“When the war ended, I really never talked about it, but boy, it’s stayed with me.”
“You don’t know how many times I’ve relived it.”
This is just a sampling of comments The Hospice of the Western Reserve hears from patients who are veterans. Hospice providers are one of the privileged organizations to have the honor and responsibility of caring for those who served in our armed forces. A growing number of veterans are either nearing their anticipated life expectancies or coping with advanced illnesses.
Experiences related to military service present challenges that require specialized training, tools and resources. Service has a profound impact on end-of-life experiences, including recalling memories of a difficult past.
The compassionate trans-disciplinary approach of hospice, which encompasses physical, psychosocial and spiritual care, is uniquely suited to helping veterans reach a place of peace.
The need for hospice care for veterans is particularly acute in Ohio, which has the sixth largest population of veterans in the nation. An estimated 200,000 veterans are living in Northeast Ohio, with some 20 percent having served in either World War II or the Korean War, 30 percent are Vietnam era veterans and the remaining population has served in conflicts that occurred in 2001 or later.
Hospice professionals are empowered to meet the unique needs of dying veterans. We Honor Veterans, a program offered by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs, teaches respectful inquiry, compassionate listening and acknowledgement — to comfort patients with a history of military service and possibly physical or psychological trauma.
The program also provides tiered recognition to hospice organizations that demonstrate a systematic commitment to improving care for veterans, known as “Partners.” Hospice of the Western Reserve is honored to be among an elite group that has earned Partner Level Four status, designating the highest level of commitment to quality end-of-life care for veterans.
Community hospice providers, in partnership with VA staff, learn how to accompany and guide veterans through their life stories toward a more peaceful ending. The program provides educational tools and resources in advancing these goals.
Hospice care teams receive education about post-traumatic stress disorder, remorse and regret, substance abuse, and how the life experiences of veterans shape their end-of-life preferences. Staff members capture their personal legacies and document experiences for future generations.
Care is deserved
Every veteran deserves to be recognized for his or her service. The Hospice of the Western Reserce coordinates many public and community ceremonies, during which each veteran is personally thanked and provided with a special lapel pin.
Veterans, families and loved ones find these ceremonies to be deeply moving and meaningful.
For some veterans, it’s difficult to give up the mission — to do anything other than survive. Whether they are combat veterans or cooks, men or women, pilots or sailors, they have a shared life experience that affects how they live, and more importantly for us, how they die.