May 29, 2024

Advocating for the Distinct Needs of Veterans Nearing End of Life with We Honor Veterans

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As healthcare professionals, our duty extends beyond just providing medical care; it's about understanding and addressing the unique needs of each individual, especially when it comes to our nation's veterans. At VITAS® Healthcare, we take pride in our national involvement with We Honor Veterans, a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) that collaborates with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to empower hospice care providers to meet the distinct needs of veterans and their families as they approach the end of life.

Veterans deserve equal and early access to specialized end-of-life care, and our participation in the We Honor Veterans program reflects our commitment to that belief. We Honor Veterans distinguishes the quality of veteran care provided by their hospice care partners through a level grading system, with the highest level of care quality being Level 5. To date, 78% of our programs across the nation are either a Level 4 or a Level 5. We undergo rigorous annual evaluations to ensure that we can continuously meet the highest standards of care for our veteran patients.

“Becoming a community partner with We Honor Veterans demonstrates our programs’ commitment to comprehending the essence of a veteran's journey. Our dedicated team delves into the narratives, valor, and the profound significance of each veteran’s military service,” says Mario Lopez, a VITAS Regional Director of Market Development and Army veteran who served in Afghanistan.

Uncovering Unique Needs for Individualized Care

So, what sets VITAS apart in caring for veterans nearing the end of life? It starts with our specialized training and expertise. Our teams are equipped with the knowledge and skills to address not only the physical needs of veterans but also their psychosocial needs. We understand that veterans may carry unique burdens, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), moral injury, military sexual trauma, and more. That's why we provide specialized training in sensitivity to trauma and the nuances of different military eras, such as the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and World War II.

VITAS takes a streamlined approach where veterans are identified early through an initial comprehensive assessment. We use tools like the military history checklist to dive into their history, including military occupational skills, rank, any decorations, and/or participation in specific military campaigns, which allows us to tailor our care plans to their specific needs. Whether it's recognizing the effects of Agent Orange exposure or addressing combat-related guilt and moral injury, we're dedicated to providing holistic care that honors the service and sacrifices of each veteran.

We Honor Veterans Level 5: Advocating, Engaging, and Mentoring

Recognition as a Level 5 hospice partner with We Honor Veterans comes from the completion of educational training, community engagement, volunteer programs, and data collection. Serving as a mentor to community organizations and other hospice care providers is a key step in receiving Level 5 designation. We actively collaborate with community partners, veteran organizations, and the VA to ensure that veterans receive the full range of benefits and support available to them. From hosting educational events to facilitating VA referrals and providing access to additional resources, we're here to advocate for our veteran patients in every step of their hospice journey.

Concurrent care allows veterans to receive the curative medical treatment offered by the VA alongside comfort-focused hospice care. Working in conjunction with the VA, we remain committed to providing flexible and personalized care options that prioritize the individual needs and preferences of each veteran we serve. By combining the expertise of our team with the resources of the VA, we ensure that veterans receive the holistic support they deserve as they navigate the final stages of serious illness.

Making Real Impact

Through our efforts, we have made a meaningful difference in the lives of veterans and their families. From honoring Pearl Harbor survivors on the field at an Atlanta Braves game to assisting veterans in securing long-overdue compensation, we are always committed to veteran-centric care.

It's not just a responsibility; it's a privilege to serve those who have served our country with honor and valor. At VITAS, we stand ready to support veterans and their families with the dignity, respect, and care they deserve.

Mario adds, “The end-of-life experience, rather than being a mere passage, transforms into a meaningful culmination of memories, respect, and honor.”

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