnegan, a volunteer at the hospital.

She said the players got something out of the visit, too. "I asked them, how does that feel that someone is dying and they want you to come visit them? The three young men were really, really taken by it."

You do not have to be a football star to change someone's life. Army veteran Renee Finnegan visits dying vets regularly.

"I started three years ago, and I love it. Some of my friends think that's weird but I love it," Finnegan explained. "I love being able to make a veteran feel better, even if it's just holding their hand. That they know that somebody is there with them.”

No Veteran Dies Alone is a national program and it's in place at Louisville's VA hospital, where it is rare that a vet dies alone.

The program is designed for vets who have no family. But often, Finnegan finds herself helping families who will not leave their loved ones' side. She often persuades them to take care of themselves for a bit.

"I'll ask…How about I stay with him? I promise you I'll stay with him until you get a shower, run some errands, they think you've given them a million dollars," said Finnegan.

Volunteers are trained and put on a call list. But if no one is available, nurses often have to step in.

"So if they noticed a patient was in their last hours, they knew there was no family available, they couldn't get a volunteer, no one to come in that night then they would try and free up each other to make sure the patient wouldn't die alone," explained Dr. Lisa Vuocolo, the Associate Chief of Staff for geriatrics extended care and rehabilitation.

Typically, volunteers are only called in a few times a year to give veterans dignity, honor and love as they leave this world.

"The whole military culture is, you know you leave no man behind," said Vuocolo.

To learn more about volunteering, click here.

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