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‘What You Do For Others, It Continues’: How A Retired VA Therapist Continues To Help Vets

Elaine Effort
90.5 WESA
Michael Flournoy retired as a veterans counselor from the Pittsburgh VA Hospital. An army veteran himself, Flournoy continues to work with vets as a volunteer.

Army veteran Michael Flournoy has made helping other veterans his life's mission. Even though Flournoy retired from his job as a therapist for the Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs hospital a few years ago, the 80-year-old resident of Pittsburgh's Chartiers City neighborhood tells 90.5 WESA's Elaine Effort that does not mean his work with veterans has ended. 

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

ELAINE EFFORT: What made working with veterans so meaningful for you?

MICHAEL FLOURNOY: The veterans community, on a lot of levels, is a family. And I spent most of my life with veterans, more than I have with my family. You know, I'm a child of a veteran. All my uncles were veterans on both my mother's and my father's side of the family.

And all of the men I've ever served with sort of like become your brother. It's a brotherhood not based on genetics, but it's a brotherhood based on a very powerful, strong experience that you engage in.

EFFORT: What is it about you that you were able to be a good listener, offer advice and to help them?

FLOURNOY: I find that it has benefited me as a therapist to become a good listener and try and, in my first three or four sessions with a veteran, is to hear what they don't say. That's where most of the stories begin and the way you start to develop a relationship with the client is that you listen. You listen for where the gaps are in the narrative. You listen when the client is very emotional and they go somewhere and then the next moment they back away from it. So, you sort of benchmark that comment for later exploration because it may have been a touchstone that got to painful and they backed away from it.

So, listening is basically one of the best skills you can have in the helping profession, especially in a therapy type situation.

EFFORT: And even after you retired, you've continued to volunteer to listen to veterans for five years. And now you're still taking calls and counseling vets?

FLOURNOY: Well, when I decided to retire, No. 1, I told my kids that I never had a job. My work as a therapist was my vocation. So, I never considered myself having a job because I liked and loved what I did. And I became a better human being myself by the things that I did.

My mom once told me, and I benchmarked it in my mind, that what you do for yourself and only yourself, ends when you die. But what you do for others, it continues.