In San Diego, roughly 25 percent of the population is affiliated with the military in one way or another. Working in our community, LightBridge Hospice & Palliative care saw the opportunity to serve and honor these veterans, showing them the respect, dignity, and admiration they deserve.
While developing our own program, we were introduced to the We Honor Veterans program, which was created by the Department of Veterans Affairs and National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). Because of our dedication to serving our veteran patients, we were the first hospice in California to achieve Level-4 Status with the program. Caring for those who have served our country is one of our greatest passions, and we continue to pursue innovative and compassionate ways to meet their needs. Here are a few examples of how we’re leading the way in caring for our veterans.
Recognizing Their Specific Mental, Emotional, and Physical Needs
In addition to the needs of a typical hospice patient, veterans also have special needs that we must carefully address. For instance, many of our veteran patients have unresolved issues dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), pain management, and health conditions. Our entire staff and team of volunteers are trained in what to anticipate with patients of certain branches of the military or war eras, so that we can help each individual feel cared for, valued, respected and heard.
Our own experience with military veterans has also helped us understand how their different combat experiences affect how we best deliver their hospice care. For instance:
- Veterans of the Korean War will often have neuropathy issues or amputations in their feet, because of the freezing conditions they faced while in combat.
- Many Vietnam veterans were never thanked for their service when they returned from war, so for many of them, the acknowledgment they’re now receiving touches them deeply and evokes great emotion.
- Vietnam veterans are also agitated by dark spaces because of the jungle warfare tactics and places they had to hide while in combat.
- Marines are known for being very stoic and often reluctantly accept or even refuse pain medication because they believe “pain is fear leaving the body.”
- There are also sometimes emotional issues in veterans who have never seen combat; they don’t consider themselves “veterans” and feel guilt for not doing enough or as much as their comrades.
Recognizing and addressing these needs is just a part of how we provide specialized care for our veterans. Our team goes a step further, offering personalized support and using innovative medical techniques, like integrative therapies, to help these veterans work through their issues and reach a sense of fulfillment.
Giving Them a Voice
We’ve found that many of our military patients tend to keep the stories of their service to themselves; their families have no idea what their loved one has been through. When our spiritual care, social worker, or really, any one of our team, including volunteers, sits down and is willing to listen, they feel empowered and often open up. It’s a powerful moment that frees them from the emotions, memories, and sometimes shame, they have harbored for so long.
Providing Them with Companionship
As part of our Veteran-to-Veteran program, we try to match our veteran and military volunteers with our veteran patients of the same branch. It’s a small way for our patients to feel camaraderie, understanding, and even more appreciated. It is also especially meaningful for those volunteers.
We also have a No Veteran Dies Alone program, in which we send out volunteers to sit with patients who do not have a family. Our hospice clinical professionals are very intuitive in knowing when a patient is approaching their last hours of life; they will reach out to our incredible volunteers at this time to provide companionship to that patient as he or she transitions.
Honoring Their Legacy
A past patient of ours was one of the first U.S. women pilots. She had incredible stories to share and before she passed, she honored us with her flight book, medals, and flight suit. After she passed, her daughter donated a display case, which still sits in our lobby proudly showcasing those treasures. We realize that each veteran has his or her own unique story and legacy to leave behind, and our LightBridge team honors their memory in every way we can.
Acknowledging Their Service
Since we set out to find compassionate ways to honor our veteran patients, we have performed nearly 500 veteran honor ceremonies to thank them for their service. At each one, we give them a written statement of appreciation, a We Honor Veterans pin, and a cake inscribed with a message of thanks. The goal is to show them how valued they are and acknowledge the incredible sacrifices they have made.
It is also a chance for patients to share their stories, reflect on their life and time in service, and hear how much their family, friends, and military comrades appreciate them. At one ceremony, our veteran, who was a Pearl Harbor survivor, was surrounded by one of our volunteer naval officers and his entire crew. It was a touching scene that provided this particular patient with the closure he needed to be at peace.
Going Beyond Our Patients
San Diego has eight military bases, and we realize that we serve just a small population of the military retirees, veterans, and active duty officers in our city. While our patients are our first priority, we reach out and serve the military members beyond our care as well. For instance, the LightBridge team volunteers at the Veterans Village of San Diego’s Stand Down event every year. We also participate in local veteran honor ceremonies and will be serving root beer floats at the Veterans Home in Chula Vista in honor of Veterans Day.
The commitment to caring for our veteran patients permeates everything we do at LightBridge Hospice & Palliative Care. We are passionate about honoring them and making sure their end-of-life journey is filled with gratitude. Much of our care and the support we provide our veterans are due to our amazing volunteers. We are always looking for retired or active-duty military officers to provide companionship and care to those who, like themselves, have done so much for our country.
If you have any questions about our veteran programs or volunteer opportunities, contact us today by calling (858) 458-3602 or visiting us online.