YAKIMA, Wash. -- Fred Marshall, who is 83, closed his construction business in Yakima only within the past few years. He’s used to hard work and rarely asks for help with anything.

When he got a knee replacement at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital a year ago, help was part of the package to get Marshall back on his feet. Through his physical therapist, he met Jessica Barriga, a social worker in the home health program of Compass Care, the hospital’s collection of services for those facing life-changing diagnoses or seeking care later in life.

“Through Jessica, one thing led to another,” said Marshall, who after his recovery continued as a Memorial palliative care patient.

That meant a group of folks who began as supporters but who have since also become friends of Marshall, a jovial guy with a friendly dog who continues to live in the home he built 52 years ago. Among those palliative care team members turned friends are several veterans just like Marshall who understand the particular challenges faced by some who have served their country.

“We make Fred’s life better in all ways,” Barriga said of Marshall, a widower with two sons who lives in a neat home filled with family photos.

Virginia Mason Memorial has been participating in We Honor Veterans, a campaign developed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The hospital recently became a Level Four We Honor Veterans Community Partner, the program’s highest recognition, according to a news release.

The hospital has increased its professional and organizational capacity to provide quality services for veterans and their families; developed and strengthened partnerships with hospices, VA, veterans organizations and other health care organizations; promoted hospice and palliative care for veterans; and demonstrated the impact of its veteran-
centric organizational programs.

As part of those programs and specialized care for veterans, some hospital staff who are veterans themselves work with patients like Marshall, which can add another layer of understanding.

“Veterans have different medical needs,” sometimes not identified until years later, along with possible psychological issues, said Michelle Huber, a cardiac nurse and fellow veteran who served in Iraq. “I think other veterans understand that.”

Along with Huber and Barriga, Marshall gets visits from hospital chaplain Matthew McCay, an Army officer who served in Iraq and works with the We Honor Veterans program. He is a strong advocate for veterans’ needs as is Gil Calec, a We Honor Veterans volunteer who comes to Marshall’s home every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

A We Honor Veterans volunteer for nearly six years, Calec was in Vietnam from 1968-70. Like Marshall, he served in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division.

“You had your hat in there. When I saw his hat I said, ‘I was in the 25th,’” recalled Calec, 69, who is the original veteran volunteer. A member of the Yakama Warriors Association, he lives in White Swan and worked as director of the Fort Simcoe Job Corps Center.

“I look at myself as an advocate for the families,” said Calec, who is working with three veterans these days.

“What I like about the program is Fred wasn’t part of the (Veterans Administration); (Barriga) got him signed up,” Calec said. “It’s a hectic process that’s hard for veterans to go through. She didn’t give up.”

Getting Marshall signed up took three to four months, Barriga said. Calec is working with a Vietnam veteran whose application for VA benefits was rejected because of a lack of documentation; they’re appealing.

“This year, we finally got the records,” Calec said.

Social workers like Barriga who patiently navigate the tangled forest of bureaucracy and paperwork are invaluable to veterans contemplating the daunting process, especially those without much experience with or access to computers.

“There’s so many hoops to jump through,” said Huber, who is part of Marshall’s palliative care team. “Especially older veterans. There was a lot of stuff not documented.”

On top of that, “There have been three major records fires” that destroyed federal military documents, said McCay, who offers friendship and moral support to Marshall and, as a fellow veteran, listens with a deeper level of empathy.

“It is a human thing to want to be understood,” McCay said. “None of us wants to be judged.”

A regular at the American Legion, Marshall knows at least five men who have lost their wives in the past year. Four are veterans and one who served in Korea like Marshall “needs help but he’s not going to accept it,” Marshall said.

For him, it started with one person — Barriga — who brought others into his circle. Perhaps that’s the best way instead of a big group of supporters coming all at once. Either way, Marshall wouldn’t change a thing.

“It’s fantastic. It’s the spark that keeps me going,” he said.