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Honoring Veterans

Posted on November 11, 2022

Military Recognition Program Offers Gratitude and Respect

“It is my honor to recognize your service, your valor, your courage and sacrifice at a time when our nation needed you.”

Some are confined to a bed, some are in a hospital room and some are at home. They are men and women from all walks of life with a common bond. They are veterans of the United States military and reserves who found their way into the care of Covenant Health.

Ginny Ireland is a Covenant Health hospice chaplain who participates in a special recognition ceremony offered to veterans in Covenant Health’s hospitals and hospice or homecare. The ceremony is a solemn affair that includes the presentation of a certificate and pin.

“One of our main goals as a chaplain or a nurse or social workers is to let our patients know they are valued, that their lives matter and they are loved.” Ireland says. “They need to leave this life knowing they were appreciated.”

If the patient is a veteran of the Vietnam War, an additional pin is presented, commemorating service during a turbulent time in American history. It includes the profile of an eagle and six stars to represent the six allies.

“On the back, it says, ‘A grateful nation thanks you,’ and it’s a very special pin because when the Vietnam veterans came home from war, they were not well received,” Ireland says. “We want to particularly honor those who did not have a positive homecoming.”

close up vietnam era veteran pin

In one especially moving moment, Ireland remembers a patient struggling, with every ounce of energy he had, to stand and salute till a presenting officer granted him permission to be seated. Ireland has also taken part in a pinning ceremony for a member of the Tuskegee Airmen ground crew. Her very first pinning was for a Vietnam veteran in hospice care.

“He wanted to be buried with his pins, so I made sure he got an extra set,” Ireland says. “He also wanted to be baptized and have communion.”

On return visits, Ireland has seen the certificate framed in homes or taped to a hospital wall. It is a simple gesture to recognize veterans, but one that has had a powerful impact on recipients and their families.

“For many of them, this is the only certificate of any kind they’ve ever had,” Ireland says, “so it really is an honor.”

Depending on the level of illness or injury, in some cases, the patient may be unaware that Ireland is in the room. If the patient is unable to accept the honor, it is bestowed on his or her family. Ireland has been working in ministry for as long as she can remember if you count the days in her youth when she would visit family, friends and fellow church members with her mother. She watched the level of compassion and care her mother delivered and it help spark Ireland’s own passion for serving others.

“I grew up with a mother who did this by instinct, so I consider myself having learned from the best,” Ireland says with a smile. Today, she continues that care as a Covenant Health homecare and hospice chaplain and the pinning ceremonies are a rewarding part of carrying out a calling. “I am really thrilled to work for Covenant Hospice because it is the only nonprofit hospice in Knoxville,” Ireland says.

The military recognition program was implemented in Covenant Health hospitals in Nov. 2020, with the first pinning ceremony taking place six years ago at Covenant Homecare and Hospice, the area’s largest non-profit home health and hospice provider. It is a top-tier partner with We Honor Veterans, a national awareness and action campaign created to assist veterans in hospice care.

Patients who are veterans within the Covenant Health system are noted upon admission. Military recognition pinning ceremonies are performed only with the patient’s permission. For more information, call Covenant Health at 865-541-4500 or visit

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