- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2014

Brigham Young University senior nursing student Jenna Bowles and her classmates are in Washington for an intensive course on properly caring for veterans, and they’re taking in a lot of history along the way.

Clad in bright white polos with a black BYU nursing insignia, the group can be spotted at the war memorials lining Washington. As part of an assignment, each student prepared a brochure with each memorial’s history.

Ms. Bowles explained the symbolism at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial: faith, hope, charity. Swelling up with tears, she quoted sculptor Glenna Goodacre’s goal for the memorial, “I want this to be a monument for the living.”

On top of the presentations of each war memorial, nursing students complete classes on veteran’s culture, meet with veterans and conduct clinicals in hospitals and veterans homes. Last week, the group picked up trash at a veterans’ cemetery in Utah.

“We immerse them in the veteran culture,” said Kent Blad, a BYU nursing faculty member who spent a total of 27 years caring for veterans.

Mr. Blad, one of two faculty members and veterans leading the trip, cited the motto of the entire semester: “To know them is to care for them.”

The program attracts distinctive students from the 350 nursing students in BYU’s college of nursing.

Take John Rossi, former Navy helicopter rescue swimmer turned nursing student. The 35-year-old said it was the “heart of nursing” that pulled him into this field.

Then, there is Kayli Wood. Her brother served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Army National Guard. When he came back home, Ms. Wood noticed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Initially, I came into this program in hopes to be able to learn some things in how to better help him and to better understand him,” she said. In November, Ms. Wood’s brother took his life. Now, she hopes to use the training from this semester to work with veterans in the emergency room.

“If you ask them about when did you serve or what branch of military were you in, they light up and their story unfolds and you’re able to better care for them because you understand their mental, physical and spiritual needs,” she said.

During their trip to Washington, D.C., both Mr. Rossi and Ms. Wood have felt Washington’s Memorial Day buzz. For Ms. Wood, her brother will be thought of dearly.

“I’ve had ancestors that have passed away before, but usually they were older. Whereas with my brother, he was only 25,” she said. “It will be great to be able to remember him even more especially on that day and to honor him and to show the respect and love for him and our gratitude for him and for his service.”

Mr. Rossi said every day should be Memorial Day and that most Americans don’t understand why war happens.

“It’s because of Memorial Day. It’s because of the freedoms that we have that we go to war and we help other people so that they can have their own Memorial Day and realize that the cost of being able to be who you want to be and speak what you want to speak comes at a very high price,” he said

The nursing students’ trip to the Capitol coincides with the recent controversies over veteran deaths due to long wait times in VA hospitals. Although the semester isn’t solely focused on sending students to VA hospitals, Mr. Blad expects the controversy to come up in talks with Utah’s senators and veteran officials.

“The thing is, and we learned this working at the VA, any facility or any organization that receives funding from tax dollars is always up for criticism from the media or others,” he said. “So the VA will get targeted, sometimes fairly, sometimes not, and frankly we don’t know all the facts that are going on.”

Ron Ulberg, BYU nursing faculty member and retired Air National Guard lieutenant general, added, “That doesn’t minimize the controversial situation going on. If it’s all accurate, it’s a horrible thing to have. We’ve both worked at the VA for 20 plus years, so we are aware of the challenges that the VA faces with our populations.”

For Mr. Ulberg and Mr. Blad, who both served in the Army Nurse Corps during Operation Desert Storm, Memorial Day is a time to remind the younger generation of how important past sacrifices are to our present freedoms.

“It’s more than picnics and barbecues,” said Mr. Ulberg, who has a son deployed, “I think that’s something that we have to be very careful that our children and grandchild understand. The only ones that are going to teach them that is us.”

With tears in his eye Mr. Blad said, “I have a tremendous respect, a tremendous love, and a tremendous passion for that population, and it’s not just because I am a veteran myself.”

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