Fargo VA Health Care System
Honor Tables Made for Veterans by Veterans
When Registered Nurse and Iraq Veteran Crystal Nemer became manager of the Fargo VA Health Care System’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) she knew she wanted to make a difference in the care of Veterans and their families. “While on active duty in Iraq, I realized how much I wanted to give back to the Veterans I serve at the Fargo VA HCS,” said Nemer, “and my job immediately took on a new focus.”
While on a visit to the Minneapolis VA HCS through the VISN 23 LEAD leadership program, Crystal noticed their palliative care unit had a commemorative United States flag display that could be moved from room to room as needed at the time of a Veteran’s death. This display helped families in their grieving process so they knew how much the VA respected and cared for the patient. She found this to be very touching and speculated how she could arrange to have a similar flag display in the ICU in Fargo. After her return to Fargo, she shared the experience she had in Minneapolis with her co-workers, Kristiana and Nicole, who immediately were inspired to take on this project. “We knew Crystal was determined to help Veteran’s families with their grief, Kristiana said, and we wanted to be a part of this worthwhile project.”
Working as a team, the creative juices began to flow on the design and features of the tables. Each of the three nurses decided that they would create a table with the involvement of their families. They planned to not only make one for the ICU, but make one for the Community Living Center (CLC), and the Medical/Surgical inpatient unit as gifts for Nurses’ Day. Crystal’s husband Floyd, who is a CRNA at the Fargo VAHCS, helped her with her table from start to finish. “I was happy to assist Crystal with such a heartfelt project,” Floyd said, “as I knew how much it meant to her.”
Nicole was in a dilemma as she did not have any wood working experience but was determined to learn. When she described the project to her Veteran grandpa, Pat Detwiller, he was willing to help. An experienced carpenter, Detwiller recently had heart surgery and was not allowed to use power tools. “Grandpa used his mind and I used my hands, said Nicole. He designed the table and directed me every step of the way.” Detwiller and Nicole asked their local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Hillsboro, North Dakota to donate the flags for the tables. “It was a project we could both work on together as Veterans, Nicole said, and it gave us a sense of satisfaction knowing how much the tables would mean to other Veterans.”
Kristiana’s husband Jay, who is also a member of the North Dakota Army National Guard and has over 13 years of service, immediately came on board and helped her on the table from beginning to end. “To be able to make this gift for other men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country is such an honor, Jay said, and it was such a meaningful project to work on.”
With the three tables complete, the nurses donated them during their Nurses Day celebration. Even though the day was designed to honor their work for Veterans on Nurses Day, they wanted to give back to the Veterans they serve.
Now when a Veteran passes away in the Fargo VA Health Care System, an Honor Table is placed outside the room of the departed Veteran, and remains in place until the family and patient have left the room. “It is all about showing honor and respect to our Veterans,” said Crystal.
The entire project has special meaning to everyone because of their personal connection to Veterans. Crystal has been a member of the North Dakota Army National Guard since 2000 and was deployed to Iraq from 2003-2004. Crystal currently serves as an Army Nurse with the North Dakota Army National Guard State Medical Detachment. Nicole was also a member of the North Dakota Army National Guard from 2000 until 2010, and served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, alongside her husband who served in the North Dakota Army National Guard from 1996-2006. Her Grandpa, Pat Detwiller, served in the United States Army from 1951-1953 and served in the Korean War from 1951-1952. Kristiana's father, Army Specialist Lee Hanson, was a proud Vietnam Veteran and served as a volunteer at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center until his passing in 2007.
The nurses have already been able to see the effect the Honor Tables have had on the Veterans. On the day prior to their presentation, the tables were placed in the hallway outside the ICU patient rooms. One ICU patient spotted the tables from his bed and motioned for Kristiana to come into his room. He asked her what they were for and when she explained, the patient’s eyes became teary. He exclaimed, "That is sure nice of you girls to think of us Veterans that way. If I die back in Bismarck, will you bring a table to me?"
The nurses hope the stands will make an impact to not only the Veterans and their families, but to the staff in the facility. “We want all veterans to know that even if they are gone, they are never forgotten,” says Crystal.