(Posted Sept. 11, 2020)
Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
It is not common for members of American Legion Post 248 in Plain City to feel a vague sense of apprehension while attending their regular monthly meeting, and yet it was one that pervaded the room during a special presentation on Sept. 2.
Placed across tables spaced out to ensure physical distance were large boxes with futuristic-looking devices tucked inside, marking the first time most of the Legion members had seen virtual reality goggles up close and personal.
For John Dellinger, post commander, the sight and the prospect of putting them on brought forth a combination of excitement and uncertainty.
Like most who think of or hear the words “virtual reality goggles,” Dellinger envisioned people stumbling around, their arms flailing about, lost in the visuals playing before their eyes as family and friends look on, cackling at the sight.
“It was something I kept picturing,” he said with a laugh, “but the presenters assured us that we would be sitting down the whole time if we decided to wear them.”
While initially hesitant to do just that, Dellinger ultimately knew that placing the reality augmenting device over his head was something he needed to do.
“I wanted to see for myself if this was something a certain segment of our veteran population could enjoy and feel safe while doing,” he stated.
These were not ordinary, run-of-the-mill programs that the Legion members were viewing, however; instead, they were vignettes designed specifically for veterans who are terminally ill and in hospice care.
According to Bob Allen, the American Pride coordinator for Ohio’s Hospice Loving Care, these vignettes offer veterans an experience akin to Honor Flight, a non-profit organization that flies veterans to visit the war memorials in Washington D.C. free of charge.
“It’s like a flightless Honor Flight,” Allen explained. “It gives our veterans who are physically or emotionally unable to go on the actual Honor Flight a chance to see the memorials that were designed to honor their service.”
Ohio’s Hospice Loving Care, an affiliation of not-for-profit hospice providers throughout the state, began offering the virtual reality program several years ago due in part to a partnership with Healium by StoryUp Studios and a grant from PNC Bank.
“This collaboration has been a great benefit for the organization as a service for the veterans under our care,” Allen said.
Watching veterans put on the virtual reality goggles and visit the memorials has been an emotional experience, he said–and that’s coming from someone who not only went on his own Honor Flight journey in 2017 but also has accompanied fellow veterans as a guardian.
“It is just overwhelming to experience it personally,” said Allen, an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War.
The implementation of the flightless Honor Flight program, which is designated as the “easiest level of viewing” for its serene approach, has proven to be more difficult and more necessary this year.
Due to conditions created by COVID-19, the Honor Flight board voted in June to suspend operations until the spring of 2021. It was news that did not come as a shock to the veteran community, but it was felt by all.
“It was understandable but disappointing nonetheless,” said Steve Brown, vice commander of American Legion Post 248. “We want all of our veterans who are able to get the Honor Flight experience because witnessing that level of appreciation is something they deserve.”
Having viewed several of the virtual reality vignettes presented on Sept. 2 by Allen and Stephanie Jeffords of Loving Care Hospice and Home Health in London, Brown said he felt veterans who could only experience the journey through virtual reality would be pleased with the program.
“I couldn’t believe how realistic it was,” he said. “It feels like you’re really there and even some of us guys [who were watching the vignettes at the special presentation] were getting emotional.”
Recently, Loving Care Hospice and Home Health, an affiliate of Ohio’s Hospice, received a grant to purchase a pair of virtual reality goggles equipped with programs that will allow veterans to experience the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, and the Aircraft Carrier USS Nimitz.
Dellinger, a veteran volunteer with the hospice in London, said the virtual reality program could be beneficial for veterans, as well as their family members who often get to share in this experience.
“It could bring them that sense of closure and the sense that they are appreciated for all that they have done,” he said.
For more information on how to download several of the vignette apps, visit www.ohioshospice.org/virtual-tour.
Through American Pride Veteran Care by Ohio’s Hospice, Ohio’s Hospice honors the service of veteran patients and assures them of receiving the highest quality of care. In addition to celebrating and thanking veterans for their service, American Pride assists patients in obtaining access to all the benefits to which veterans are eligible, provides spiritual support, and addresses individual post-traumatic stress issues.