Vietnam Veteran Volunteer: Dennis Abel

All veterans have an understanding, especially war veterans. 

And that's exactly what makes Dennis Abel (pictured above standing on teh left during a veteran pinning ceremony for Leo Burg)  an amazing volunteer for EveryStep Hospice's veteran-to-veteran program. 

Abel, who served in the Army from 1969 to 1972, drove a tank during the 13 months he served in the Vietnam War. 

"We've all been there, done that, we know what it's like to be in a combat zone and know the mindset," he said of visiting with fellow war veterans. "I can sit down and talk to anyone and they might not relate, but with a veteran, he knows exactly what I'm feeling and I know exactly what he's feeling." 

Abel began volunteering with EveryStep after seeing the organization's impact on his family. In the early 2010s, his wife's mother was a patient at the Greater Regional Hospice Home in Creston. While she graduated from care and went on to live the rest of her life in a nursing facility, the time the family spend at EveryStep's hospice home left a lasting mark. 

"I really liked the people and atmosphere," Dennis recalls. "When my mother got cancer she was in the hospice house and passed away there. A few months later when my father got sick, he also passed away there." 

Dennis and his wife, Carolyn, donated heated blankets to Greater Regional Hospice Home in memory of his parents, but that wasn't the end of their relationship with the organization. Carolyn has baked treats for patients and families at Greater Regional. 

And, after chatting with Cindy Mitchell, the EveryStep volunteer coordinator at the time, about the opportunities for veteran volunteers, Dennis was invited to a meeting at the organization's Mount Ayr office. 

"I just got hooked on the organization," he said. "I just enjoy sitting with veterans, visiting with them and doing the pinnings. I really do think that being veteran-to-veteran when you're in a situation with hospice or in the hospital, I think veteran-to-veteran is a good experience."

In addition to sitting with veterans and listening to their stories, Dennis has attended more than 30 veteran pinnings, which  provide honor, dignity and recognition to veterans at the end of their lives. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, family members and friends were often on hand with EveryStep staff and volunteers during the celebratory events. 

The ceremonies included the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer of thanks, the awarding of a veteran service flag pin, the singing of “God Bless America,” a reading of "What is a Veteran," and the presentation of a certificate of recognition. 

During the pandemic, the ceremonies have been adjusted to adhere to safety precautions, enlist the use of virtual participation options, and honor social distancing protocols.

Since the pandemic began, Dennis has been involved in three pinnings. 

"We've done some outside," he said. "We went to the house of a friend who passed away last fall. We wore masks and that was probably the one that touched me the most. He was a real good friend." 

While that particular ceremony meant a lot to Dennis, he's been touched by each event he's attended, noting that his favorite part is pinning the flag pin on the patient's lapel and simply thanking them for their service. 

"Hospice means a lot to us, because of our parents being there and the people," Dennis said of his and Carolyn's involvement with EveryStep. "Volunteering is saw rewarding to your mental and your physical health, you're doing something good for people." 

To learn about EveryStep’s many volunteering opportunities, including the Veteran-to-Veteran program, visit our website. For more information about EveryStep Hospice’s services, including its hospice houses in Des Moines and Creston, please visit our services page.