When the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) partnered together to create the We Honor Veterans program, education and compassion were at the heart of their mission. A pioneering program, it can now be found in hospice programs around the country, including locally at the VNA of Northwest Indiana.
The We Honor Veterans program provides education of veteran causes and needs at the end of life to hospice professionals and volunteers. The program promotes veteran-focused events, increased capacity in an organization to serve veterans, development of partnerships within a community, and increased access to services.
“There were some Veterans Affairs hospice nurses who realized that at the end of life, veterans have unique needs,” said Erica Kerkes, Volunteer Services Coordinator for the VNA. “It could be related to their service history or any number of things.”
The partnership between the NHPCO and Department of Veterans Affairs saw the opportunity to educate hospice providers on the difference in care veterans need compared to traditional hospice. Veterans experience such things as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), survivorship guilt, emotional trauma, and more after returning from service, making their needs as they enter hospice distinct.
“It can come about in a lot of different ways,” Kerkes said. “Maybe there are times where people have not really dealt with the situations they have experienced. It comes up at the end of life review, or the natural process that occurs, and can affect treatment, like what medications we should or should not be giving veterans.”
The We Honor Veterans program consists of levels from 1 to 5, all with increasing requirements of the hospice program as the program advances. The VNA’s We Honor Veterans program is currently a Level 4 program and is close to achieving the highest level, Level 5. The VNA has met requirements including the establishment of a Veteran to Veteran volunteer program with veterans in the community who have become trained hospice volunteers. The veteran volunteers work directly with hospice patients who are veterans. The VNA has also held veteran-centric community events and continued education for staff and volunteers on the unique issues’ veterans face at the end of life. It also implements veteran specific plans of care, collect necessary veteran data and produce annual reports. Each of the activities help ensure veterans are supported effectively and compassionately at the end of life based on their individual needs. Only a handful of hospice programs across the country have the distinction of being a Level 5 program.
“The level 5 partnership is an increased commitment to unburdening veterans at the end of life so that they can have a peaceful passing,” Kerkes said. “It’s also a bigger commitment to the community and veteran causes in the community, like veteran service projects and community events.”
What stands out about the program is that once a hospice provider achieves level 5 status, it must go through a review and renew its level 5 every year, furthering its commitment to continued education and care.
“Achieving level 5 isn’t a one-time, we’ve checked all the boxes thing,” Kerkes said. “It’s a continuous commitment. We can’t just say that we are committed to veteran affairs and care; we have to show it.”
In celebration of Veteran’ s Day, the VNA has some events scheduled, including the release of a special brew, “Best Days Hazy”. Chesterton Brewery, a locally owned Veteran brewery company, collaborated with the VNA to for this special craft beer, “Best Days Hazy” is dedicated to honoring veterans.
“We have a long list of things we are doing to celebrate Veteran’s Day this year, and the “Best Days Hazy” is something we are really excited about,” Kerkes said. “This was something that our CEO, Bob Franko, organized and we’re looking forward to getting the community together at a local business—safely and socially distanced, of course—to honor veterans and their lives.”
For more information about the VNA, please visit their website at https://vnanwi.org/. If you are a veteran and you’re interested in volunteering for the Veteran to Veteran volunteer program, contact Erica Kerkes at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.