As we remember those lost in battle on this Memorial Day, JourneyCare’s We Honor Veterans program is privileged to pay tribute to veteran heroes still among us. Last year, this special program cared for nearly 1,500 veterans, meeting their unique needs as they face serious illness at the end of life. There are so many important ways this program makes a difference, but hearing how it helps patients personally is the best way to really understand:
Providing customized care
Because of their military service, veterans may respond differently to being at the end of their lives. Many have never shared feelings of guilt or regret about what they were ordered to do or witnessed, which may prevent them from having a peaceful death. As a result, JourneyCare often alters a veteran’s care based on such personal needs.
A WWII Army veteran was one of these patients. He was extremely angry and uncooperative, so his JourneyCare chaplain spent extensive time with him. Eventually, our patient shared memories and feelings about brutal things he had experienced during his service. His guilt and anger had caused him to be very harsh with his own wife and children. With the chaplain’s support, he was able to ask and receive forgiveness from his family and release his anger and sorrow.
Trained for specialized support
JourneyCare staff members are offered professional training from experts in trauma-informed care, veterans benefits and working with aging veterans. An estimated one-third of combat veterans experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the end of life and may be triggered by certain smells or sounds or respond differently to prescribed medications. Some have even refused to use pain medication, believing they should be “tough” and bear the pain, or because they feel they deserve to suffer for their actions in war. JourneyCare staff is trained on how to respond appropriately to these physical, emotional and spiritual concerns if they arise.
Our social workers offer guidance on helping families of veterans access benefits and they can also help with planning military funerals. These are valuable services, since only a third of all veterans register with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and may be unaware of benefits available to them and their families.
JourneyCare’s expertise was especially helpful to a patient’s widow, after her Army husband refused to register with the VA despite suffering and later dying from an illness often caused by exposure to Agent Orange. JourneyCare provided her with contact information for a Veteran Service Officer and encouraged her to call. Several months later, she called us in thanks, sharing that she now receives $1,000 a month – benefits her husband had earned through his military service. She puts the money into a college fund for her grandchildren.
Our privilege to say ‘thank you’
JourneyCare offers a team of veteran volunteers who visit fellow veteran patients and often perform a simple honoring ceremony. A certificate of honor and special pin are presented and the ceremony is concluded with a military salute. (These ceremonies are temporarily being performed virtually in response to COVID-19.) Patients are also invited to share stories and feelings; this can lead to some of our program’s most special moments – like the time a Korean War veteran patient became especially emotional and tearfully said “Nobody ever thanked me before.” The family of another patient – a WWII Navy veteran who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor – requested a ceremony, even though he had been unresponsive for days and was actively dying. A JourneyCare Navy veteran performed the ceremony with a final salute to say, “thank you.” Then, the patient opened his eyes and said “No, thank YOU” – the last words he ever spoke. His family was profoundly grateful.
To learn more about JourneyCare’s We Honor Veterans program, visit journeycare.org/we-honor-veterans.