It was a special Sunday for the patients at the VA Medical Center in Grand Island

Nearly 30 volunteers from the Nebraska American Legion District 6 put together 60 Veterans Valentines at the medical center to be distributed to the patients there. The Veterans Valentines each consisted of a red heart-shaped balloon with treats of cookies, crackers and candy.

After assembling them in the center’s recreation room, District 6 volunteers — including auxiliary members, Legionaries, Legion Riders and Sons of the American Legion — distributed them to patients.

Ken Ward, recreation therapist at VA Medical Center, said Sunday was the kickoff of its National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Patients Program.

“It is a week set aside to recognize the veterans who are receiving care,” Ward said.

The purpose of the program is to pay tribute and express appreciation to veterans; increase community awareness of the role of the VA medical center; encourage citizens to visit hospitalized veterans; and to become involved as volunteers. There are more than 9 million veterans of the U.S. armed services who are cared for in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, outpatient clinics, domiciliaries and nursing homes.

Ward said, throughout the week, the veterans at the facility will enjoy a number of special events.

“It has been a longstanding tradition with the Legion helping to kick off the event for us,” Ward said. “Each veteran will get a Valentine to let them know they are being thought of and remembered.”

Patients at the VA Medical Center include extended care patients who are receiving rehabilitation services as well as memory care, long-term care and hospice patients.

“There are no words that can really describe the impact that events like this have for our veterans,” Ward said.

On Tuesday, members of the VFW Auxiliary will treat the veterans at the medical center to a pizza party, and the local Elks Lodge members will be at the center to play bingo with the vets. There will be an ice cream social on Wednesday and, on Thursday, there will be a special catered Valentine luncheon that will be served at noon.

“We are very blessed to have a great support community and volunteers,” Ward said.

Richard Lehn of Lincoln was both a volunteer and a recipient of the Veterans Valentines on Sunday. He is a patient at the VA Medical Center.

“It shows veterans that people care,” Lehn said about the event. “They are trying to give back to us as we gave to them. Valentine’s Day is all about love and love for our country.”

Angie Foster is the Nebraska American Legion District 6 auxiliary president.

This is the sixth year that the American Legion District 6 family has been preparing the special valentines.

“It show the veterans that we care for them, especially around Valentine’s Day as they may be away from their loved ones,” Foster said. “It is something special for them.”

Foster said one of the duties as part of the American Legion family is making sure the nation’s veterans are not forgotten, whether on Valentine’s Day week or any time of the year.

District 6 is a 14-county area in Central Nebraska. Legion members from throughout the area took part at Sunday’s event.

“There are a lot of patients who rehabbing from surgeries they had in Omaha at the veterans’ hospital there,” Foster said. “They bring them here and they are away from their families. We want to make sure that they are remembered.”

Later this month, The VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System’s Grand Island VA Medical Center will host an open house at the hospital. That event will begin at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

The open house is open to veterans, families and members of the community.

According to organizers, the event is designed to increase public awareness of the VA services offered at the Grand Island VA Medical Center by giving veterans and other community members the opportunity to meet VA representatives, tour the facility and learn more about services currently available in Grand Island. Visitors will also have the opportunity to participate in tai chi and yoga demonstrations given by the center’s whole-health staff; talk with representatives from the U.S. Veterans Benefits Administration; learn more about the Veterans Transportation Service; meet local representatives from Vet Center; or see local veterans’ artwork submitted in conjunction with the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

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