Veterans, families, and end of life

About 25% of all Americans who are dying are veterans. Yet only 4% of dying veterans die within the Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare Network; most veterans are cared for by hospice and healthcare professionals in the community.

Veterans share a unique culture. However, veterans from different wars might have had different experiences in battle or upon returning home, and these experiences might greatly impact end-of-life care.

The concept of stoicism is taught to soldiers for a valuable reason: it is essential on the battlefield. But when a veteran is facing illness and death, being "strong" and not allowing oneself to experience pain can sometimes interfere with peaceful dying or effective bereavement.

Some veterans who served in a dangerous duty assignment might have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If PTSD surfaces at the end of life, counselors should be contacted to respond to the veteran's needs.

Many hospices use veterans and their family members as hospice volunteers. Pairing a veteran volunteer with a dying veteran patient often results in a strong, mutual camaraderie; veterans and their families have a strong sense of unity toward each other.

Hospices and other organizations can find ways to thank veterans for serving their country, as well as thanking family members who are often the "unsung heroes." Certificates of gratitude or an American Flag pin are simple yet meaningful ways to demonstrate that their service and sacrifice are valued.

Some veterans have seen, or feel they have caused, trauma that still troubles them. Hospice professionals can appropriately explore a possible need for forgiveness, which might facilitate inner peace.