Leslie Schaeffer, Manager of Support Services with Bethesda Hospice Care, recalls the stoic, tough-as-nails, WW II U.S. Army medic in her support group who suddenly opened up about his combat experience after four years of silence.
The conversation, during which the Veteran revealed the trauma of watching his best friend dying next to him in combat, occurred during one of her monthly group sessions held at multiple Bethesda communities.
These support sessions are just one of many programs that allowed Bethesda Hospice Care to achieve Level 5 of the “We Honor Veterans” program through the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association (NHPCA).
According to the NHPCA, organizations that achieve Level 5 represent the pinnacle of understanding, training, and experience in dealing with the unique needs of aging Veterans. At Bethesda, Leslie led the effort in receiving the Level 5 designation. “It is important to focus on the needs of our Veterans,” she says. “We want them to receive the attention and support they deserve.”
Clearly it worked. With Leslie’s leadership, Bethesda Hospice Care became the first program in Missouri and Illinois to achieve Level 5 status, and as of February 2020 is still the only Hospice program in the St. Louis area to do so.
How Bethesda Helps Veterans
Bethesda Hospice Care’s success in this area is in part due to Leslie and her staff’s commitment to identifying the needs of specific Veterans. For example, WWII veterans received a warm welcome home at the end of the war, yet Vietnam veterans often were greeted with far different responses when they reached stateside. “Vietnam veterans sometimes had to change out of their uniforms before making the final leg of the journey home to avoid protestors,” she says.
All Veterans living at a Bethesda community have access to assistance and support. Leslie and her staff work with them to meet their needs and assist them in discovering their access to veteran benefits, a process which can be exceedingly complex.
Organizations cannot achieve Level 5 status, however, without addressing a number of programming criteria that display a deep commitment and understanding of the needs of the Veteran resident and their family. One program that expresses this extremely well is a special observance called the Veteran Escort Ceremony. Upon their passing, the Veteran’s body is covered in an American flag, and an announcement is made that a procession will begin. Family members, residents, and staff line the hallways and salute the passing of the body. Family members may walk beside their Veteran as they are transported. “The families tell us they are so grateful for the way we pay tribute to their loved one,” Leslie says. (click here to view ceremony)
“Welcome Home” – Vietnam Veterans Day Celebration
At 1 p.m., Sunday, March 29, a celebration and complimentary luncheon program to honor and thank up to 110 Vietnam veterans (the number includes one guest per veteran) will be observed. The celebration will be held at the Richmond Heights Community Center. To be eligible, veterans must have served in the Vietnam War between November 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975. A RSVP is required as seating is limited. To make a reservation, call Leslie Schaeffer at (314) 373-7025.
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