Veterans receiving care at the Red Deer Regional Hospital will now be able to have their service recognized via the Veteran Recognition Program.
For those wishing to be recognized through the program, a poppy magnet is placed on their in-room whiteboard.
“In April of this year I had cause to be a patient in this hospital for two weeks,” said retired Capt. Allan Gooding, who served as a jet fighter pilot during the Cold War years in Europe.
“One day, a young man came into my room in an army uniform looking for his grandfather. He had the wrong room, but we got to talking because I recognized that he was a serving member,” he explained.
“He told me about his grandfather, who was in the room almost next to mine. He was dying, he was 93 – and he wasn’t just a veteran, he was a war hero,” said Gooding.
“He’d been in the Second World War fighting the Nazis.
He was captured, and helped to organize an escape,” he said.
“Most of the escapees were found and shot by the Nazis, but he had escaped with the help of the French resistance.
“Here he was in a room near mine being kept alive until the rest of his family could gather. As I mentioned this to various medical staff, they said, ‘Thank you for telling us – we didn’t know’.
“So I’m dedicating a part of my life to helping veterans get the support they need and the recognition they deserve. Too many people think of veterans as someone who fought in a specific war zone, or who has died. I’d like to tell you that there are over two-thirds of a million veterans who are still alive,” he explained.
Sharon Bilanksi, director of peri-operative and inpatient surgery at the hospital, heard Gooding’s concern and saw an opportunity to make a change.
“I am so pleased Allan brought his concern forward to us, and that we are able to thank veterans for their dedication and selflessness in this way,” said Bilanksi. “This is an excellent example of listening to what matters to our patients.”
She said when patients are admitted, they will be asked if they are veterans. “A veteran can be someone who has served or also a retired RCMP or police officer.” The patient will be asked if they would like to be acknowledged through the program, and of course they are free to decline.
The magnetic poppies have been purchased through CANEX – a unit of the Canadian Forces, with proceeds going to the Royal Canadian Legion. The legion provides a variety of services that continue to honour, support and advocate for Canada’s veterans.
“I’m so pleased this has been approved as a pilot project at the Red Deer Regional Hospital, and it will go through Central Alberta after that and hopefully Alberta-wide. I’m making it my mission to make this Canada-wide,” he said. “I’ll do what I have to do to have veterans receive the recognition they deserve.”
It’s a deeply personal mission for Gooding.
“I’ve buried so many of my best friends who died in fighter crashes in Europe and elsewhere preserving our freedoms, and they need to be acknowledged where-ever they can (be),” he said, adding that sadly, veterans often fall through the cracks in society in terms of both being recognized and in having their current needs met.
“I know there are veterans sleeping on the streets in Edmonton. I know there are veterans who came back from Afghanistan as broken men and women who just cannot integrate back into society. These are people who need help, but I believe that all veterans need support and recognition,” he said.
“In some areas it’s happening, but in many areas, it’s not.
“Some just live lives of silence – they don’t’ talk about it. They’ve seen and experienced things that no person should ever see or experience,” he said. “They don’t walk around saying, ‘Look at me, I’m a veteran’. But I believe that we owe them – every Canadian and every free person owes them their freedom. I get quite emotional when I think of how they go unnoticed in today’s society. They shouldn’t.
“They did something that I think should be acknowledged.”