In 2019, retired Army Colonel Claude Schmid founded the nonprofit Veteran's Last Patrol. Its mission is to forge vital connections and support for hospice veterans in their last days on earth, honoring them as they complete one last patrol.
"My last assignment on active duty I was the Chief of the Wounded Warrior Flight Program, which was an operation where we brought back our casualties from overseas. I recognized that when someone is in great adversity, they, more than ever, need friendship and companionship," Schmid said. He explained that when he retired, he remembered his mother spending time visiting patients in hospice. It was there that he decided to devote his time to honoring veterans in their last days.
Schmid recognized that many nursing home and hospice care residents were deeply lonely and struggling. Knowing that veterans who served this country at great personal sacrifice were experiencing that didn't sit well with him. "We decided we'd put teams together nationally to bring friendships to veterans in hospice care… When you go into end of life, it's nationally to bring friendships to veterans in hospice care… When you go into end of life, it's one final fight and their last patrol," he explained.
This is where active duty members and retired military can lend their support, one last time. "The veterans' community is particularly bonded because of the special work and abilities we have. When veterans move away and fall out of those connections they may be hurting more than most because they are used to that teamwork and support network," Schmid explained. "Our focus is this mission, the goal of bringing them friendships," Schmid said.
The core of this nonprofit is to promote volunteerism and provide financial assistance to veterans in need. Veteran's Last Patrol partners with medical providers to connect volunteers with veterans in hospice care. With many of these volunteers being veterans themselves, it opens the door to sharing stories of the patrols of the past, one last time.
"The national media covers the stories of veterans that have passed away and no one knew they served until they are in the mortuary. The question was, 'What about before they passed away?'" Schmid said.
Veteran's Last Patrol also does formal honor ceremonies for the veterans and their families. "There's been a number of times where within days of that ceremony, the veteran passed away. The family will tell us that they never had a better day than that day in the latter part of their life," Schmid shared.
"Veterans are about service. We've served each other and our nation and this is one way you can continue to serve. I think it can instill future military service for the younger generation, too. As they see this kind of care throughout the life of the veteran and that deep commitment, they might be inspired by that," Schmid said.
As the holiday season quickly approaches, Veteran's Last Patrol has an easy call to action for every American to immediately and truly thank these veterans for their service. Operation Holiday Salute is a program to collect cards and letters for veterans in hospice for Christmas. By taking five minutes to write a message to a veteran, you could be making the world of difference. "It's all about bringing holiday cheer – their last holiday cheer that these veterans will receive in their lives," Schmid explained. Last year, Veteran's Last Patrol sent over 4,000 letters to veterans in hospice care.
This year the goal is 10,000.
With the pandemic still impacting things like volunteering in person, writing a letter is a simple and an accessible act of intentional kindness. GivingTuesday is on December 1, 2020, and this is the perfect way to give back to a population that dedicated their lives willingly for our freedoms.
Although its headquarters is located in South Carolina, Veteran's Last Patrol has teams in 14 states. Anyone can raise their hand and pledge to do this in their own communities by simply contacting Veteran's Last Patrol through their website. Schmid hopes that one day they'll cover the country, serving veterans everywhere in their last days.
Veteran's Last Patrol is dedicated to ensuring that the lives and sacrifices of America's veterans are never forgotten, especially in their last days. There is no better way to truly say, "Thank you for your service," than by giving your time to honor a veteran in hospice. Listen to their stories and breathe in their devotion to this country before they are gone, forever. What are you waiting for?
Mail your card or letter for Operation Holiday Salute to:
Veteran's Last Patrol
140B Venture Blvd
Spartanburg, SC, 29306