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VITAS Rep. Fred Robinson Recognized Among Central Florida’s 2019 Veterans of the Year

September 12, 2019

09/12/2019

The two men stand for a photo in front of a Florida Department of Veterans Affairs banner

Florida Veterans Affairs Executive Director Danny Burgess and VITAS Representative Fred Robinson at the Maritime Building at Cape Canaveral in July 2019. Fred was invited to be part of Gov. Rick DeSantis' Forward March Program supporting veterans.

VITAS Healthcare Representative Fred Robinson spends a lot of time on the road. As the veteran liaison for VITAS in Central Florida, he routinely plans and participates in veteran events throughout the area and beyond, including pinning ceremonies, memorial services, gala dinners and national conventions.

A veteran of the US Marine Corps, Fred is uniquely qualified to speak to the needs of other retired servicemembers.

“Veterans helping other veterans – that’s the only way it’s going to get done because we have skin in the game,” Fred said. “I know the pain of veterans. Veterans know the pain of each other.”

Thanks to Fred’s dedication to helping vets obtain quality end-of-life care, the Orlando Business Journal has recognized him as one of its 2019 Veterans of the Year honorees.

Making Time to Honor Others

“Fred is a selfless and devoted community servant [who] makes a daily impact on the lives and organizations that he embraces,” reads an announcement from the publication. “’Advocate,’ ‘gentleman’ and ‘scholar’ are words that aptly describe his unwavering commitment to his fellow man, especially those who have served in our armed forces.”

Even at an exclusive reception for the award’s honorees on August 12, Fred found an opportunity to honor his fellow veterans. While conversing at the reception dinner, he learned that three of his tablemates were Vietnam veterans. He went to his car to retrieve a box of lapel pins for the ongoing 50th Vietnam War Commemoration, intending to perform an impromptu pinning ceremony for the three vets.

When Fred returned, he was glad he grabbed the entire box – before the event was over, he would award pins to nearly 40 Vietnam veterans in attendance.

Veteran Recognized Days Before Tragic Crash

One of the veterans to receive a pin that day was Franklin J.P. Augustus, an aviator who was once known as the first African American civilian air-show pilot.

Only four days later on August 16, Franklin died in a plane crash alongside New Orleans news anchor Nancy Parker while showcasing the stunts he had built his career upon.

“What makes me proudest is the fact that I had the opportunity to meet him, to pin him,” Fred says. “He was very thankful and said he had never been honored before. Before he left us, I helped him receive that honor.”

How VITAS Helps Build Trust

VITAS recognizes that a career in the armed forces – particularly in combat roles – can leave a lasting impact on an individual, with some traumas manifesting in physiological or emotional symptoms years after retirement or a return to civilian live.

“The best way to honor veterans is to let them know that we care and we’re here to support them.”

Many veterans find it difficult to discuss these issues with those unfamiliar with the military experience, especially when the scars left behind are invisible.

Fred and other VITAS representatives who serve as veteran liaisons draw from their own military experience to develop solutions that meet the unique needs of hospice patients who are veterans. For Fred, one of the challenges he faces is overcoming veterans’ distrust of Veterans Affairs, the federal agency that provides healthcare to retired military personnel.

“The best way to honor veterans is to let them know that we care and we’re here to support them,” Fred said. “Out of 22 million veterans, only 8 million are enrolled in the VA. The obstacle is getting the word out.”

Quality of Life for Veterans at the End of Life

Fred believes a lack of healthcare utilization is keeping veterans from being referred to hospice when they’re initially eligible, leading to less comfort and dignity at the end of life.

“Misinformation is worse than no information,” Fred says. That’s why he racks up so many miles spreading his message to veterans, correcting the record, bridging the gap between generations of soldiers and ensuring every veteran is aware of the resources available to them near the end of life.

When Fred received his award at a ceremony on September 6, it was his fourth nomination. Judging by the long list of projects Fred is currently working on – growing VITAS in Central Florida from a Level 4 to Level 5 We Honor Veterans provider, hosting regular VA town halls, participating in a mental health summit – it seems likely this won’t be his last nomination.

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