VITAS Brings Unique Care to Veterans Near the End of Life
Past military service profoundly affects America’s military veterans as they age and creates unique clinical, psychological and spiritual issues as they approach the ends of their lives, research shows. Healthcare experts agree it is critical for their end-of-life care providers to understand, anticipate and address these needs.
As America’s leading hospice provider since 1978, VITAS understands that prior military service can have a profound impact on veterans as they approach the end of life, and the company has developed award-winning programs to provide them with the care and support they need. VITAS’ specially trained staff members and volunteers work daily to honor veterans’ preferences for care at the end of life and ensure they receive the respect, comfort and compassion they need.
In South Florida, veteran liaisons for VITAS work closely with the Veterans Administration (VA), Medicare, Medicaid and other local organizations toward that goal. When admitting patients to the hospice program, VITAS conducts a special assessment for every veteran patient to determine the specific level of support they need and provide customized care.
“Hospices with special programs to identify their patients who are veterans and gather information about their military history are much better equipped to address many of the unique clinical, psychological and spiritual issues that invariably result from their experiences in the military,” said Nancy Auster, veteran liaison for VITAS Innovative Hospice Care of Miami/Dade and Monroe.
As part of its commitment to veterans, VITAS veteran liaisons work closely with other veterans’ organizations that VITAS supports. This includes:
• Sponsoring Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive, the Tuskegee Airmen and Honor Flight, which all work to celebrate and honor veterans
• Working with state and local veterans’ groups and organizations to advocate for veterans and ensure they receive the support they need at the end of life
• Participating in the Veterans History Project, which seeks to record and document a living legacy of veterans’ stories that are archived at the Library of Congress as living legacy
VITAS programs are also proud to be partners in “We Honor Veterans,” a pioneering campaign of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that recognizes organizations committed to improving care for veterans.
Just as important, hospice teams work with volunteers who themselves are former veterans and bring an added depth to the programs that others simply cannot provide. In addition to helping with basic needs like driving patients to the doctor, replacing lost military medals or planning memorial services, these volunteers do something very important: they listen. “Our veteran volunteers have been through the same things our veteran patients have experienced, so they speak the same language as our patients and connect with them on very deep levels,” said Mary Jean Houlahan, BSN, veteran liaison for VITAS Innovative Hospice Care of Palm Beach County.
These specialized programs are critically important for veterans, added Auster. “As they near the end of life, many veterans become almost obsessed with their military history, regardless of whether they spent one year or 60 in the military.”
For this reason, in addition to providing medical care and emotional support, veteran liaisons and the teams at VITAS also provide something very important that veterans need: recognition.
“It may be difficult for those who are not veterans to understand this because it might not seem like much, but veterans really need to make peace with their military experience,” Houlahan said. “They just want someone to recognize their service and sacrifices.”
With more than 600,000 veterans dying in the U.S. every year, “it is critical for hospice providers to offer the specialized care that veterans need and show our appreciation for the sacrifices they made for our country,” added Auster.