Sen. John McCain’s death has been enlightening in many ways. The usual graciousness bestowed upon a veteran statesman and decorated military veteran has shared public discourse with those who have been, well, less intent on being gracious or respectful.
The education has continued with news outlets reviewing McCain’s often inspirational life.
Among the professionals seeking to make good out of McCain’s final days are hospice and end-of-life caregivers. They point out that long-term care operators have plenty to learn about taking care of veterans as they near death.
And many operators have veterans in their midst, the experts emphasize. This isn’t just about dedicated veterans facilities.
While all residents need special care, veterans often need a special brand, emphasizes Daniel Lubrecht, vice president of admissions for VITAS Healthcare, and someone who works closely with veterans in hospice.
Veterans often need an extra layer of support, he explained to me Wednesday. They frequently won’t identify themselves as having served in the military, either because of some struggles they’ve been through or simply due to a stoic upbringing.
But it’s important to identify the individuals, Lubrecht emphasizes. Many veterans have seen, experienced or perpetrated violent acts. Traumatic recollections and flashbacks can lead to hyper agitation and more aggressive reactions. Or, at the other end of the behavior scale, depression and withdrawal.
“Nightmares can be heightened more extensively in the veteran population because of their experiences,” Lubrecht pointed out, making a case for giving extra attention to this group. It’s important that a special “psycho-social” team, including nurses and chaplains among others, is there to listen to the veteran and formulate a care plan.
Veterans are not immune to the rising popularity of hospice, though too many people still do not take advantage of the services, insiders note. In 2000, Medicare spent $2.9 billion for hospice care. By 2016, the amount had climbed to $16.8 billion, which reflects an 11.6 percent compounded annual growth rate.
“It’s really important to support them as they live through these traumas, which are heightened at the end of life, as opposed to the traditional patient who doesn’t have those past experiences,” Lubrecht noted. “It’s coming to grips with everything, trying to find peace with what they’ve done or experienced. They’re looking for somebody to help take that journey with them, and be by their side, providing extra support. That’s were training and staff come in.”
Conditions can be the toughest with Vietnam vets, which McCain was. He was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese for five years. All vets from that era faced challenges, including returning home to under-impressed fellow citizens.
They came back to a country divided on the merits of the war. That’s why showing extreme gratitude as a veteran nears the end of life is a common aspect of hospice treatment. VITAS, for example, also arranges a lot of bedside salutes, replacement medals, pinning ceremonies, and help getting on honor flights. All are great strategies for former members of the military.
In the end, it’s about bringing light to everything veterans have done in their lives — and saying “thank you.” That’s one of the best caregiving strategies ever devised, no matter what one’s background is.
Follow Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.