15:34 PM

Dunham and Robinson: Veterans: We honor your service, then and now


Patrick M. Dunham, Sgt., U.S. Marine Corps, Ret., is leader of the Veterans Business Resource Group for Carilion Clinic and Deborah J. Robinson is director of Carilion’s Vet2Vet Program.

patrick dunham headshot

America’s veterans are courageous, indispensable and exceptional. More than 18 million living veterans have served and protected us both in peacetime and wartime. Veterans Day honors everyone who has served in our nation’s military for their sacrifices in protecting our liberties. But many of the veterans we know would never tell you about what they have sacrificed. 

Their legacy is their humble service then and their continued service now. Today, it’s a privilege to honor our veterans for their contribution to our country and our community. 

At Carilion Clinic, we work alongside many veterans – individuals who naturally embrace and significantly contribute to our culture of servant leadership, commitment to our community and one of our most important guiding values: courage. 

In countless small acts, veterans in our ranks at Carilion make our organization and our community a better place. From mentoring medical students and helping patients navigate the aging process to greeting guests and protecting our facilities, veterans make an impact through their day-to-day work. 

But our veterans regularly do more. 

While COVID-19 challenged our nation and our community, thirty Carilion employees deployed with their military reserve units to several COVID hotspots to help hospitals care for patients. 

Veterans have a lot to offer the civilian workforce, but we know that many find it challenging to acclimate. That’s why we’re focused on hiring them and helping them find the connection between their military training and service and their commitment to serving others. Through October 1 of this year, we had hired 86 veterans. 

There’s no more meaningful honor for a veteran than acknowledging their skills are valued and valuable, and their future is bright. 

Meet Ken Simmons, a Navy Corpsman who recently joined Carilion as an intermediate care technician. Ken is part of the team we call when a patient needs emergency, life-saving support. Can you think of a better person for the job? He plans to use his skills and training at Carilion to become an intensive care unit nurse when he fully transfers to civilian life. 

We are fortunate to work side-by-side with colleagues like Ken, who are veterans. Still, we have even more good fortune because we care for so many veterans as well. 

Among our many efforts focused on veterans, we’re collaborating more with the Salem VA Medical Center to improve evidence-based treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and addictions. 

We’re also focusing on suicide prevention. Suicides are a leading concern among veterans, and we’re doing everything we can to address it. As a partner in Virginia Identify, Screen, and Refer, we operated a pilot program through the national Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans and Families. We’ve been able to identify signs of distress more accurately and reliably, so we can intervene more quickly. 

Carilion’s programs and initiatives positively impact the lives of veterans living in our community. Our teams receive a tremendous benefit in return when we work with and care for veterans, thanks to hearing their stories and learning about their experiences. 

Take Staff Sargent John C. Eakin. 

A few weeks ago, Mr. Eakin came into our lobby wearing a World War II Veteran cap. Carilion Patient Services employee James Saunders was on duty. James, a retired Army Private, thanked Mr. Eakin for his service and struck up a conversation. Mr. Eakin was soon holding court in a room full of clinical staff, sharing a powerful story of resilience. 

In spring 1945, Mr. Eakin came under fire and was wounded while serving on Italy’s front line. He was quickly patched up and sent back out. Shortly after that, his division destroyed two German divisions and captured a German Corps of 40,000 men. It wasn’t easy, he says, and he still thinks about his fellow soldiers every day. 

We’re fighting a different kind of battle right now than Mr. Eakin did 75 years ago, but his story of perseverance came at the right time for our team. COVID-19 hospitalizations are climbing, and we are fighting for our community’s health every day. 

Not all veterans are like Ken Simmons or John Eakin. Some won’t want to share their experiences, and that’s okay. Regardless, they deserve our respect and gratitude for their service and their sacrifices. 

If you’re lucky enough to hear their stories, pay respect and express gratitude for everything they have done and continue to do for our country. 

To our veterans this day, we honor you.