WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a holiday season filled with PSLs, sweets and gifts, November has always been a month of giving thanks marked by Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. Unlike Memorial Day, which pays tribute to those who died in service for our country, Veterans Day is meant to celebrate the sacrifice of active and veteran military members who are still with us.
Every year, the hospitals in the Veterans Affairs network across the country close their doors in honor of this holiday. This Friday will be no different.
“I just think it’s so important that we take the time to give thanks to all of the brave men and women who sacrifice their safety and lives for this country,” said Phyllis McCree, one of the volunteer coordinators at the DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center. “I think it’s really great that the hospital shuts down during that day; it’s almost like a day of quiet reflection.”
During the holiday, all elective services including non-emergent surgeries, hospital clinics, pharmacy support and even the public cafeteria are closed. While the emergency department is open, it operates with a reduced staff. Similarly, patients who are already in the hospital get to stay and receive ongoing care but with the number of people who are available on the weekends instead of a busy weekday.
“Many of the employees in the VA hospitals across the country are military veterans themselves, and since Veterans Day is a federal holiday, we do have to give our support staff the day off,” said Dean Thompson, the head of VA public relations at the Richmond VA hospital. “Plus I think it’d be a little rude to spend federal funding on hiring outside staff on this holiday just to provide care for our veterans. It may seem like we’re undermining our veteran staff, which wouldn’t be a good look.”
Some veteran patients, however, have mixed feelings about the annual closure.
“You know, last year, I was really pissed off that the hospital was closed. I had really bad knee arthritis and was scheduled for surgery around then until they realized it was on Veterans day, so I had to wait even longer,” said Jeff Schwartz, a 64 year old veteran. “But I guess it is nice that they take a whole day to really think about us.”
Aside from medical care, veterans can also get access to ancillary services such as social work or community resource information at local VAs.
“It can get pretty cold outside around this time, and it’s nice that they let you sit inside in the warmth during daytime hours,” said George Ferne, a 78-year-old veteran. “I’ve been homeless for a while and have been coming here every day, but I guess I’ll have to find somewhere else to go on Friday.”
When asked how he felt about the closure, Ferne responded by saying, “Even though [the closure] puts me in a rough spot, it is nice that this country cares about those of us who fought and now suffer from the sacrifices we made. Sure housing, money, and food would be nice, but man, how many people get to say a whole holiday is made just for them?”