The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the United States established their hospice and palliative care initiative in 2001. Veterans have a broad range of unique medical needs. A rising number of veterans are reaching retirement age, which means that hospice care for veterans should be a top priority.
Hospice-Veteran Partnership Program for Hospice Care
One of the programs established by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ hospice and palliative care initiative is referred to as the Hospice-Veteran Partnership, implemented through the Honor Veterans Program. These HVP’s are coalitions of veteran service organizations, Department of Veterans Affairs’ facilities, community organizations, and WHP partners working to ensure that appropriate and supportive end of life care is available for veterans and their family members.
The partnerships are established statewide or on a community basis and can function within an existing structure or function independently. Veterans’ hospice issues frequently include services such as:
- Telephone check-in calls when it is appropriate
- Support with defining roles of care and decision-making processes
- Follow-up visits with the healthcare team
- Consultations of comfort care
- Consultations with specialists or primary care providers
- Care coordination and referrals that allow access to resources in the community.
Care Within the Standard Benefits Package
Palliative care is part of the VHA standard medical benefits package, which means that all veterans can receive this service if they meet the eligibility criteria. Hospice and long-term care under Veterans Affairs includes a broad range of services, such as support for managing an illness and assistance with everyday tasks. This can be provided for an extended period of time when a person is unable to do everyday tasks on their own. It can be provided in numerous settings, including in a patient’s home, residential settings, nursing homes, or community sites.
Home hospice care may be awarded to a veteran who has been enrolled in the program or was not required to have been enrolled, but was determined to be eligible for Veterans Administration Benefits. In the event that the veteran has been diagnosed with a life-limiting disease or illness, in which he or she is in the last phase of hospice, these services may be granted. Hospice services ultimately require that the patient, the family, and the physician acknowledge that the condition is life limiting and has a diagnosis and life expectancy of less than six months.
Comfort and Care Provided by Hospice
The core focus of hospice services is on comfort care rather than healing and treatment. Any curative treatments will be relinquished once hospice care starts. The VA will pay for all hospice services when a veteran qualifies. The services are available across numerous different facilities. It is a myth that hospice care can only be provided in a VA facility as it can be administered in assisted living facilities, private homes, nursing homes, and more. Accessing hospice services where a veteran qualifies does not impact a veteran’s eligibility for any VA benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled.
Understanding the rights and responsibilities of any patient considering going into a hospice is extremely important. The support provided by hospice can assist not only the patient, but also family members. Veterans in the United States make up approximately 25% of all deaths every single day. There are approximately 22 million veterans living in the United States right now. This means that a growing number of veterans and their family members have interest in hospice and should be kept informed about how the process works and what services are available to qualified veterans. It is not always easy for family members to make the decision that a loved one should receive hospice services, but with a life-limiting illness, hospice care may be the right choice, not just for the patient, but also for family members who need additional support as well.
Veterans Eligibility for Hospice
The VA determines eligibility for VA benefits through enrollment. Veterans must be enrolled in VA in order to get VA benefits. Certain services are covered by the VA hospice program including medical equipment and supplies associated with the illness, on-call support throughout the day seven days a week, medications associated with the illness, respite care for family when appropriate, grief support when sought out by the patient or his or her family prior to and after the patient’s passing and hospital care at VA facilities or community hospitals with approval of the hospice team for management of severe symptoms and pain. Hospice care is a compassionate hospice program for people who are facing life-limiting illnesses. It traditionally provides support for veterans’ family and friends.