Retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Danielle Montag is on a mission.
She walks through the halls of Spectrum Health Meijer Heart Center to arrive at the room of 89-year-old Joe Woodward. He sits in a chair, a blanket draped over his lap.
“I want to thank you for your service,” Montag says as she shakes Woodward’s hand.
Woodward nods. “Thank you,” he says.
That simple greeting and expression of gratitude lies at the heart of Montag’s mission to care for hospitalized veterans. Through the Veteran Support Services program, she provides an extra level of care for those who have served our country.
“We want to identify, recognize and advocate for our veterans,” she says.
She sees the effort as a small repayment for the many sacrifices made by men and women in the military.
“For however long they serve, they are doing that so we can continue life as we do,” she says. “I think it’s important just to say thank you for what they have done.”
As a veteran support services coordinator, Montag connects patients with federal, state and local services for vets and their families. For patients whose illness may be tied to their military service, such as those exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, she provides information about how to file for benefits.
Some veterans ask for help with pensions, burial benefits and long-term care. In one case, Montag helped a veteran find a replacement for his broken wheelchair.
She is working to make contacts with Department of Veterans Affairs, to help ease the transition for those who also receive care through VA hospitals or programs.
The connections begin when patients identify themselves as veterans when they are admitted or go to the emergency department. A staff member places a round flag decal on the whiteboard in their room—if the patient agrees.
Montag or a volunteer follows up with a visit. Sometimes, they discuss veteran benefits and programs. And sometimes, the visit is more of a social call, as it is when Montag stops by Woodward’s room.
“What branch of the military were you in?” she asks.
“Navy,” he says.
“Navy? My dad was in the Navy.”
Woodward, who grew up in Lansing, left high school in his senior year to enlist during World War II.
“I just thought it was the thing to do,” he says.
His son, Dan Woodward, says his dad doesn’t talk much about the two years he served in the Navy. But he says he appreciates the recognition the program provides for all veterans.
“I think it’s good―especially for guys my age who were Vietnam veterans,” he says.
Montag served in the Air Force for eight years before taking a medical retirement in 2011.
In 2014, she began working with Spectrum Health Veterans Explorers Program, an internship that provides training and career development. She and others identified the need for a specialized program for hospitalized veterans.
The program launched in November 2015. Along with volunteers, she gets support from nine veterans who work in security services at Spectrum Health. They each visit a patient during their shifts.
Most patients respond with smiles and enthusiasm.
“They love, especially, to talk to veterans,” Montag says.