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Visiting Nurse Health System Honors Veterans

As Americans celebrate the country’s independence, the July 4 holiday is a natural time to remember and honor the men and women who have bravely served in the armed forces.

Among those today are about 19 million military Veterans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 3 million of those Veterans were active during World War II and the Korean War, and more than 9 million are currently over the age of 65.

With so many aging Veterans, it is perhaps more appropriate to pay tribute to them every day. Honoring our nation’s Veterans is a duty that Visiting Nurse Health System and Hospice Atlanta take very seriously.

Hospice Atlanta is a division of Visiting Nurse, Georgia’s largest nonprofit health care and hospice provider. The organization has partnered with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the Department of Veterans Affairs to facilitate the We Honor Veterans program, which is focused on respectful inquiry, compassionate listening and grateful acknowledgment of Veterans by recognizing the unique needs of America’s Veterans and their families at end of life. Staff members receive specialized training to guide Veterans and their loved ones toward peaceful closure.

Ann Serrie, volunteer coordinator for Hospice Atlanta, says We Honor Veterans was established six years ago, with Hospice Atlanta joining the effort in 2015.

“This is collaboration,” Serrie says. “They recognize that we need to serve our Veterans. And in order to do that … they’re focused on spreading the word through hospices. That’s why we got involved.”

Hear their stories

On Veterans Day 2015, the staff at Hospice Atlanta (which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary) joined with StoryCorps, an organization that records the memories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs, to share their stories, both happy and sad. Some of those stories can be accessed by visiting the Visiting Nurse website and clicking on the Veterans’ Stories audio files.

In this effort, Serrie says Hospice Atlanta hopes to educate staff and volunteers about Veterans’ end-of-life journeys, but also make Veterans aware of the benefits that are available to them through the Veterans Administration.

Serrie also hopes to recruit more Veteran volunteers. She says of the 194 volunteers in Hospice Atlanta’s program, only about 10 are Veterans.

“The most important part to me is to recognize Veterans and thank them for their service,” she says. “And to do that, we use volunteers who are Veterans to recognize our Veteran patients; so it’s Veteran-to-Veteran.

“Many times, Veterans are more comfortable with other Veterans in sharing their stories,” she says. “What we’re trying to do is acknowledge their service and do it with respectful inquiry, meaning we don’t just say, ‘Where did you serve? Were you in combat?’ And if they’re not interested – and for a lot of Veterans, it’s painful — we honor that, too.”

Showing appreciation publicly and privately

Hospice Atlanta celebrates Veterans in two ways. One is in a public setting – like on Veterans Day 2015, when the Junior ROTC from nearby Cross Keys High School provided an honor guard – and the other is a more private acknowledgement.

“We want to honor those who want to be recognized, and we can make it a big ceremony, where we give Veterans pins and a certificate and have the family there and take pictures,” Serrie says. “Or we might do it privately, if the Veteran prefers, and have a volunteer visit with them quietly. And in some cases, the patient might not even be conscious, but the family appreciates it.”

Serrie knows that a pin and certificate are just small tokens of appreciation for the huge sacrifices made by Veterans, but she believes the symbolism of recognition does carry weight.

“It’s just a certificate and a pin, but it’s the symbolic thank you that is the big deal,” she says.

While Veterans are recognized and shown genuine gratitude for their valiant service, Serrie says the encounters between Veterans and Hospice Atlanta staff and volunteers are almost always mutually beneficial.

“Our volunteers do it to serve, but they also hear incredible stories,” she says. “They come away saying that it’s a privilege and a sacred honor to experience something like this.”

We Honor Veterans is just one of the many ways Visiting Nurse and Hospice Atlanta serve their patients, Serrie says.

“Our goal is to improve the lives of those we serve – we do that in home health and we do that in hospice, so we tell people when they come on hospice, the sooner you come on, the more we’re able to support you with staff, equipment and medicine, and our inpatient center is a wonderful resource,” Serrie says. “We want to give people a soft landing.”

To see ways Veterans are being recognized and lauded throughout the country, check out the hashtag #wehonorvets. Or use #wehonorvets to show your support for the men and women who have served in our armed forces.

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