EveryStep Honors Veterans: Meet Volunteer Virgil Ebrecht

Army veteran Virgil Ebrecht of Conway, Iowa, was just 20 years old when he served in Operation Desert Storm. For eight months Virgil led men into combat in the searing desert heat of Iraq and Afghanistan. “I remember getting off the plane and it was 120 degrees at 10 in the morning,” says Virgil. “Another time it was 1:30 in the afternoon and it was 130 degrees. It’s like a hair dryer blowing into your face.”

Virgil recalls being on guard one night after a day of intense battle. “We were in position and these guys were coming toward us surrendering. They were coming at us with white flags, but you didn’t know what they were going to do or how they were going to do it.” Fortunately, the men surrendered peacefully. Throughout his military career, Virgil came to understand firsthand the tension, exhaustion and life-changing experiences that combat veterans often face.

Virgil enlisted in the Army in 1987 and retired around 2015, but his dedication to the military didn’t end. He learned about EveryStep Hospice’s Veteran to Veteran program through the local chapter of the American Legion.

“I was trying to figure out how to help people and give things back,” says Virgil. “I think veterans have a unique bond. I don’t care when you served, what you served, what era you served — you have that bond. You’re willing to serve your country and not come home.”

Virgil says he has a busy life, but sharing his time and experience is something he prioritizes. “I think time is the most important thing you can give somebody.” As a volunteer with EveryStep’s Veteran to Veteran program, Virgil visits and spends time with veterans in hospice and attends veteran pinning ceremonies which honor a veteran’s service.

“I sometimes have a guard that I put up because if you let it down and start talking about things or experiences you haven’t talked about in years, those words can bring a bad combat experience to mind. I have learned that later in life, people sometimes have regrets that they didn’t break that barrier down earlier to tell someone about what they experienced in the military.” Virgil says through his volunteer work with EveryStep, veterans will often open up to him because of their shared experience.

Virgil says the most important thing you can do this Veterans Day is to thank a veterans for his or her service. “Every time you see a veteran, thank them. That’s the biggest thing you can do. Shake their hand, put a smile on their face.”

Veterans Day is a time to pay respect to those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. EveryStep offers its appreciation to all who have served in the military, especially EveryStep’s staff, volunteers, clients and patients.

EveryStep is a nonprofit health care organization and a Level 4 partner in the nationally recognized We Honor Veterans initiative. Through its hospice program, EveryStep offers several specialized services for veterans. EveryStep’s Veteran-to-Veteran program is a special service pairing veterans who are volunteers with hospice patients who have served our country. A specialized Veteran-to-Veteran volunteer can provide companionship while talking, reading and sitting with patients. Veterans bring a unique skill set to help patients find peace at the end of life.

EveryStep’s veteran pinning ceremonies provide honor, dignity and recognition to veterans at the end of their lives. Family members and friends are often on hand with EveryStep staff and volunteers during the celebratory events, which include the Pledge of Allegiance, 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.

If you are a veteran interested in volunteering your time to visit hospice patients, learn more or complete a volunteer application at everystep.org/volunteer. If you or someone you know needs care or support, complete the confidential "Find Care" form at www.everystep.org/find-care. The form sends a message to EveryStep staff who then follow up with a phone call. It's a great way to start a conversation and get answers with no cost or commitment. EveryStep can connect the individual to its own programs and services that may be helpful, as well as services offered by other organizations and providers in the community.