“The reward of one duty is the power to fulfill another.” ~ George Eliot
There are close to 22 million Veterans living today in the United States. These are men and women who have put their lives on the line to protect our great nation and the freedoms we enjoy. While they may differ as individuals, it is safe to say they all share a common call to duty – to serve with honor, defend our country, and bring aid to those in need.
For many, that calling leads them to volunteer to offer comfort and meaningful companionship to their fellow Veterans as they navigate the end-of-life journey in hospice care.
Bob Newcombe, a long-time volunteer at Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care in Dayton, Ohio, retired from a 30-year Air Force career as a Chief Master Sergeant. Through Crossroads’ Vet-to-Vet visitation program and special Veterans recognition ceremonies, he supports fellow Veterans by reminding them of the common bond they share.
Bob says he volunteers “primarily to let failing Veterans know they are not forgotten and that their service mattered, then and now.” He went on to say he feels “a personal sense of humility when I hear of their service and bravery.”
The Unique Veteran Experience
Crossroads is dedicated to understanding and addressing the unique physical, psychosocial, and spiritual end-of-life challenges many Veterans face.
Anger, grief, fear and guilt are common emotions for Veterans in hospice care. War often has traumatic effects, leaving Veterans suffering from anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders, expressing thoughts of self-blame, and demonstrating compulsive or aggressive behavior. This is known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Often, these symptoms strain relationships with family and friends and lead to social isolation for Veterans as they approach the end of life. Feeling like no one understands them or their experiences, or that they are a burden on others, many withdraw even further into themselves at a time when empathy, love and companionship are sorely needed.
Veteran to Veteran
Other Veterans do understand, as they share the experience of a life journey in service to our nation.
David Stevenson, felt his call to duty in the aftermath of 9/11. An ordained minister raised by a Marine, he knew there was a need for chaplains in the armed services as the country went to war. David enlisted and served for five years as an Army chaplain, spiritually preparing young soldiers to fight overseas, helping them reconnect with their families and friends when they returned, and supporting the bereaved loved ones of those who did not. He continues this important work as bereavement coordinator with Crossroads in Philadelphia. David always dresses in uniform for Veterans recognition events because seeing another veteran there in uniform increases the impact of the ceremony for honorees and strengthens the connection.
“I remember when I raised my right hand and was sworn in (to Army service). Whether in peacetime or wartime you are laying down your life,” David said, “when you meet someone else that raised their right hand, maybe decades ago, there’s that instant connection.”
Terminally-ill patients often grapple with difficult spiritual questions in their final days. Veterans, especially those who have engaged in combat, often express frustration with God or other higher power and the nature of human life. They may worry about their acceptance by God if they try to pray, and express fear and uncertainty about their acceptance into an afterlife. Talking with other Veterans can help many find spiritual peace.
“We all have a common bond, our experience in the service,” said Paul Ptsanik, now retired after 27 years of Army service, including a tour of duty in Vietnam. Ptsanik and his wife, Kathleen, volunteer at many recognition events and pay personal visits to Veterans in hospice care.
“It’s good to talk with others, tell stories. After 10 minutes you realize you know the same people and have been to the same places all over the world.”
Honoring Those Who Served
To ensure that Veterans experience an end of life that is as rich and peaceful as possible, Crossroads participates in the We Honor Veterans program – a collaboration between the U.S. Veterans Administration, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association, and hospices and palliative care organizations across the nation. Its goal is to increase Veterans’ awareness of hospice and palliative care and continually improve the quality of care at the end of life.
At Crossroads, this means honoring more than 3,000 Veterans each year at special recognition ceremonies in all Crossroads markets. Fellow Veterans, family and friends, Crossroads team members and others join in recognizing Veterans for valiantly serving our country and defending our freedoms.
It also means identifying patients who are Veterans and pairing them with Veteran volunteers like Bob, David and Paul, to allow the strength of their common bond of service to our nation to enhance their quality of life at its end.
For more information on how Crossroads serves Veterans, visit our website or call us at 1-888-564-3405.
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