With the creation of Elk County's veterans' task force only a few months old, county commissioners heard about another program Tuesday morning during a bimonthly board meeting.
Karen Leithner, hospice manager for Community Nurses, Inc. based out of St. Marys, informed commissioners Tuesday of a new initiative, "We Honor Veterans."
According to the group's website, hospice professionals across the country focus on a single purpose: to provide comfort and support at the end of life. With that purpose in mind, the nation's hospice professionals are on a mission to learn how to better serve veterans through the challenges they may be facing from illness, isolation or traumatic life experience.
"I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a Rides4Vets committee meeting and that was really wonderful," Leithner said. "That encouraged me even more to continue with what we're trying to do with our initiative."
The We Honor Veterans program is a collaborative effort between the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization [NHPCO] and the Department of Veterans Affairs [VA].
"The reason this was developed is because it was found that there are still a lot of veterans out there-- currently there are about 22 million veterans in our nation, but only about 8 million currently enrolled in the federal programs-- of that 8 million, there is about 3 million that live in rural areas like ours," Leithner said. "There is a lot going on where we're not finding these veterans and we're unable to address the special needs that they have.
"This whole partnership is to find these veterans and continue to honor them."
According to their website, We Honor Veterans provides educational tools and resources in advancing several goals, including promoting veteran-centric educational activities, increasing organizational capacity to serve veterans, supporting the development of strategic partnerships and increasing access and improving quality.
"Part of what we do is address the healthcare issues because they have different things-- the different wars have caused certain health issues and we want to help address those," Leithner said. "We ourselves want to learn about the benefits that veterans have so that when we find them, we can continue to educate them and make that connection with the VA.
"We're finding various reasons as to why some folks aren't enrolling in federal programs-- either they're having difficulties, giving up or someone wasn't helping them through the process."
She said the biggest challenge with veterans living in rural areas is that they do not always live near VA healthcare facilities; therefore, many veterans often cannot get to a doctor or healthcare facility, thus preventing them from obtaining necessary treatment. Some rural veterans need help with scheduling doctor visits, scheduling medical tests and receiving medication from their local drugstore.
"In this We Honor Veterans initiative, there are different levels that we can work at, and part of it is educating our agency, or staff on the veterans administration and the benefits, and something we initiated was actually through our patient service- our social worker would ask them if they are a veteran," Leithner said. "That is the first identification that we make with them, then we proceed with additional information-- whether they're in a home, are they enrolled in the programs, do they want to, and so forth.
"Those are really the first steps and we're also educating ourselves about what these service members have experienced so that we're better educated on how to treat them."