As Memorial Day approaches, when the U.S. honors men and women who died while serving in the military, we also remember the aging veterans who served with honor. As they approach the end of life, it’s vital to partner with a well-informed hospice provider to help ease anxiety about the past and the future. One such provider is Heart to Heart Hospice, who works diligently to train and educate on veteran-specific needs.

Hospice benefits not only cover comfort care like pain and symptom management, but offer a holistic approach for body, mind, and psychosocial wellbeing. Veterans Affairs provides hospice benefits to military veterans who are facing a life expectancy of six months or less from a terminal diagnosis, whether it’s an injury or illness due to disease or aging.

But veterans tend to lag behind the non-veteran population in receiving hospice care. Education and awareness with health care providers, hospitals, families, and the community at large helps veterans get the care they need and meet their desire to die peacefully at home surrounded by loved ones.

Veteran-Informed Hospice Care

Many Heart to Heart Hospice locations work to ensure their staff is well-trained on veteran issues, from understanding certain triggers derived from deployments to mental health challenges like depression, PTSD, or guilt. They also work to understand how military service affects families, and at the end of life, their caregivers.

One way Heart to Heart bolsters its veteran service is through the We Honor Veterans (WHV) program with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Partners have to achieve certain milestones to “earn stars” on the five-level certification process.

Much of the work involves specific training for staff on veteran needs, as well as community involvement in veteran organizations or activities. Heart to Heart Hospice in Southwest Indiana has achieved WHV Level Five for its second year in a row, a distinct hard-earned honor.

“The highest level shows our commitment to serving veterans as well as some of the unique emotional and spiritual scars they may have that might need to be addressed for a peaceful end-of-life process,” says Jacquelyn Fehd, RN, Southwest Indiana Area Executive Director. “Plus, it helps the community as a whole by having a group that can specialize in this population and the unique challenges and needs they may present with.”

Their veteran care training is so robust, it’s been incorporated into staff meetings, orientation and Relias seminars for hospice organizations. For veteran hospice patients, military rituals are also honored, like pinning ceremonies and flag draping for funerals. Plus, family caregivers are given support and training for veteran issues as well. Read more about our veteran-specific care here.

Community Veteran Outreach

In addition to training staff, Heart to Heart Hospice participates in numerous community veterans’ activities including pinning ceremonies, vet-to-vet cafes, food drives, collections for homeless veterans, honor flights, and welcome home ceremonies for Vietnam veterans.

Ronda Duncan, Volunteer Coordinator for Heart to Heart Hospice of Southgate in Michigan, says their location has made great community connections through their veteran programs. They recently became a flag disposal site to collect old flags, then give them to the local VFW halls for proper disposal. They started a food drive for a local organization called Soldiers’ Angels that benefits low-income and homeless veterans.

They also provide veteran education emails to staff and military-specific resources. “I created a binder that has information related to each branch of the military and information about all the different wars that our patients may have been in. If staff members have a patient that was in a specific branch/war and they would like to know more information about that, they can pull the information from the binder,” she added. 

Recognition ceremonies also provide a bridge to local veterans and their families. Ronda said, “We have gotten amazing feedback from families expressing their appreciation for how we honor their loved one with the Certificate and Challenge Coin.” She said they hope to bring in more veteran organizations to do training on issues like service dogs for vets and PTSD and additional community volunteer opportunities.

“These veteran programs will benefit us because we learn new ways of caring for and honoring our veteran patients,” said Ronda. “These stronger relationships will benefit the community as well because we (as a team) are eager to give back to those that have served and sacrificed so much.”

Additional Resources

We want our veterans to feel affirmed and supported, which requires well-informed end-of-life care. Heart to Heart Hospice is working to do just that, along with the Heart to Heart Foundation, a non-profit that offers additional resources for veterans, including:

  • Emergency financial support
  • Critical unmet needs
  • Transportation
  • Wounded veteran support
  • Legal services
  • Counseling and other therapies
  • Legacy and honoring programs