Army veteran and Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital volunteer Gavin Winans, 80, holds up a photograph of himself during his service in West Berlin in 1965. Winans, who volunteers to meet with veteran patients every Wednesday, said he also volunteers at the city’s Veteran Affairs Clinic on Fridays. After his service in Berlin, Winans moved to Fort Worth and has been in the city for 55 years. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

An 80-year-old U.S. Army veteran walks about 3 miles inside Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital every Wednesday as he visits patients in their rooms.

After patients check in and identify themselves as veterans, volunteer Gavin Winans shows up at their room to chat.

Sometimes the volunteer talks to them about their service and other times, they don’t want to mention it. Regardless, the conversation fulfills Winans.

“It’s been a learning experience because during Vietnam nobody said thank you (to veterans) at all. It was like they were bad people. And it’s only in the last few years that I believe that people started to say thank you for your service,” Winans said. “Everybody that’s in the military has some kind of story to tell.”

After the conversation, Winans gives patients a certificate thanking them for their service.

“The majority of them are really appreciative. At that time there was conscription, so you were told you had to serve,” Winans said. “Nobody said thank you for your service. A lot of them have never had anything like that.”

U.S Army veteran and volunteer Gavin Winans, 80, walks through Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital with a clipboard of patients who identified as veterans during check in. Winans visits patients in their rooms and talks to them about whatever they feel like chatting about, he said. Sometimes patients talk about their time in the military, and other times they don’t want to talk about their service. Winans feels like he may get more out of the shared time than the patients do because he gets to hear their incredible stories, he said. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
U.S. Army veteran and volunteer Gavin Winans, 80, walks to a patient’s room inside the Texas Health Harris Hospital on Nov. 8, 2023. Every now and then, he will talk to a patient who served in the same place he did, he said. Winans served in the U.S. Army in West Berlin from 1964 to 1968. Most patients he meets are Vietnam War veterans, but younger patients usually served in Afghanistan, he said. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Gavin Winans, 80, stands in the Richardson Tower concourse on Nov. 8, 2023. Winans volunteers every Wednesday, he said. As a U.S. Army veteran, he said he can relate to the experiences of veteran patients. His father and brother both served in the military, too. Now, his service is to veteran patients who need someone to talk to. During the days he doesn’t volunteer at the Veteran Affairs Clinic or the hospital, Winans gardens, growing tomatoes in season. “Of course I never expected to live to be 80 years old. I certainly never thought I’d outlive my wife. But here I am. If you don’t keep your mind active and go out and see people, that’s when it’s bad for you as a retiree,” Winans said. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Winans likes talking to veterans weekly — though, he has concerns about post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans.

“I sympathize with all the guys I see in the hospital. To me, there’s a bigger acceptance of people that have mental health issues from the conflicts,” Winans said. “PTSD was around for a long time, but people just ignored it. ‘They just will get over it,’ or people say, ‘I got over it. It’s no big deal.’”

For a lot of people, PTSD was a destructive thing in their life and for their families, he said. 

“At least nowadays, they’re addressing that problem,” Winans said.

For his part, the 80-year-old veteran will continue to be there, listening to veteran patients and thanking them for their service.

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Cristian is a May 2021 graduate of Texas Christian University. At TCU, ArguetaSoto served as staff photographer at TCU360 and later as its visual editor, overseeing other photojournalists. A Fort Worth...