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Hospice of Southwest Iowa shares its expertise on vets, volunteers in new manual

Hospice of Southwest Iowa shares its expertise on vets, volunteers in new manual

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COUNCIL BLUFFS — Hospice of Southwest Iowa has been honored for its efforts to honor veterans at the end of their lives. Now the agency is offering resources to other hospices that want to follow suit.

The hospice's veteran-to-veteran volunteer training manual has been approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs to be used nationwide by hospices with similar programs, said volunteer coordinator Erika Sayles.

Sayles and the hospice have been leaders in promoting the We Honor Veterans program in Iowa.

As part of the program, the hospice offers veterans a pinning ceremony to honor them for their service, Sayles said. “Most of them accept.”

“We try to make it a big event with their family and the volunteers,” she said. “At the ceremony, we thank them for their service, we give them a pin that shows our partnership with the VA and a certificate of appreciation. We pin not only our patient but any of their family members who served.”

We Honor Veterans is a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, in collaboration with the VA.

We Honor Veterans was introduced in 2010, and Hospice of Southwest Iowa joined in May 2011. In February 2012, the hospice became the first in Iowa to reach Level Four — the highest designation.

The ratings are based on 57 measures of staff education and progress, community education, policies and procedures and VA partnerships, said Stacy Schultz, community development coordinator at the hospice.

A grant through the national Rural Health Care Initiative helped the hospice implement a veteran-to-veteran volunteer program and achieve the Level Four designation, she said.

“Every veteran is offered a veteran volunteer,” Sayles said. “We feel that vets are more likely to open up and talk to other vets. The volunteers, their role really just depends on what the family and patient need.”

Volunteers make regular visits to see the veterans, Sayles said. The volunteer can provide companionship, read to the patient, talk about their own experiences, or provide transportation, she said.

“If they want to document their military experience in writing, the volunteer is there to do that,” Sayles said.

In developing the veteran-to-veteran volunteer training manual, Sayles started with the manual the hospice uses for all of its volunteers “and added everything veteran-specific I know,” she said.

She incorporated material donated by national speaker and author Deborah Grassman and by Tray Wade of Hospice of Central Iowa. Grassman, a hospice nurse at a VA hospital for 26 years and director of the hospice program at the VA Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., for 15 years, is the author of “Peace at Last: Stories of Hope and Healing for Veterans and Their Families,” published in 2009 by Vandamere Press.

“All of our volunteers have been trained on veterans' end-of-life needs,” Sayles said.

That's 51 people, including the volunteers who are not veterans, she said.

The hospice is making its training manual available to other hospices in Iowa, and it is posted on the We Honor Veterans website, wehonorveterans.org.

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