Grief Support

Program Pairs Veterans: Volunteers With Patients


Military veterans have an opportunity to provide comfort, empathy, and companionship to fellow veterans journeying through end-of-life care.

Trustbridge Health, which provides hospice care in their own facilities, in adult living facilities, or in patients’ homes throughout Palm Beach and Broward counties, is launching a program to pair veteran volunteers with veteran patients.

Sue Gallup, Trustbridge’s director of volunteer services, said that the project is an outgrowth of a long standing relationship between the firm and national veteran’s advocacy groups to improve service to veterans.

“We intend to enhance volunteer support for our veteran patients. Volunteers, especially for those with no family support, are very important for end-oflife care. And if you’re a veteran it’s easier to talk to another veteran,” said Gallup.

Dr. Karen Klapper, associate medical director for Trustbridge, said that volunteers who can relate to veterans in hospice care offer something special.

“It’s very therapeutic to sit and talk together, and veteran volunteers share a special camaraderie that a civilian wouldn’t have – a special culture, language and experience,” she said.

Arnie Rich, a longtime hospice volunteer and military veteran, said he plans to continue volunteering, lending a sympathetic ear and bonding with fellow veterans. “It can be heartwrenching, but I get a lot of fulfillment out of it,” said Rich.

Larry Danker, a Boca Raton resident who served in the Army artillery corps in the 1950s, said he has been able to overcome veterans’ reluctance to talk about their problems.

“Veterans are frequently reluctant to talk about their service, but are more likely to open up to me than anyone else,” he said.

And John Ellis, an Army veteran who saw combat in Vietnam, recalls being asked to volunteer with an older veteran.

“He asked me to take him to church, and afterward we had a chance to talk. Itwas a great experience that allowed us to sit together, reminisce, and breathe a sigh of relief. I found out later that he died three days after that, and Iwas amazed that I had the chance to take this man to church for the last time. You could not imagine how I felt, making the time that he had left just a little bit better,” said Ellis, a Loxahatchee resident.

Trust bridge is also calling for musicians to volunteer their performance skills and complement the effort of music therapists on staff.

“There is a lot of research that shows the potential benefits – medical, psychiatric and educational – of music therapy, and we know music can have a very powerful effect on our emotions. It helps to relieve pain, anxiety and agitation,” said Alyssa Cadwalader, manager of Trust bridge’s music therapy department.

Laurel Drazen, a spokeswoman for the firm, noted that the hospice model of care was founded by volunteers.

“Hospice by the Sea and Hospice of Palm Beach County owe a debt to our founding volunteer groups. More than 800 active volunteers help us care for more than 1,900 patients and their family members every day,” Drazen said.

“In 2014, our volunteers unselfishly gave 75,000 hours of their time, making over 11,000 visits with patients and families, and making 2,600 calls each month to make sure that the families have the medications and supplies they need,” she said.

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