When my father passed away in 1995, my mother and siblings were by his side — in his own home. Several years later, my mother, and two months later, my sister passed away, both in the company of children and siblings who loved them very much.

When my father passed away in 1995, my mother and siblings were by his side — in his own home. Several years later, my mother, and two months later, my sister passed away, both in the company of children and siblings who loved them very much.


Many of us have been fortunate enough to be with our loved ones during their final days. But many veterans receiving care while hospitalized at VA medical centers don’t have the luxury — perhaps fortune — of having family members nearby — if they have a family at all.


Approximately 1,800 veterans — most veterans of World War II and the Korean War — die each day, often alone.


But a program offered by more than a dozen VA hospitals seeks to change that thanks to the unselfish efforts of volunteers.


Called “No Veteran Dies Alone,” or “No One Dies Alone,” this initiative, thanks to a network of volunteers, ensures someone is at the bedside of veterans close to death, providing a small measure of comfort.


Karie Drollinger, a certified hospice and palliative licensed nurse, is the coordinator of No One Dies Alone program at the Danville VA Healthcare system in Illinois.


Drollinger said she learned of a similar care program offered at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Ore., which set the wheels in motion for a program in Danville.


It’s been little more than a year since the program began and a 15-bed palliative care unit is reserved for these veterans — and all too often, busy.


“The beds are usually pretty full. Typically there are at least 12 beds filled at any time,” she said.


Drollinger credits the volunteers that make the program work.


The numbers vary, but there are currently 23 volunteers, some commuting more than an hour to be with the veterans.


The program is gaining traction among veterans who realize their days are numbered.


Drollinger said one veteran asked about the program and requested that he be entered into it when his time was drawing near.


More often than not, there is no verbal bond between the veteran and volunteers, but Drollinger said the veterans are aware of what she called a “reassuring presence.”


“They know someone is there,” she said.


Drollinger said the two programs would eventually share a single name: “No Veteran Dies Alone” at all VA hospitals.


A poignant report on CBS News in December profiled the efforts of staff and volunteers at a VA hospital in Fresno, Calif., to care for, among others, Korean War veteran Richard Murley, who served as a private first class in the army.


Murley knew what unit he was in — and why.


“I’m in here for good,” he told the reporter. “They don’t know for how long.”


What I found remarkable was the calmness with which he relayed this information.


He had apparently made his peace and was ready to meet his maker.


A few days after the report aired, Murley passed away. He wasn’t alone.


Drollinger said Danville veterans aren’t in the unit because they don’t have family at all, but the reasons they are alone can be varied.


“There are job commitments, financial considerations and other reasons they may not be able to visit at length,” she said. “Families are thankful their veterans had someone there for them when they passed.”


Drollinger said each volunteer and staff member play a vital role in the program.


“It couldn’t be done with one or two people,” she said. “These are our nation’s heroes. It’s an honor to serve them and give back to them.”


Bruce Coulter is a retired, disabled veteran. He may be reached at 978-371-5775, or by email at bcoulter@wickedlocal.com.