Veterans around the region will be celebrated Monday, but one program at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital–Audrain makes sure veterans are celebrated throughout the year.

Veterans receive a 4-by-6-foot U.S. flag when hospital staff learn they have a veteran in their care as part of a four-year tradition. The program originally was developed by the hospital's Facilities Manager David Schulte, who contacted Brian Pursifull of Mexico VFW Post 3772.

A veteran was under the hospital's care four years ago who was in need of assistance. Pursifull arranged the assistance for the patient, Schulte said.

"[Since] we have a veterans home here in town, we wanted to be able to do something for our veterans," he said.

Schulte thought there should be another way the hospital helps veterans in their care. The flag program was one of Pursifull's suggestions.

He then coordinated communications between the hospital and Missouri Veterans Home. The hospital's volunteer services department, other staff, many of whom are veterans, and the veterans home met to create the flag program. The hospital received the go-ahead from the veterans commission and conducted a flag drive among hospital staff. All flag donations come from hospital staff members who responded well to the project, Schulte said. It is preferred to have staff donate the flags, but donations from the public are accepted. "The public can, we just haven't ever went that route," he said.

The hospital can only accept flags, not monetary donations.

"We had several flags donated [four years ago] and then me and another veteran in the department, we folded the flags and stored them. As patients come to the hospital that are veterans, we get notified and [nursing staff] ask them if they would like a flag displayed in their room," Schulte said.

Schulte and other veteran members of his staff present the flag to the veteran, hang it in their room and at the end of their hospital stay, refold the flag and give it to the veteran or their family.

"We will display in front of the window. It's a 4-by-6-foot flag in the patient room," Schulte said.

If the veteran dies during the hospital stay, the flag is draped over the veteran before they are taken to the hospital's morgue. The flag is then folded and given to the veteran's family.

"[The flags] are very well received by patients and their family members. We got to take down or put one up and we get a lot of gratitude from the patients and their family members for recognizing the veterans," Schulte said. "It brings tears to their eyes. It brings tears to our eyes. It becomes a very emotional moment because of the recognition of their service."

Schulte is a veteran and served in the U.S. Navy from 1986-1990 on the Diver-class rescue ship U.S.S. Preserver. He left active duty right before Operation Desert Storm. His ship went out of service in 1994.

Flags are not provided just to Missouri Veterans’ Home residents who come to the hospital for care. Community members also are served by the flag program. While a majority of the veterans have been older, the program also has served younger veterans, Schulte said.

"It's not on a lot of occasions we get a younger veteran, but we have had some," he said.

The flag program is a way for Schulte to give back to all veterans, regardless of age, sex, or when, where or how they served, he said.

"Veterans, whether or not they served in peacetime or wartime, had a wartime-related injury or not, when they signed that piece of paper or were drafted, you're obligating yourself to the ultimate sacrifice for freedom that we all cherish today," Schulte.

cdunlap@gatehousemedia.com