Past, Present, Future: Honoring Our Military Every Day
This May is National Military Appreciation Month (NMAM), a declaration that honors the current and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The entire month is devoted to six national observances highlighting the contributions of those who have served, ranging from Loyalty Day to Armed Forces Day to Memorial Day. So many of our aging population are now in hospice care in Santa Clara and elsewhere. It can be easy to forget their service and devotion to this country while helping them with end of life care, but it’s just as crucial now to recognize that service as when they were younger.
According to Pew Research, there were more than 20 million U.S. veterans in 2016, representing less than 10 percent of the total U.S. adult population. Americans over the age of 65 are becoming an increasingly larger portion of the country’s total population — projected to grow from 43 million to 83 million by 2050. As such, our country’s need for quality end-of-life care for veterans is on the rise. Throughout their many years of service, however, the demand of military life indeed takes its toll, resulting in physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health challenges that become even more evident as they approach the end of their lives.
Health Challenges for Veterans
The wounds of war extend far beyond the battlefield, often showing up in physical and psychological conditions upon return, which is why this population requires unique health care needs that must be addressed — even in hospice. There are several health concerns facing our veterans today, including:
- Mental health issues: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is certainly common among vets, but there are many other mental issues that go largely unnoticed, such as depression, violent behavior, and alcohol abuse.
- Survivor’s Guilt: In combat, soldiers must often take drastic action to ensure their own survival. They may also witness the death of friends and fellow service members. This can manifest in survivor’s guilt.
- Infectious disease: While military personnel are given vaccinations before going off to war, veterans can get infections that civilians simply don’t, and for which vaccines are not available. For example, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers vaccines for common bacterial infections.
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): A blow to the head can damage the brain, particularly with blast exposures and other combat-related activities. This puts vets at an increased risk of developing several long-term health problems like aggression, dementia, memory loss, depression, and Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Other common effects of TBI include headaches, lack of motivation, short attention spans, inability to process information, irritability, and depression.
- Hearing loss: Hearing loss and impairment can result from loud engine rooms, gunfire, weapons, and aircraft. Those who frequently work with machinery can get vibration exposure, resulting in chronic lower back pain or numbness in the extremities.
- Presumptive Diseases: According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, presumptive diseases are those resulting from exposure to chemicals such as Agent Orange and other herbicides. Anything from prostate and respiratory cancer to hyperthyroidism and Parkinson’s disease can result.
- Musculoskeletal injuries and pain: Veterans often have chronic pain in their shoulders, backs, necks, and knees.
- Chronic Pain: By the time veterans hit their elder years, their long history of severe musculoskeletal pain in the back and joints worsens. Studies show that those with a history of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) have more chronic pain than those who don’t suffer from the aforementioned conditions.
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Known for short as PTSD, this anxiety disorder affects those who have lived through a traumatic or dangerous event. Symptoms may have reliving events in the war in which they served, with a feeling of being on-edge and avoidance of situations that restore memories of that event.
- Depression and Suicide: According to the VA’s National Registry for Depression, 11% of veterans over the age of 65 have major depressive disorder, which is more than twice that of the over-65 general population. Depression can lead to suicide, with 65 percent of all veterans who die by suicide being over the age of 50.
Honoring our military every day is important as we recognize and empathize with these unique health challenges. Pathways Home Health and Hospice is sensitive to veterans’ needs, as we understand the unique health risks and care needs that veterans require. This is why we do all we can to ensure their needs are met.
Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice
Many of those who seek hospice care here at Pathways Home Health and Hospice are veterans and their families. Our hospice team brings a dedicated focus to every patient we care for, ensuring they are treated with respect, compassion, and kindness. Contact us at 888-978-1306.