Over the many decades of my career, I’ve met a lot of remarkable leaders, both in the military and in medicine. I remember many of the officers and sergeants who helped me through my early years in uniform who squared me away in both word and deed. They didn’t just tell me what to do; they were what to do. The same was true for residents and attending physicians who trained me after I became a doctor. Everything they did had a purpose, and each action had a proper procedure. Over time, by modeling their behaviors, I learned how to safely care for my patients and protect myself and my employees.
Here at VA, we are one of the largest employers of former military personnel in the nation, and we are all the better for it.
Veterans will always be seen as leaders because of their selfless service to the nation. As both a combat Veteran and a physician I am very proud, but not surprised, that Veterans are continuing to lead in their communities by modeling proper masking and hand hygiene behavior.
Masks are a part of our routines
We were taught on our first day in the military that being at the right place at the right time in the right uniform with the right equipment could be the difference between life and death. Our squad members counted on us to be ready for the mission, because having the right equipment with us could save their lives. Wearing a mask does the same thing. Just as we reached for our helmet and weapon every day on the way to our missions, we now reach for our masks as a part of our routines.
We wear masks to protect others
A common misconception is that we wear masks to protect ourselves. In fact, it is the opposite. We wear masks to protect others. Unlike a medical mask such as an N95 respirator, a homemade cloth face covering or dust mask from a hardware store likely won’t filter out the novel coronavirus. However, it will limit the virus from flying in the air to someone near you if you are infected. Yes, at times masks are hot and uncomfortable and fog up our glasses, but they are there to protect everyone around us from what we are breathing out. Simply put, by not wearing a mask, we put others in danger.
Masks are required for everyone entering our facilities, but I ask you to take a cue from the Veterans around you and make your mask a part of your everyday routine away from our facilities as well. This is not about being comfortable. It’s about saving lives. Current CDC guidance recommends everyone over the age of two wear a mask when in public settings and when around others who don’t live in their households, especially when other physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
Use the #IWearAMaskFor hashtag on social media
To that end, we are looking to highlight Veterans who wear their masks by giving them a chance to tell the world who they are wearing them for. You can participate on social media by posting a photo of yourself in a mask and using the #IWearAMaskFor hashtag to identify the person or people you are keeping safe, like this: “#IWearAMaskFor my children/my grandfather/my fellow Veterans.”
We are all facing this public health crisis together. Wearing a face mask outside of our homes is one of the most simple but important things we can do to save lives. I hope the next time you see someone in a mask and a t-shirt or ball cap which indicates that they served this country in uniform, you will thank them not only for their service but for keeping you safe, both then and now.
Dr. Richard Stone (pictured above) is Executive in Charge of the Veterans Health Administration. He is a retired Army major general and Veteran of the war in Afghanistan. He was born and raised in Michigan and is a proud alumnus of the Wayne State University School of Medicine.