Oklahoma City’s Crossroads Hospice meets the needs of dying veterans through their unique veterans program. 

click to enlarge Crossroads Hospice’s LaBerta Baker, Sarah Cooley and Craig Thomas work to improve care available to dying veterans and their family caregivers. | Photo Laura Eastes
  • Crossroads Hospice’s LaBerta Baker, Sarah Cooley and Craig Thomas work to improve care available to dying veterans and their family caregivers. | Photo Laura Eastes

Oklahoma City’s Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care has long been known for providing quality care for people coping with life-limiting illness. For the veterans who come into their care, hospice staff is focused on not only quality end-of-life care but also compassionate listening and grateful acknowledgment of their service.

“We try to serve soldiers the best way we know how,” said Craig Thomas, a U.S. military chaplain who serves as a chaplain at Crossroads Hospice. “I can identify with their needs and their struggles in the last stages of their life. I let them know I am a solider just like them. They are not alone as they go through this journey in life.”

Military experiences often change veterans in ways that shape and mold their lives and the end of their lives. For veterans, especially those who served during wartime, the moral burden of participating in war can cause immense spiritual pain. Chaplains and veterans become instruments of peace to help veterans heal in their last stage of life.

“They start sharing stories that they haven’t shared with anyone for several years,” Thomas said. “The emotional part comes out.”

In 2010, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs, launched We Honor Veterans, a unique program for hospice and palliative care professionals providing resources and tools for serving end-of-life veterans. As a We Honor Veterans participant, Crossroads Hospice serves veterans through its veteran-to-veteran volunteer program, an annual veterans recognition program, and the work of a military chaplain.

Local veterans and military members volunteer to visit patients and their families in the home, assisted living facilities and nursing facilities. During these visits, the volunteer might read, play music or cards, share a conversation or simply hold their hand so a patient is not alone.

“We like to match veterans with veterans or active military because that gives them something in common, something to talk about,” said Sarah Cooley, volunteer coordinator. “A lot of the community we are serving right now is World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans.”

Veterans often find it easier to communicate with a fellow veteran, Cooley explained. The feedback she hears from volunteers is also positive. Many have described their experience as an honor and privilege.

“Even for me, I got to hear from one of our patients who had been in World War II,” Cooley said. “I remember learning about Gen, [George] Patton, but this man knew him. For my generation, that is our history, but these men lived it. I think it is a deep, special bond and a relationship that is created when you volunteer.”

Last week, Crossroads Hospice conducted a handful of Veterans Recognition Programs at various locations as the nation observed Veterans Day. During the ceremony that included the playing of “Taps,” all veterans were honored with certificates of appreciation. Military spouses were also recognized.

“The veterans recognition to me is a solemn occasion,” Thomas said. “Many of these former veterans were never really acknowledged when they came back, especially those from ’Nam and even some of the current veterans. Some of them don’t feel appreciated. Some of them have repressed a lot of their anxieties concerning those engagements that they were in. Providing veterans recognition is a way to say, ‘You are still very valuable people.’” Contact Sarah Cooley, volunteer manager, at 405-632-9631 or sarah.cooley@crossroadshospice.com.

Print headline: Vet-to-vet; Oklahoma City’s Crossroads Hospice meets the needs of dying veterans through their unique veterans program

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