Caring for Aging Veterans

On this Memorial Day our focus shifts to the freedoms that we enjoy and the men and women we have to thank for their service. We take time to remember with gratitude those who have passed on and sacrificed their lives. As we consider how we serve those who have served us, it is crucial that we remember our veterans in life as well as in death. When we look at the care of aging veterans, there are core similarities to caring for all aging adults; however there are some distinct components to care that Care Managers are particularly focused on when crafting a plan of care and network of support around an aging veteran. Here are ten important components to care:

1. Show Respect: Each individual person deserves the utmost respect simply because they are a human being. The tricky thing is that each individual person has their own language for giving and receiving respect. Building affirmations and greetings of respect into dialogue conveys an acknowledgement of the person. Even simply asking how they prefer to be addressed is a crucial first step.  

2. Give Choices: Particularly with individuals who held high rank, veterans are not accustom to taking orders from just anyone. As much as possible, allow the aging adult to be in the driver’s seat of what happens to them throughout the day. Make to-dos on the care plan, such as meals and activities have options to choose from. Support their independence as much as possible.

3. Engage in Activities: Keeping the mind and body active is an important component to aging well. When either have suffered a trauma, it can be easy to let them atrophy over time. All human beings need to be connected to a purpose. It is crucial to engage in veterans in appropriate activities that bring meaning and a sense of purpose to their life.

4. Planning the Day: Having a mission or a plan for each day can be extremely helpful for maintaining a sense of rhythm and schedule to the day. Many have lived large portions of their lives in regimented and disciplined ways. Offering a continuation of this by planning out the day together can offer a sense of peace and purpose.

5. Outlet for Stories: One of the Care Managers at Sound Options says, “I’ll never forget coming to this one particular client of mine. He would tell me stories of how he was on the USS Missouri during the war and was on board when it was attacked. He enjoyed showing me pictures and thumbing through the memories. He still remembered the first time he went through the Panama Canal. He said the ship barely fit and he could hear scrapes from the side of the ship.” Stories like this one provide a link to their lives and help define who they are. It is crucial for care team members to take the time to listen and create opportunities for veterans to share their stories with one another in a communal and safe place.

6. Community: Belonging to a group of people is another important part of military life and as veterans age it is important that they are able to build new community and friendship around them to share in activities and watch out for one another. Isolation can be a drain to health and well-being.

7. Giving Back: Veterans have given a portion of their lives in service to others and it is important to continue to foster opportunities to give back to others. While it may seem counter-intuitive, finding ways for veterans to volunteer and give something to others can boost self-esteem, well-being, and connection and help them to live outside of their own circumstances for a moment.  

8. Pay Close Attention: Changes in behavior or other symptoms can be signals of a larger issue. They may be less likely to report a decline in condition or a particular pain and choose to deal with it privately. It is also important to monitor veterans for reoccurrence of PTSD. Careful and compassionate attention can allow for proactive changes in care that can help prevent larger suffering later on.  

9. Focus on Abilities: There is a great deal of focus on the disabilities of veterans from filing for benefits to arranging for services and care. It is important for members of any care team to focus on what the individual can do and is still good at and not just give all the attention to what they cannot do.

10. VA Benefits: When it comes to getting the correct benefits for a veteran and/or their spouse it can be crucial to have an advocate on your side. Care Managers do the important work of helping veterans and their families work with the VA to get access to military clinics, aide and attendance, as well as identify unapparent benefits they are eligible for.

For aging veterans, Memorial Day can be filled with many memories of colleagues and friends lost both long ago and recently. It is crucial to create time and space in the day for them to remember those fallen heroes and be remembered. As is tradition, at 3PM local time on May 26th there is a National Moment of Remembrance and a moment of silence in commemoration of America’s fallen heroes and their family.  If you know a veteran who is in need of an advocate, a Care Manager can be a crucial ally. Give us a call to consult today at 800.628.7649.  

For more information on veteran's benefits visit the WA State Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Published on May 23, 2014.