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Operation Respect: A New Program for Veterans and Their Families
By Rafael Sciullo, MA, LCSW, MS

Pennsylvania has one of the highest populations of Veterans in the U.S. with 1.1 millions residents having served. Of that number, 25% call Western Pennsylvania home.

Family Hospice and Palliative Care is taking up the charge of responsibility to support Veterans and their loved ones by launching Operation Respect, a comprehensive hospice and palliative care program designed to meet the growing needs of these treasured families.

For a variety of reasons, the consensus among providers from both the Veterans Administration (VA) and hospice is that this population has been underserved at end of life. Strengthening the collaboration with the VA and educating ourselves about the prevalent physical, emotional and spiritual issues that Veterans and their families face has informed the design of a program that can respond effectively to the magnitude of the need.

Hospice's attention to the individual's body, mind and spirit encourages exploration of concerns that distinguish the needs of the Veteran with life-limiting illness from other patient populations. Factors affecting the Veteran's end of life journey include age, whether enlisted or drafted, branch of service, rank and combat or POW experience. Consequently, veterans and their caregivers may face an array of challenges – limited social and financial resources, a reluctance to admit pain, he tpossibility of complications with medications, post-traumatic stress disorder and newly recognized ailments that are combat or service related.

Operation Respect provides support from an interdisciplinary team of caring professionals including physicians, nurses, social workers, spiritual and bereavement counselors, and therapists certified in speech, art, music, pet and massage therapy. The team crafts a personalized plan of care that that considers the impact of military experience and enables Veterans and their caregivers to live fully each day with confidence, optimism and comfort.

Data indicates that 85% of Veterans do not receive care through the Veterans Administration (VA) system. Accordingly, one of the objectives of Operation Respect is to bridge the Veteran's care at end-of-life with the specialized resources, programs and entitlements available both nationally and locally through the VA, if desired by patient and family. These offerings include inpatient palliative care, in-home aide services and funeral/burial arrangements.

Camaraderie amongst Veterans is another component of the program's design. To be side by side with one who shares similarly powerful experiences is a significant comfort. Operation Respect trains those who have served in the armed forces as volunteers to companion with their fellow Veterans. This can open a window to an important kind of healing, a sharing of experiences that some Veterans have denied themselves for many years.

Likewise, Operation Respect affords Veterans and their families the opportunity to share and preserve the story of the Veteran's life and service in a DVD, audio recording or memory book. The process of assembling one's personal history can revive a sense of purpose and stimulate mentally and emotionally both the Veteran and those who love him.

Of all Americans who will pass away this year, more than one-quarter will be Veterans of our armed services. Furthermore, 39% of Veterans in this region are 65 and older, compared to 12% nationally. With so many Veterans aging, and with the United States actively involved in combat abroad, it is more crucial than ever that support be available to this population.

Family Hospice and Palliative Care is honored by our Veterans' service and by the opportunity to serve in return those who have given much on our behalf.

Rafael J. Sciullo, MA, LCSW, MS, is President and CEO of Family Hospice and Palliative Care. He may be reached at rsciullo@familyhospice.com or at (412) 572-8800

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