Hospice’s ‘We Honor Veterans’ Program

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I love doing the elder law report and I was looking at the blogs and we’ve done around 72 shows, somewhere around there, but today’s is especially close to my heart because we are focusing on the Hospice ‘We Honor Veterans’ program. I talked with the Reverend Doctor Terry Floyd and he is a Hospice Veterans Coordinator and Chaplain at Hospice Cleveland County. Terry has been a chaplain at Hospice Cleveland County for 9 years now. We talked about the chaplain services that Hospice provides, and about upcoming events and other things you can participate in that may be very special and relevant to your experience. So without further ado let’s get started.

Life is special, everybody above ground reading this, celebrate your life today because that’s what we’re going to talk about.

So Reverend Rick you’ve been a pastor for 12 years at the same church, and then 9 years with Hospice and now you’ve taken on a new role with the ‘We Honor Veterans’ program.

That’s right, and I’m very excited about the We Honor Veterans program, it gives us a chance to serve our veterans and tell them one last time how much we care, and not only tell them but show them how much we care.

Not just lip service but back that up with actions.

Every soldier has a face, a name, a unique experience, they have had triumphs and victories during their service to our great country and so it gives us the opportunity to serve them as we entrusted them to take care of us, now we want them to trust us and take care of them.

So let’s talk about your general chaplain duties. They’re different from the veterans role you’ve taken on now in addition to your chaplain duties, but you’ve been doing this chaplain thing with Hospice for 9 years and to me that is amazing because this has to wear on you. Hospice is taking care of patients in home, who are not always in the best physical condition and you’re coming in to offer comfort, solace, spiritual relief, not just to the patient but the family as well.

In my experience dealing with Hospice workers who are all amazing, they are ministering and caring as much for the family as they are for the patient who’s getting treatment, and you are probably no different.

Yes and I would add that we go into the home and also into facilities in the counties we serve. We serve Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln Counties and we go in and serve the patients and the families, and you know the question is asked many times, do we serve the patient more or the family, and I think we serve them both really. Depending on the family they may have a different need, what we need to give them so we meet them where they are. We always say they are the captain of the ship.

First, talking about it wearing on you, you’ve been there 9 years, so as an attorney let me relate it to what I know. I have worked as what I like to call a ‘door lawyer’ for a long time before I was an elder lawyer. I dealt with criminal law, civil suites, divorces tearing families apart, using my talents in ways that I was not always proud of, and at the end of the day it was very stressful for me and wore on me. That compiled day after day, year after year and that’s why a lot of times trial attorneys will check out early. They have really high rates of suicide, substance abuse and early death because it’s a stressful job. I had to develop ways to cope, luckily I had a great church family, I have a great wife who supports me and loves me, and I had a reason to really work hard everyday and show up, which was our children.

When I first became an attorney we had 2 children and now 6, so daddies got a reason to go to work. And I’ve whined and complained and moaned and my wife is the kind who is going to tell me to pick myself up by the bootstraps and get out to work. And she should, I need that support. In elder law it’s a little bit different. It’s a feel good area of law for me because I help people and it’s a win-win for the families, which I love about it but it took me a long time to find my way to that path. I had to develop coping mechanisms to deal with my job everyday. I would imagine it is sometimes overwhelming the job you do day in day out with patients?

You’re right, I deal with grief, death and dying everyday, and it’s hard seeing people die, it’s even harder for me to see the heartbroken families. I try to care for that by realizing that God has called me to this vocation, and I call it the sticking stuff and if it wasn’t for that simple element, there have probably been days when I walked away that I would not want to come back. But I love what I do because I don’t see it as a job, I see it as a ministry, and so to make sure I take care of myself and my co-workers and staff because I’m not only charged with the responsibility of taking care of families and patients but also the staff of Hospice Cleveland County. So one of the things I try to do is, I know my day ends mentally when I get into my truck, and my truck is a little loud, I’ve been told it roars the seat of the secretary when I pull into the driveway. So when ever I start the truck up I know my day has ended there and I’m going home.

When I first started Hospice it wasn’t that way. I couldn’t sleep for three weeks because I would see dead faces, and eventually over time that went away. My supervisor she has a coping mechanism, I love it, she says, when I walk in the door and place my keys in a bowl and hear them ringing, then I become a mother and a wife and I separate myself, so we do have to have boundaries so that we don’t burn out but going back to the divine appointment of vocational calling is what my main thrust of moving on is all about.

When you say ‘calling’ that really resonates with me. I feel like what I do is also a calling. I can look back on my life and see everything that lead me to the point I’m at now, so I think that’s great to have a calling, that’s what we all need. What you do is amazing, so how do you offer chaplain services to Hospice patients and families, you go in home right, and how do you make that initial contact with the family?

Well, we always call before we go out, and so when we have permission to go out and visit we walk in, and when I first came to work for Hospice one of the questions during my interview was, ‘what will you do with a family when you first meet them?’

My answer was simple, develop a relationship. So when I walk in I am invited in to holy ground into their home so I tread very carefully and delicately to develop a relationship with folks. And I know this may not make sense to a lot of folks but it’s kind of like going to a mechanic when you pull your car up and a mechanic can listen to what’s going on with that motor and determine a diagnosis of what is going on.

I know some of our patients live long enough we discharge them from our care but also there are some who are not going to be with us long. I don’t have a lot of time in cases so I have to expedite the development of a relationship with these folks and I do that by listening to what I’m saying and I look around their wall to see if they have any religious artifacts sitting around, valuables, if they do if they don’t, I listen to what they are saying, what they’re talking about, where they have no peace, where they have concerns, if they have ambivalence with family. We can’t fix every family but we do our best to pull families together and pull pastors in, and our pastors are great in the community about servicing their people, but to pull everyone together so the person when it comes time to take their last breath, that they have as peaceful and good a death as they can have.

I know it’s strange for us to say, well to have a good death, and that’s hard to talk about but there are deaths that are not so good, but I would have to say that in my time with Hospice I’ve only been around one situation that it was just a different spirit in the room is the best way I can describe it, and it was scary. So, but our nurses do a great job of pain management, they are experts at what they do. Our social workers are fantastic and they’re reaching out, getting to know the patient and with veterans they also do their military checklist to know that veteran. Our grief councilors, cna’s, I’ll tell you our patients love our nurses and cna’s, they’re the ones who keep them out of pain and clean but also new studies are out now that say one of the major concerns at the end of life now is the psychological and spiritual aspects, so we try to offer a balance of taking care of the physical and spiritual and psychosocial of our patients and family.

So sometimes you go in and would you see who needs your services the most, is it the patient or the family members?

Well the patient in most cases has already dealt with their illness and what they are going through and are more realistic than the family, and so depending upon the family, I would say the family mostly but then again if you have a patient who, I had a patient once who cried every time I walked in the door. I felt so bad because the chaplain represents death or dying. When I make a telephone call to follow up with the care giver, first thing I’ve learned to say is everything is okay because they’re going, what’s wrong with mom or what’s wrong with dad, so I try to be very careful in that area.

I bet you have experienced tons of different stories and situations over the last 9 years, are there any without naming names or anything, are there any you could share with us today?

Well, I’ll start off with one, it’s the first one that comes to mind. I met this lady and her family, they didn’t live in the best of conditions but they were the most precious family I ever met. She was lying crossways on her hospital bed. Her pain was controlled but if she moved a lot she was in pain. She invited me to sit on her hospital bed and lean back on a ton of pillows and we sat there or lay there for quite some time just talking, good old down to earth folks and that’s what I am, just an old country boy and we lay there and talked. So I got a call back the next day and went out there and she was actively dying, and on the bed where she was dying she called myself and her husband. She had talked previously about her husband being the close kind gentleman she ever met and how good he was to her, and she proceeded to tell her husband, I want you to meet the chaplain, he’s just like you are, he’s one of the most kind and gentle man I’ve ever known in my life next to you. And I just thought someone lying on their death bed fixing to take their last breath and she died within 4 hours that day, and thought that much of somebody like me. That’s one story that comes to mind.

I just debated telling this one or not, but we had a family who was just great. When I first met him he had a problem with his lip and he slobbered really badly and when I first met him and talked to him about the second or third visit he wanted to make things right with his God and he did and we prayed. But I got to learn that this family loved to talk about flagellation, and his days in high school and it’s okay to laugh, I need some support here. So he liked to talk about that.

Who doesn’t like to talk about that come on, I started that in kindergarten and never stopped.

So anyways it brought them comfort and joy his times in high school and his home, and his mother was a caregiver and would talk about how really bad it was at times, they would laugh until they cried. I was reminded of a country song that says we laughed until we cried. And every time I left that day the social worker and I and the nurse sometimes, we would just shake our heads and laugh about this patient who was dying. He was with us for about a year and a half but he loved to talk about this issue and it brought them so much comfort so we met them where they were.

I’ll share one more to bring it back down a little bit. We had a veteran under our care, passed away not to long ago, and as I walked in he shared with me how Hospice Cleveland County had showed him more respect than anyone over the years for his service to our country. We took him a wreath, a red, white and blue wreath that one of our volunteers makes. We talked and made a connection. We talked about his service, he was a man of faith and here he was in a wheelchair and I started out the door after we had prayed and he saluted me, and myself being a former soldier, I snapped to attention and saluted him. I walked out with tears in my eyes that someone who was on their last leg of this life would salute me and it just brought a camaraderie between the two of us that he started requesting me to come out and visit with him almost every other day. That’s a story that will hold dear in my heart and burn in my mind until the day I’m gone.

That’s a great story, all those are great stories including the funny story right, but in that grim situation, if the family accompanied by the chaplain who is bringing spiritual services there and talking about those issues with the family and peace can also have some comedy, some levity in their lives to cut through, that’s great.

You talked about meeting the family where they are, if the family deals with issues like that by joking, you can go down that path too, you’re a jokester and if they want to be serious you can accommodate that too. You’re very used to rolling with or fitting in situations like that, especially going in to those stressful and intense situations, you’ve got to be.

So yes, let’s talk about the new role, the ‘We Honor Veterans’ program, because that’s where we ended with a veterans story where you took a patriotic wreath out there. It sounds like you’re really making sure those veterans are honored as they might not get that full honor, or feel that from the rest of the citizens, community and family throughout their life, you make sure they feel that when Hospice is involved. Tell me about that, what is the veterans program and does that work differ from your regular chaplain duties?

I think it was about 2010 the national Hospice of Palative care organization started this program ‘We Honor Veterans.’ It’s simply a way to say thank you and let our veterans know they were and are appreciated in this life and when I took on this role I’ve learned that one out of every four deaths is a veteran, so 25% of our 2.4 million deaths each year is a veteran. So we have 680’000 veterans a year who die and so puts us about 1800 a day passing away and leaving us, so those are strong statistics that we deal with and only 33% of our veterans are enrolled in the service which means 67% have a lot of benefits that they may qualify for, such as we talked about before, ‘Aid and Attendance’, or Funeral Rites and Rituals or Grave Markers and things of that nature. They also qualify for back pay and pension but it all depends on the veteran, what war they served in and what era. If it was service connected or not service connected and by those terms I mean by service connected, if their disability or illness was a result of being in the armed force or been in war or something. Non connected means it wasn’t.

We had a patient the other day, our social workers really do a great job to try to get all the help they can for our veterans and families, we found out that one guy was receiving Aid and Attendance but couldn’t receive anymore because his illness was not service connected. So we had done all we could but the Veterans Administration was helping them greatly and I’ve met with Debra Kahn at the VA here on Marion Street in Shelby several times, and they’re there to serve our veterans, and that’s our main resource. If our social workers don’t know, they go there or to an elder lawyer such as yourself.

Debra does a great job helping veterans in Cleveland County, and every county out there will have a representative I believe in their county or should, where veterans and their families can check about benefit programs, things of that nature.

You were speaking about veterans Aid and Attendance. In truth, Aid and Attendance is a life long benefit that if you qualify in a health care crisis, you get paid a check that can be used to pay for in-home care, assisted living care, nursing care, adult day care or any service like that, and for two married veterans it’s up to about $2750 a month, or for a single veteran or if only one of a couple is a veteran it would be $1788 a month for the veteran, and it goes down from there. The spouse of a veteran can qualify, the spouse of a deceased veteran can qualify so that’s a really nice benefit and it’s not advertised because the VA doesn’t have enough resources to get it out there.

And there are so many benefits and what blows my mind is 67% of our veterans are not enrolled or signed up, they may not even know. We had a patient who came under our care a couple of weeks ago and they were veterans and we asked well have you applied, no, why not, and they just didn’t know.

I’ve had people sit down with me in my office and I’ve had to convince them that veterans Aid and Attendance benefits are a good thing and a real thing. They don’t believe it, they’re like, is that benefit really available, can I be eligible for it. What I do is, I’ll pull up somebody off the news, you know there is a 5 minute news piece that CBS news or one of the big news organizations did years back, and I’ll show them in my conference room and say, here I‘ll let these guys tell you about it, and they’re like wow, that’s a real benefit. Yes it is but Debra Kahn and the VA doesn’t have the resources to really broadcast that information throughout the counties and to everyone. That’s one reason I do radio shows like this and events, even speaking to Hospice who’ll listen about everything that veterans could be eligible for, or seniors could be eligible for.

That’s one thing that we’re trying to do is also educate our patients who come under our care and the community. I’d say that taking on the new role in the ‘We Honor Veterans’ program at Hospice Cleveland County that I’ve had the opportunity to meet some great people with the VSO’s which are the Veterans service Organizations, such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, I’ve been involved down at the Post 4066 in Shelby and they are just great people willing to help Hospice Cleveland County in any way we can to reach out to the veterans and to make sure they are getting what they need. We are currently working on getting together a veteran to veteran interest group so that we have our volunteer veteran’s going out to visit our veteran patients who all have unique needs, which we talked about earlier in the program. So I’ve had the opportunity to meet some great people and everywhere I go it’s appreciated, so I don’t think you can go wrong talking about veterans.

You know, we want to help all our seniors but you are taking on this role, We Honor Veterans program and implementing that through Hospice. Do other Hospice’s out there in the other counties of North Carolina, do they have a We Honor Veterans program?

They do, not all Hospices have done that. The statistics I saw a little over 100’000 Hospice’s have participated in this but not only Hospice but the funeral services in the Gaston area is actually a level 4 We Honor Veterans. When I came into this we were at a level 1 and I turned in the paperwork two weeks ago for our level 2, so we’re on our level 3 now. What that simply means is, there is some guide lines set up in place that allows Hospice’s and other organizations who become involved in this to stay focused on our veterans and to learn more about the veterans and to do more. For example, I have in obtaining a different level I need to do so many presentations within our staff, within the community, within VSO organizations, I need to stay in contact with our local VA, state Hospice, so there is a lot of footwork in getting out and doing these things to earn the levels. It’s not all about earning a level it’s about caring for our veterans and making sure they get what they need and the honor and respect they deserve so greatly.

You know there may be people out there right now reading this who are wondering how they can get in touch with you, how can I have this gentleman or this program come out and minister to my veteran, the veteran in my life, one who may be suffering from illness right now, who needs to be honored, who needs to be cared for right now, how can someone get in touch with you and your team?

They can just call Hospice Cleveland County at 704-487-4677 and our receptionist will put in touch the person you need to speak with.

Do you have any up coming events?

Yes we do we have a veteran to veteran interest group coming up that’s going to be held on May 24th that’s a Tuesday, we have two separate times, a 10am and 5.30pm and we do this so it’s convenient to working folks but this is a veteran for volunteers, it is specifically for veterans who want to volunteer for veterans because a veteran can have something in common with another veteran and we have already seen a good response from some men and women who are going to be involved in this.

I’d love to see tons of veterans participate in this and other events you have coming up. I really appreciate you talking with me, just digging deep and talking about the seriousness of what you do, and the awesomeness of what you do, and what Hospice does honoring veterans and helping seniors and their families as they go through a healthcare crisis.

I’m the elder law guy, Greg McIntyre of McIntyre Elder Law. If you need to contact me my number is 704-259-7040.

Call me if you have any questions:

Greg McIntyreGreg_Full
Elder Law Attorney
McIntyre Elder Law
123 W. Marion Street

Shelby, NC 28150

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