November is National Veterans and Military Families Month, a time of reflection and gratitude where we honor those who have dedicated their lives to serving our nation. But it is more than just a moment of recognition; it’s an opportunity to ignite conversations that inspire, connect, and elevate our understanding of the unique experiences faced by Veterans in their health care. This month, we focus on recognizing military service and identity within the context of conversations about care through the end of life.
Military service represents a profound commitment and sacrifice. One way to honor this dedication is to ensure Veterans’ experience is acknowledged and respected throughout their care. When discussing what matters to Veterans, it is essential to create an environment where conversations about their military experience are welcomed and embraced. However, it is critical to remember that a Veteran’s service might not define their identity, and that’s perfectly acceptable. Some may share their experiences, while others prefer not to emphasize this aspect of their past. Every Veteran’s preference, expressed with understanding and empathy, should be respected.
In Their Honor’s Dedication to Veterans
At In Their Honor, our mission is rooted in enhancing the well-being of military and Veteran communities through the end of life. We recognize the profound importance of these conversations. That’s why we have collaborated with The Conversation Project to provide you with tips for engaging in heartfelt conversations with Veterans, whether you are a loved one, a health care provider, or a compassionate companion on their end-of-life journey. These tips and open-ended questions serve as the cornerstone of comfort, support, and the bridge to profound connections.
This November let’s engage in conversations that recognize Veterans’ service and celebrate their individuality, preferences, and unique journeys. These dialogues are not just about their past but their present, desires, and wishes for the future.
For those interested in further exploring this topic, we invite you to explore the Caring for Veterans Through the End of Life Collection,” crafted in collaboration with the PsychArmor Institute. These resources offer invaluable insights into providing specialized care through the end of life for Veterans. And, listen to this call recording and slides as we recently explored this topic on The Conversation Project’s community call.
Tips for Meaningful Conversations:
When having these conversations, take a look at resources to facilitate advance care planning, include chosen family and loved ones in discussions about what matters, and designating a trusted decision maker.
In addition to those topics, here are some specific tips to support conversations with Veterans:
- Ask about their relationship to their service. Learn whether or not their military experience is a part of their identity that they would like to share and focus on and honor their approach.
- Try asking: “Can you describe what your veteran status or military background means to you?” or “Is there something about your military background that you’d like me to know?”
- Express gratitude. Begin by acknowledging the dedication, commitment, and sacrifices made during their military service. Express gratitude for the sacrifices they made during their military service.
- “What specific aspects of your military service are you most proud of, and how can we acknowledge them in a way that resonates with you?”
- Incorporate military symbols for comfort. Embrace meaningful items such as medals, awards, certificates, photos, and mementos that hold special significance to the Veteran. If desired, incorporate these items into their environment to provide comfort and a sense of identity.
- “Could you share the significance of the military symbols or memorabilia that hold special meaning for you? How would you like us to incorporate these items into your environment?”
- Familiarize yourself with Veteran-friendly hospice and palliative care organizations. Ensure access to hospice and palliative care providers who understand Veterans’ unique needs and experiences. This specialized care ensures tailored support and respect for Veteran-centric end-of-life care. A great place to start is the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s We Honor Veterans website.
- “In your experience, what aspects of your military journey are essential for health care providers to understand?”
- Review military documents. The DD214 is a document issued by the U.S. Department of Defense that shows a person’s military service history. The DD214 includes information such as dates of service, training, and awards received. It’s an essential document that helps Veterans access various services and benefits after their military service is over The DD214 and other military documents contain essential information that can guide care and access to Veteran benefits. Ensure these documents are readily accessible and share relevant details with the health care decision-maker. For more information, see the The Planning Your Legacy: VA Survivors and Burial Benefits Kit.
- “Are there specific details within your military documents, like awards or commendations, that you would like us to highlight or include in your care planning? How can we ensure this information is shared in a way that feels meaningful to you?”
- Acknowledge emotional and mental health challenges. Given one’s military service and experiences, there may be emotional and mental health challenges to consider, including those related to trauma, depression, moral injury, and survivor guilt. Discuss ways in which support can be offered to manage emotional well-being.
- “How has your military service influenced your emotional well-being? What kinds of support or strategies have you found helpful, and how can we integrate them to manage emotional challenges should they arise?”
- Explore spiritual needs. Inquire about the Veteran’s spiritual beliefs and preferences. Ensure access to spiritual support and guidance if it aligns with their wishes, as spirituality can play a significant role in coping with challenges.
- “Could you share your spiritual beliefs and practices with us? How can we ensure that your spiritual needs are met as part of your care through the end of life in a way that aligns with your beliefs and preferences?”
- Provide or seek out education on benefits. Offer information about Veteran benefits, including burial and memorial options, to help them make informed decisions about their end-of-life plans.
- “What are your thoughts on your available Veteran benefits, and do you have any specific preferences or priorities regarding your end-of-life plans and benefits? How can we assist you in making informed decisions?”
- Foster camaraderie among fellow Veterans in the community. Encourage connections with other Veterans in the community. Building camaraderie with those who share similar experiences can be incredibly comforting during this time.
- “Are there particular Veteran groups or communities you want to connect with? How can we facilitate these connections to foster camaraderie and support among fellow Veterans?”
- Promote legacy projects. Suggest engaging in legacy projects, such as life reviews, oral histories, or creative expressions like art and writing, to preserve and share their military story. These projects can be therapeutic and provide a lasting legacy for future generations.
- “What are some of the most important aspects of your military story that you would like to preserve and share? How can we assist you in creating a meaningful legacy project, such as life reviews, oral histories, or creative expressions, to ensure your story can be shared with future generations?”
Let’s build bridges of understanding, one heartfelt conversation at a time.