We Honor Veterans is a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The We Honor Veterans program has partnered with hospices and Veterans Affairs facilities to launch this pioneering program focused on improving end-of-life care for veterans.
In America today, there are 26 million veterans. A full 25 percent of all deaths in the United States are veterans. More than 1,800 veterans die each day. However, the U.S. Veteran’s Administration cares for a minority of Veterans at the end of life – 96% die in the community; and only 33% of Veterans are enrolled to receive benefits.
It imperative that a collaborative effort is needed to identify veterans with life-limiting illnesses and connect them with the many services and benefits available to them. Through We Honor Veterans, Community Nurses' Hospice program is committed to providing Veterans and their families with the appropriate care and community resources to make their last weeks and months together a meaningful experience.
The We Honor Veterans program follows a four-level process with activities geared towards providing access to comprehensive, compassionate care for Veterans with life-limiting illnesses.
Level 1 focuses on providing veteran centered education for staff and volunteers and identifying patients with military experience. An orientation to the We Honor Veterans program has been presented to the Community Nurses hospice team, staff and volunteers. A Military History Checklist is now utilized with each patient admitted to hospice services.
Level II builds professional and organizational capacity to provide quality care for veterans. New Community Nurses employees and volunteers receive orientation on veteran-specific health issues, and education is provided to staff on the experiences of veterans from different war eras. Utilizing the Military History Checklist upon patient admission, Community Nurses staff can identify specific needs that may be related to the veteran’s military service, combat experience or other traumatic events, and utilize special resources to help support these Veterans and their families.
To complete Level III, Community Nurses developed and strengthened relationships with Veterans Affairs medical centers and other veteran organizations. Contact has been made with the Directors of Veterans Affairs in our area to educate them on the We Honor Veterans program.
In addition, Community Nurses has reached out to Veteran of Foreign War organizations, Rides for Vets, the Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the James E. Van Zandt Medical Center in Altoona, and numerous other veterans organizations to spread the word about the services offered through their hospice program for military veterans. Community Nurses initiated a Hospice Vet-to-Vet Volunteer program connecting volunteers who have had military experience with patients who are military Veterans. Volunteers who are Veterans can form a camaraderie that develops a special bond of trust and understanding with the patient. Volunteers also participate in recognition and pinning ceremonies held at nursing homes to extend appreciation to the Veterans for their service.
Level 4 of the We Honor Veterans program strives to increase access to hospice and palliative care for veterans in our communities. A presentation was made to the Elk County Commissioners to educate them on the We Honor Veterans program and to encourage collaboration between Community Nurses and all services and organizations available to our area Veterans. Community Nurses participated in the first monthly outreach meeting at the office of Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Gabler to assist veterans in access to care.
Karen Leithner, RN, Hospice Manager, made a presentation before a Congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., to inform our government representatives about the importance of the We Honor Veterans program and how it has impacted our local community. At the Community Nurses office, policies and procedures have been revised to include Veteran specific information and a survey has been initiated for families of patients to determine if Veteran issues were addressed and to assist with any further needs.
Pictured are Rebecca Nelson, CEO, Don Fleming, Board President, and Karen Leithner, RN, Hospice Manager, with the We Honor Veterans Level 4 Achievement certificate.