When a veteran dies at the Delaware Valley Veterans Home on Southampton Road, the death is marked with a military ceremony — and dignity.
“Military honors are performed by the residents,” said Jack O’Donnell, president of Veterans for a Delaware Valley Nursing Home, a volunteer organization. A vet’s body is draped with a flag and escorted through the halls by an honor guard as Taps is played.
“All the residents line up in the hallways, and, with the president of the residents council in front, we all march with the casket,” said director of nursing Muriel Tilley-Boggs.
“Some stand up who can hardly stand up,” added Deborah Olivieri, assistant director of nursing. “It’s very touching.”
That farewell is a tradition that started at the Philadelphia facility, said the commandant, A. Peter Ojeda, and is now part of the rites at all six of the state’s veterans homes.
It was one of the Philadelphia home’s residents, Leonard Rosenfeldt, who suggested the ceremony, Ojeda said.
Previously, when a vet passed away, his room was closed off and his body was quietly removed. Given all the services the vets get at the home, Rosenfeldt, who has since passed away, said he thought a death should be marked with more dignity.
THE MISSION IS NOBLE
Ideals of service and dignity are what the staff of the veterans home aspire to, Ojeda said.
The facility, at 2701 Southampton Road, was dedicated in November 2002 and today has 171 residents who are provided with meals, complete medical care, therapies and other services. It is at its maximum capacity right now and there is a waiting list that is one to two years’ long.
There are three kinds of care — treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, skilled nursing care and personal care, he said.
Dementia patients live in a ward designed to offer them the most attention. Skilled nursing care is provided to vets who have various medical conditions.
“Personal care” is very independent living, said Ojeda, who also is a nurse. Many of the cars parked on the home’s lot belong to the veterans who live there. Those vets may continue to use outside doctors, too, Ojeda explained.
“We’ll even take you to your appointment,” he added.
There are social events like the spring dance and the commandant’s ball, O’Donnell said.
But, most important, “It is a home,” Ojeda said.
PRAISE FROM THE VETS
Living at the veterans home “was a terrific choice for me,” said 94-year-old Myer Kurgan. The World War II U.S. Army vet from Oxford Circle has been there for about two years. “They do so much for us it’s unbelievable,” he said.
“They do almost everything for me,” said disabled Navy vet John Vanderslice, who died a few days after an Oct. 28 interview for this story. “There is a very limited range of things I can do myself.”
The veterans home has a 250-member staff. Kurgan and Gene Friedant, president of the residents council, talked about the quality of service and how spotlessly clean the home is kept.
“When my wife visits me, she can’t get over how clean this place is,” said Friedant, 86, also a WWII Army vet.
Frederick DeJosie, 55, an Air Force veteran from Virginia, said he likes the freedom. He’s learned about computers since he’s been living at the facility and has one in his room. The food is good and the staff is pleasant, he said. He had been in another nursing home before he moved to Southampton Road eight years ago. The homes are not alike.
“It was like moving from Jed Clampett’s shed to his mansion,” he said, invoking a little Beverly Hillbillies humor.
Vietnam veteran Robert F. Smith, 68, of Roxborough, offered perhaps the most glowing tribute.
ldquo;I worked for the federal government and I used to investigate nursing homes,” he said. “This is the best!”
To be eligible for residency, a vet must have been honorably discharged, said Ojeda. There is no age limit — and spouses are eligible, too. One of the vets living at the home is in his 40s, and there are four couples now in residence, Tilley-Boggs said.
And Scott Bonner, a veterans service officer, can help vets determine eligibility for any number of benefits, including monthly cash stipends.
“Lots of vets don’t know what’s available,” he said.
O’Donnell said volunteers, who represent several veterans organizations at the home, get a lot of cooperation and support from the facility’s management. “They listen,” he said.
“Our residents can come to us when they have any problems,” Olivieri added, “and they’re not shy.” ••
For information about the Delaware Valley Veterans Home, admission, tours and volunteer opportunities, call 215-965-5900. Visit the Web site at http://www.dvvh.state.pa.us
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org