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Caring for Veterans at End of Life

Caring for Veterans at End of Life

Posted on July 13, 2015 by Care Dimensions According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), it is expected that in the next five years half a million veterans will need end-of-life care. Many of these veterans served in World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and as this generation ages the demand for hospice care grows. At Care Dimensions, we are honored to care for those who have served our country and have tailored our hospice services to meet the unique needs of veterans at end of life.

A great success story is John “Joe” MacDonald. At 92, Joe, a World War II bombardier machine gunner with the 491st Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces, is a perfect example of how the supportive and comprehensive services of hospice can make all the difference in a veteran’s quality of life. A series of small strokes affected Joe’s walking and caused some depression and anger. As his condition worsened, his family decided to enlist the services of hospice through Care Dimensions. “I’ve been amazed at the services our father has received, from nursing care and an air mattress to massage and music therapy, and visits from the chaplain, social worker and trained volunteer. His transformation in just three months was amazing. Dad started walking again, leaving his room for meals and he became more animated,” said Joe’s daughter Barbara Story.

For veterans facing life-limiting illness the challenges are many. “We find that veterans often times keep their feelings and pain to themselves, making them withdrawn,” said Sheryl Meehan, director of Volunteer and Complementary Services for Care Dimensions, who leads the veterans program. “We know that veterans are trained in a culture of stoicism or they may have combat experience, which may cause traumatic memories or anxiety about something they did or witnessed.” In an effort to better meet these unique needs, Care Dimensions participates in the “We Honor Veterans” program, a national campaign of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. In 2014, Care Dimensions became a We Honor Veterans Level Four Partner, the highest level of recognition in the national program, showing a commitment to providing services to veterans and their families.

What veterans expect from hospice care

Care Dimensions treats our veterans at end of life with honor and dignity, providing expert medical care and comprehensive support. In addition to individualized care plans that address medical and psychological issues common in veterans, our hospice program provides:

  • Hospice care provided by a team of physicians, nurses, hospice aides, social workers, chaplains and trained volunteers

  • 24-hour support system

  • Medications, supplies and equipment

  • Complementary therapies including massage, Reiki, pet therapy, art and music therapy

  • Care wherever the veteran calls home, whether it is a private residence, assisted living or long- term care facility, VA nursing home or medical center, group home, foster care, hospital or homeless shelter.

  • A Veteran-to-Veteran volunteer program

  • Assistance in identifying and securing military benefits, pensions and community resources

  • Formal recognition and appreciation for military service

  • Assistance with military funeral and memorial planning

  • Grief support for the veteran’s family

Veteran Volunteers – a source of strength and comfort

Our veteran-to-veteran volunteer program has proved to be a tremendous success with patients who are veterans. Volunteers who are also military veterans, as well as other volunteers who receive additional training, gain a deeper appreciation and empathy for the issues that veterans face at end of life; for example learning to take cues from patients who might not want to talk about their military experience or understanding the elements and triggers of post-traumatic stress disorder. After completing the initial hospice volunteer training, veteran volunteers can attend a specialized training to work with this population. When referring to her father’s veteran volunteer, Joe’s daughter Mary Bellavance said, “As fellow veterans, my father and his hospice Veteran to Veteran volunteer could sit for hours and talk about their experiences. My Dad told stories about his military service that we’d never heard before,” she said. “There are some memories that only other veterans can understand,” said Mark Ledewitz, veteran volunteer coordinator for Care Dimensions. “Putting veterans together can act as a catalyst for communication for many hospice patients who have served their country,” he said. “It is our privilege to care for veterans at end of life and to support them and their loved ones through this journey,” said Meehan. To learn more about the services that Care Dimensions offers to our patients or to speak with a hospice expert, please call us at 888-283-1722. To inquire about becoming a Veteran Volunteer, please contact Sheryl Meehan at 978-774-7566.

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Since 1978, Care Dimensions, formerly Hospice of the North Shore,  has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.

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