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Reserve nurse serves military in dual role

Lt. Col. Esther Weightman celebrates Verne Hendricks' 100th birthday with him in January. Hendricks, a patient of Weightman’s, was an infantryman in the U.S. Army. He received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts while serving in the Army. (Courtesy photo)

Lt. Col. Esther Weightman celebrates Verne Hendricks' 100th birthday with him in January. Hendricks, a patient of Weightman’s, was an infantryman in the U.S. Army. He received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts while serving in the Army. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Esther Weightman's life revolves around taking care of Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines. When a Reserve unit training assembly happens one weekend a month, she dons the uniform of a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and assumes the title of Chief Nurse of the Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron. There she embraces the whole person concept and fosters reservists to be emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy.

When she hangs up the uniform after the weekend and starts her civilian job on Monday, her focus moves from those who are currently serving, to those who have served. Weightman is currently one of two Home Based Primary Care Nurses for the Veterans Affairs based in Sioux City, Iowa. In this role she travels throughout three states to care for Veterans who need health care. Her job on a Reserve weekend is very different from what she does for the Veteran's Affairs, but Weightman finds they are complementary to each other.

"My Reserve job helps me tremendously in relating to the Veterans I serve within the VA. In HBPC, we serve all eras of veterans. Situational awareness is key. My VA job helps me understand the potential long-term effects of military service. It also gives me an appreciation of all the services. The military, in general, also has amazing resources available to clinicians," said Weightman.

Her job begins at 7:30 every morning and she logs thousands of miles in her government vehicle to remote areas of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. She sees 25 to 30 veterans at least once a month and gives medical care for those who might not get it if she did not come to them. She changes catheters and performs lab draws. She assesses patients and takes vital signs. Weightman takes the time to find out what each individual needs. She finds out what their idea of quality of life is and customizes a plan for them to reach their goals.

"I could tell story after story of veterans who had no hope and had given up and resigned themselves to a lesser quality of life. Once we work together, and they embrace their health, it truly is amazing what is possible," said Weightman. "I have had veterans change their 'Do Not Resuscitate' orders to 'Full Code' so that they could continue living the new life they found. They rediscover their zest for life with some coaching and some personal interest. I have veterans from many walks of life. I go to their houses. I am on their territory. We strategize together for their definition of an optimal quality of life."

One of her patients she has become close with is Verne Hendricks, who turned 100 this year. She has been caring for Hendricks for "five or six" years now according to the centenarian. He spent four years in the Army infantry and was stationed in Germany, Vietnam and Fort Carson, Colo.

"Esther is very caring and dedicated to her patients. She is good friend, someone who will talk and listen beyond the nurse- patient relationship. I think very highly of her. The world needs more of people like her," said Hendricks.

Her goal is to approach Veterans Affairs patients with humility and an awareness that helps put her patients at ease.

"I don't really just go in and say that I'm still a drilling reservist. I just don't go in and say 'hey, I'm a lieutenant colonel,' I have to be sensitive to the fact that most of the people that I serve were prior enlisted. I value what they did, my job is no more important. I'm just a different cog in the wheel, so for him (Hendricks) the day he found out I was still a drilling reservist, it was an eye opener. [When he asked] You're in the military? I said 'yes sir I am in the military,' and a while after, we have this [stronger] relationship," said Weightman.

While she builds successful relationships during the week with her VA patients, she was recently recognized for her successful work in uniform as she was named the 302nd Airlift Wing Field Grade Officer of the Year for 2014. Weightman's accomplishments included acting as the squadron commander while the current commander was deployed and developing a new management program saving the wing an estimated $7,000. She contributed numerous volunteer hours in her community increasing female veterans outreach for the Veterans Affairs and provided support to fallen warriors through support of Patriot Guard missions.

"What I love most about my job with the VA is the people and their stories. Every person is so unique. Each one has a different goal for his health care. My favorite 'win' is when I earn a patient's trust. Sometimes this process takes years. It is not because I am untrustworthy, but because they have learned not to trust. One patient said 'Never in my life would I think I'd be sitting across from a lieutenant colonel and she'd be serving me!' That is humbling. So that's the type of trust that I try to instill. Obviously I only have one piece, I do the health care part, but I do it with everything that's within me. I'm very passionate about that," said Weightman.