VNA Hospice NWI held its annual celebration of veterans on Friday, November 11 in Valparaiso. VNA Hospice is a not-for-profit center that provides hospice and palliative care and serves all of Lake, Porter, La Porte, Jasper, Newton and Starke counties and has been a level five with the We Honor Veterans Program since January 2021.
The We Honor Veterans Program is a partnership between the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the Department of Veteran Affairs. It educates hospice care professionals on how to properly care for veterans and tend to their specific emotional and physical needs.
“This is something that we feel very strongly about at VNA,” Erica Kerkes, volunteer services coordinator with VNA Hospice, said. “There are five levels to the program, with five being the highest. We are the only hospice provider in Northwest Indiana who has a level five.”
VNA Hospice also held its first stand down in June 2022. A stand down is a one to three day event which provides services and supplies to veterans.
“The term ‘stand down’ was historically made during the Vietnam era,” Kerkes said. “It was a time for service members to take a break from the war to attend to their personal needs. Now, stand downs are basically resource fairs for veterans of all eras to come get any services they might need.”
Services that have been provided to veterans and their families during the stand down were haircuts, massage therapists, blood pressure checks, and a hot meal which were all free of charge.
“We did our first stand down in June of this year and we will do another one in Valpo in June 2023 and also one in Crown Point in November 2023,” Kerkes said.
Every Friday, VNA Hospice partakes in the salute to veterans which takes place all year round regardless of the weather. Veteran's Day is celebrated every year at VNA Hospice, however, the celebration is a little different each year.
“We’ve been doing salute to veterans for a year now on Fridays,” Kerkes said. “It’s a weekly thing; We typically recognize a specific veteran and tell their story and then play ‘taps’ in their honor. We also have a group of volunteers working to make blankets for the veterans who come to our hospice services.”
Sarah Kingsbury, bereavement coordinator at VNA Hospice, is on the We Honor Veterans committee and has been working with VNA Hospice for a year.
“My primary role is to be an additional emotional support to families who have patients on our VNA services,” Kingsbury said. “I run two grief support groups a month which are open to anyone in the community.”
Kingsbury noted how important it is to celebrate and honor our veterans.
“They gave us the biggest sacrifice for our freedom,” Kingsbury said. “I truly believe we wouldn’t be the country we are today if it weren’t for them. We owe them all the thanks for what they have done for us.”
Chris Johnston, one of the volunteers for VNA, assisted in making handmade blankets for veterans and their families.
“Whether they’re a patient at home or they’re a patient in our hospice center, everybody gets honored with a blanket and a certificate,” Johnston said. “The families really appreciate the fact that these are given to them in honor of their loved ones’ service.”
The amount of blankets made depends heavily on how many volunteers are present to make them.
“We’ll probably get five or six done today and we have fabric for more,” Johnston said. “We also have volunteers that knit, crochet and/or quilt blankets and donate them to the VNA.”
Johnston noted that VNA is always looking for new volunteers to help make blankets.
“It’s fast, it’s easy and it’s fun,” Johnston said. “It serves a greater purpose, so if anyone is interested in volunteering, reach out because we are always in need of volunteers.
Kerkes expressed her gratitude to all of the veterans.
“We take our liberties and the sacrifices that our veterans have made for us for granted,” Kerkes said. “I think it’s so important to recognize them and thank them because they may be struggling with things that are associated with their service time. Just know that you never know what someone is struggling with.”
For more information about VNA Hospice and how you can volunteer, visit vnanwi.org