Officially declared a federal holiday in 1938 (though celebrated in one form or another as early as 1919), Veterans Day is a celebration of the brave men and women who have proudly served their country in the U.S. armed forces.
Here are some quick facts about veterans and their healthcare:
- Many of the veterans and other military employees who served in World War II, Korea, or Vietnam as young men and women are now in their 80s and 90s.
- Even the soldiers who made it home without any apparent health problems may suffer from debilitating injuries, and some of these ailments will only become apparent years after the veteran’s period of active duty. “Presumptive diseases” include various types of cancers, neurological disorders, and traumatic brain injuries. They are often linked to exposure to certain substances that are found in warzones, such as herbicides (e.g., Agent Orange), chemical weapons, radiation, air pollution, and explosives.
- According to NPR, an estimated 2.5 million veterans will require end-of-life care between 2015 and 2020.
The number of veterans who will soon need end-of-life-care may come as a surprise to some civilians, but it does make sense. As the population of still-living WWII, Korean, and Vietnam veterans gets progressively older, the likelihood of individuals becoming eligible for hospice care will naturally increase. And while hospice is available for everyone who needs it (either through private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid), elderly or infirm veterans can benefit from hospice in unique ways.
For example, even civilian hospice groups (that is, organizations not directly affiliated with the VA) can receive helpful information and resources from the We Honor Veterans program on managing service-related conditions that former soldiers may suffer from. Outreach programs can make an effort to match veteran hospice patients with volunteers who are veterans themselves, giving both parties an opportunity to speak with someone who truly understands their experiences. And special care can be given to recognize veterans on important holidays or anniversaries, honoring them for the work they did while on active duty.
Hospice counselors and chaplains may also assist veterans in working out any feelings of guilt or fear about their experiences that they may have been secretly carrying ever since their period of service ended. In 2016, mental health professionals have a much better understanding of PTSD and traumatic brain injuries than they did several decades ago, and it’s becoming more and more common in our society to openly discuss these conditions rather than pretend that they don’t exist. For a soldier to finally receive treatment for mental health issues while under hospice care personifies two of the main goals of hospice: to focus on quality of life over quantity, and enable a patient to be as comfortable as possible in their final months of life.
The estimated 22 million veterans currently living in the United States have risked (and, in many cases, sacrificed) their physical and emotional health to protect the freedoms that so many of us take for granted. So, take time today to salute any veterans that you have in your life, and take a moment to reflect on the ones who are no longer with us.
In closing, to any veterans reading this right now: thank you for your service!