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Care groups honor veterans with new initiative

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Military veterans, living in the Southern Crescent area with health challenges, are being recognized for their military service, through a local hospice's involvement in a national care program.

Sacred Journey Hospice, at 138 Peach Drive in McDonough, is partnering with the We Honor Veterans program, sponsored by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO).

"The oldest living World War I veteran just recently passed away," said Annette Rogers, volunteer coordinator at Sacred Journey. "Veterans from World War II, Vietnam, and Korea, are getting older, and are going to start needing more care. We're recognizing them in appreciation for their service to our country, when they come into our hospice service.

Twenty-eight veterans, ranging from World War II to the first Gulf War, are currently under the care of Sacred Journey, which opened in 2004. Most of those individuals, Rogers said, are being cared for in their homes, which cover a 10-county region, including Henry and Clayton counties.

Each veteran, she added, is given a flag pin, and a certificate of appreciation, upon entering the hospice facility.

"We just wanted to do something special for the veterans, to let them know they're appreciated," she said. "By being approved for the program, we also get patients referred to us by the Veterans Administration (VA)."

Emil Zuberbueler, is director of the NHPCO's National Veterans Program. It is in its third year of a contract with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sacred Journey, he said, earned Level One partner status with his organization, by providing veteran-centric education for staff and volunteers, and identifying patients with military experience.

"Hospice professionals across the country focus on a single purpose -- to provide comfort and support at the end of life," Zuberbueler said. "That's why America's hospice professionals are on a mission to learn how to serve veterans through the challenges they may be facing from illness, isolation, or traumatic life experience.

"While our mission may be straightforward, fulfilling it is anything but simple, as each patient has a unique life story, and a unique set of needs," Zuberbueler continued. "And when it comes to the needs of America's veterans, if we are unprepared, our mission can be challenged, or even made impossible."

NHPCO President J. Donald Schumacher, said although all hospices serve veterans, their staffs are often unaware of a particular patient's service in the Armed Forces.

"Through We Honor Veterans, we are taking a giant step forward in helping hospice and palliative care providers understand, and serve, veterans at the end of life, and work more effectively with VA medical facilities in their communities," Schumacher said. "VA shares a common goal with our nation's hospices, and that is to provide the best possible care specifically tailored for veterans, meeting their goals of care in their preferred setting."

Homer Wilkerson, of McDonough, is a U.S. Navy veteran, who was recently recognized at Sacred Journey for his military service. Wilkerson, who worked in crash-fire rescue for the Navy from 1951, to 1955, said he was not expecting to receive a pin or certificate from hospice workers.

"They caught me by surprise when they brought it to me," said Wilkerson, 80. "It was really a shock to me."

Wilkerson, who worked for 35 years at Sears-Roebuck after his stint in the Navy, said he is grateful for Sacred Journey's commitment to honoring the military. "I'm sure the veterans will appreciate it, like myself."