Ten is a magic number for Mike Couper. That’s how many years he served in the military. It’s also how long he has been with Suncoast Hospice, a member of Empath Health, as a Veterans Serving Veterans volunteer.
After retiring from the workforce, Couper started volunteering at the suggestion of his wife, who also volunteered with Empath Health.
“She told me about the veterans program and it seemed like a perfect fit. So I signed up and started training in May 2010,” explains Couper. “Hopefully I’ll be here another 10 years.”
As a volunteer, he has dedicated time every week to visit with patients who are veterans and their families at the Mid-Pinellas Care Center. Being a veteran himself, there is common ground between him and the patients he visits with.
Couper joined the Marine Corps when he was 17 with thoughts of seeing the world. He soon found himself deployed to Vietnam, where he served for nearly a year. After returning home he spent several years in military motor transportation. Eventually Couper joined the army reserve and spent six years with the military police.
Veterans have many experiences unique to military life. It can be difficult to talk about these things, especially traumatic events, to people who may not fully understand. Because of his service, Couper has a perspective that enables him to connect with fellow veterans, no matter the era of service.
“A lot of times when people are at the end of their life, they know what’s coming and they want to talk about things that may be resting heavy. They may feel like someone that isn’t a veteran won’t understand,” says Couper. “It’s just like anything else, you can’t really understand something until you’ve done it yourself, experienced it yourself.”
Last year, volunteers like Couper made a total of 861 veteran-to-veteran visits across all Suncoast Hospice Care Center locations. In addition to providing a listening ear for those who want to talk, during these visits each veteran is presented with a certificate honoring their service.
Providing these connections are just one part of how Suncoast Hospice has been ensuring the more than 2,000 veterans and family members who are cared for annually feel valued for their sacrifices.
Veteran volunteers also conduct video or audio interviews to collect first-hand accounts of military experience for the Veterans History Project. To date, our volunteers have collected 92 stories which are stored in the Library of Congress.
As a Level Four Partner with We Honor Veterans, an initiative of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), we are able to provide additional support to veterans through special programs. One component of this is community pinning ceremonies. More than 400 veterans were honored at these ceremonies last year.
“In my opinion, we can never do enough for veterans,” adds Couper. “I’m doing my part to help by letting them talk in confidence to someone who understands. I hope someone will be the same way with me.”