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Hospice Care Tailored to Veterans

Posted: 11/1/2021 3:00 PM by Interim HealthCare

If your loved one is preparing for hospice care, you want to ensure all their needs are met – mentally, physically and spiritually. End-of-life needs can vary greatly from person to person. But those needs can be exceptionally unique if your loved one is a Veteran.

It’s important to know the options available to Veterans and their families, especially at the end of life. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for families to know where to start when it comes to navigating the options available. Thankfully, programs like We Honor Veterans exist to make this step a bit easier for those that served our country and the family members and friends that are there to support them during this difficult time.

What is We Honor Veterans?
We Honor Veterans (WHV) is a collaboration and partnership of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Any hospice agency can become a WHV partner by committing to complete activities of varying levels. A basic level of commitment requires the agency to demonstrate a dedicated effort to providing Veteran-focused education for all staff and their volunteers, so team members can identify patients with past military experience who could benefit from the program.

Greater levels of commitment require a hospice agency to build capacity in order to provide quality care that meets the unique needs of Veterans while also developing and strengthening relationships with local VA medical centers and other Veteran organizations. This level of WHV partnership provides an agency the opportunity to network with other hospices across the country to share best practices, approaches and techniques in caring for Veterans.

Why are hospice Veteran partnerships important?
More than 1,800 Veterans die every day in the United States, but only a small percentage of those deaths occur in VA facilities. That means that the majority of Veterans are dying in communities and homes where they live. These Veterans and their families may not know about hospice care and the benefits they are exclusively entitled to. Unfortunately, many hospice providers may not know who their Veteran patients are, so these patients could also be missing out on specialized care that could be beneficial at this stage of their life.

All hospice patients should have some sort of care planning guide which is determined by the patient’s care team, and it’s especially important for Veterans’ care planning guides to be focused on their unique needs. WHV partners have access to a special care planning guide to be used when a new patient comes under their care, so the providers can ensure Veterans are offered access to the services that are available for their unique situation.

What issues can Veterans face while in hospice or at end of life?
It may be challenging to recognize the subtle differences between the issues that Veterans face at the end of life versus issues the average person may experience at the same stage. Because We Honor Veterans partners are highly educated to handle the unique needs of Veterans, they are able to identify key issues and can provide the best and appropriate care that is tailored to meet their needs. Some issues Veterans commonly deal with include:

  • Symptoms of PTSD
  • Intrusive thoughts or memories of triggering events
  • Feelings of hopelessness as they are becoming more ill, which may act as a trigger for  felings of helplessness during a traumatic military experience
  • Agitation or constant restlessness
  • Feelings of loss of control
  • Difficulty trusting people, especially caregivers
  • Resisting medical care
  • Sleep impairment
  • Anxiety based on varying triggers
  • Memories of activities that violated their moral code (also known as moral injury)
  • Survivor’s guilt

Why should you choose a hospice that partners with We Honor Veterans? 
On the surface, a WHV hospice partner may not look very different from an average hospice provider. However, what sets them apart is their commitment to addressing the special needs of their Veteran patients.

A WHV hospice partner is required to identify which patients are Veterans upon admission. Once a patient has been identified, a Military History Checklist is used to determine and address any issues the Veteran may face. This helpful tool provides the necessary information to assist in choosing the appropriate interventions for the Veteran and it also serves as the first step in honoring a Veteran for their service. The Military Checklist also helps hospice team members determine specific benefits the Veteran may be entitled to through the VA.

This checklist is more than a required tool; it is a conversation guide to appropriately gauge the level of comfort the Veteran has with addressing their military experience. Not all Veterans want to acknowledge their service, and it may even be triggering to be reminded of it. WHV hospice partners know how to approach this situation carefully by identifying any desired salutations (such as “sir” or “colonel”) or preferences that should be avoided.

Other benefits of WHV hospice partners include:

  • A written plan of care that includes an assessment of the special needs of Veterans and their families
  • The patient and family are counseled in dealing with issues of PTSD or other disorders due to the patient’s military history or combat duty experience
  • The patient, family and caregivers are assessed for grief and bereavement needs, including military experience, service-connected trauma and effects of war
  • A psychosocial evaluation is provided and includes issues related to military service, allowing the hospice team to provide appropriate support
  • Hospice works closely with the VA for care and coordinates with the VA when the patient needs to be admitted to a VA medical facility
  • The hospice provides in-service education on topics related to patient care, including PTSD and other issues faced by Veterans at end of life 
  • A hospice chaplain/spiritual counselor can counsel the Veteran on spiritual and forgiveness issues related to military service

Our Veterans have sacrificed so much for our country and deserve the best possible care, especially at the end of their lives. WHV hospice partners all have a common goal: to respect the wishes of these Veterans, guarantee their sacrifice is honored and treated in an appropriate manner, and ensure that Veterans, and their families, receive all the benefits which are due to them.

Download our Fast Facts for Veterans Benefits