by Staci Metzger, LMSW, LGSW, APHSW-C
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” -Joseph Campbell
Honoring our nation’s veterans includes acknowledging their service and sacrifice, as well as supporting them throughout their entire lives. This is especially important as they near the end of their lives. Our veterans deserve the highest quality end-of-life care possible.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a hospice care benefit for those who have served in the military. Sometimes veterans do not identify themselves as being a veteran if they did not engage in wartime service. The VA Hospice Benefit is for any individual who served in any branch of the military and was honorably discharged as well as active-duty veterans. National Guard and Reserve members may also quality for the VA Hospice Benefit.
Eligible veterans must be enrolled with the VA’s benefits program and meet the medical guidelines for hospice care to qualify. The VA Hospice Benefit can be combined with Medicare and Medicaid to ensure the cost of hospice care is completely covered for our nation’s veterans.
Hospice care can be provided wherever a veteran calls home, including a private residence, nursing home, assisted living and more. Part of the VA Hospice Benefit offers veterans who are on hospice in a skilled nursing facility access to a skilled bed in a semi-private room at no cost—as long as he or she remains on hospice service and in a skilled nursing facility contracted with the VA.
Hospice is care for the whole person—physical, emotional and spiritual. All medical equipment and medication related to the terminal diagnosis are covered through the benefit. Veterans also have access to the full hospice team, including the physician, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, social workers, certified nursing assistants, chaplains, grief specialists and volunteers.
Hospice of the Red River Valley has provided care for thousands of veterans since our founding in 1981.
Our hospice team provides support that allows every veteran under our care to fully live their best possible life. We help them navigate any potential veteran benefits along their journey.
- Navigating the VA system
- Identifying available benefits
- Coordinating with any local VA services
- Helping with benefit paperwork
A patient is identified as a veteran during the hospice referral process. If enrolled with VA, Hospice staff will inquire about all available benefits. If not enrolled, Hospice social workers assist the family with enrollment forms.
Hospice social workers also provide information about the local Veteran Service Officer (VSO) who can help the veteran and family determine if other benefits are available and needed. Each county typically has its own VSO.
Hospice social workers’ goal is to connect veterans to the resourced needed at end of life. But we also want to pay tribute to their sacrifices by offering a recognition ceremony. The ceremonies are as intimate or elaborate as the veteran and their family choose. This is part of our participation in the We Honor Veterans program, which is a partnership between the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Hospice of the Red River Valley recently honored four veterans in a group ceremony at an assisted living facility. Another resident performed patriotic music. It was an emotional morning with family and friends celebrating and commemorating their loved one’s time in the military. During the ceremony, each veteran receives a certificate of thanks and a branch-specific pin.
Another service member wished for a small, intimate ceremony with his wife, children and Hospice staff. He beamed with pride when receiving his pin and certificate. As we left his home, the patient’s wife shared with us how fortunate the patient felt to be honored in this way. From his bedroom came a whispered, “Those are some fine people.”
Some veterans have additional barriers to a peaceful end of life. If a patient wishes, we help complete a life review and give them a safe space to share about their military experiences.
When possible, we also try to match veteran patients with volunteers who also are veterans. It’s common for patients nearing end of life to unburden themselves about their military experiences only to someone who has also shared similar experiences.
We extend our thanks to the many people who have served in the military and their families. It is truly an honor and a privilege to provide care for these American heroes.
Staci Metzger, LMSW, LGSW, APHSW-C, is the lead social worker with Hospice of the Red River Valley.
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.