In observation of the upcoming Veteran’s Day 2021, we had a chat with Transitions Volunteer Coordinator, Ilene Thorman, who is responsible for recruiting and training new volunteers (many of whom are Veteran and Active Military to serve our Veterans in hospice care), matching volunteers to opportunities that suit their skills, and conveying Transitions’ unique and personalized care model to the public. Guided by a human resources and corporate training background, Ilene joined Transitions May of 2021, moving to the Chicagoland area after working as a Hospice Volunteer Coordinator in Northern Virginia since 2011.

One of the more vital tasks which Ilene will direct her focus toward is the recruitment of Veterans to assist with our Vet-to-Vet volunteer visits. Pairing Veteran volunteers with Veteran hospice patients creates a supportive camaraderie for all involved. “A brotherhood” as Ilene describes, “To travel in their journey and let them know they are there with them to the end.” Veteran volunteers have the unique ability to relate and connect through shared similar experiences, creating an environment where life review and healing can occur. 

“Many Veterans have a story to tell, and it doesn’t have to be about combat. It fills them with a sense of pride and feelings of comfort and peace, enhancing their quality of life. They are thankful for the way Veteran Volunteers are able to empathize with them on a level that the clinical team, family, and friends may be unable to,” Ilene explains. Friendly Vet-to-Vet activities include listening to music, sharing photos, chatting about historical events, exchanging stories, and simply lending an ear to listen and empathize. 

Veteran volunteers not only provide companionship, comfort, emotional support, and peace for the patient, but for their families and caregivers as well. These small periods of time are called “respite” periods for the caregivers, allowing for breaks and errands or leaving the home to have time to themselves.

Ilene states, “There are many challenges our Veterans face, and it will take a “village” to help each Veteran – the VA, Physician, hospice providers, social workers, volunteers, and more. Right now, our Veterans who served our country in Vietnam are aging and are facing the end-of-life while simultaneously confronting long-suppressed memories, disabilities and psychological challenges.” Overcoming the misconception of hospice care is another essential key to providing the comfort and support our Veterans need. Many adults are misinformed through the belief that hospice is simply “a place where you go to die.” At Transitions, we focus on empowering our patients, managing symptoms and pain, and helping them to embrace life. We focus on living to increase the quality of life for our Veterans, as they deserve.

Another commonly overlooked and confusing obstacle for our Veterans, VA Benefits, often requires our assistance for access. Unfortunately, many Veterans are unaware that hospice and palliative care services are covered for them, or uninformed as to how to access these benefits. We assist our Veterans with the ease of receiving their benefits, so they have immediate access to the care that they deserve.

Transitions has also proudly partnered with We Honor Veterans (WHV) to embrace the mission to serve America’s Veterans. We Honor Veterans was developed by the Veteran Affairs, in partnership with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association, as an effort to increase Veterans’ awareness of hospice and continually improve the quality of care received. Our care teams receive specialized training to understand the needs of Veterans receiving end-of-life care. This partnership is our way of saying thank you for the sacrifices they have made in serving us. 

Through WHV, Veteran volunteers assist with not only our Vet-to-Vet visits, but also branch recognition celebrations, memorials, patriotic music performances, poem readings, pinning ceremonies, and more. The pinning ceremony includes a We Honor Veterans pin and a personalized certificate of appreciation. Community and family members are invited to share these special moments with our Veterans while we show our appreciation and respect for their service to our country.

Volunteering to become a companion and helping to serve our Veterans in hospice care can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences to share. It is the ultimate way to acknowledge and honor what the Veteran patient has done for us, not only thanking them for their service, but giving back in appreciation. If you’re considering making a difference by showing your compassion to serve those who served us, Ilene expresses, “The last good thing that may happen in a person’s life is a hospice volunteer.”

If you or someone you know would like to volunteer with our Veterans in hospice care, please contact Transitions Volunteer Coordinator, Ilene Thorman, by phone at 224-281-6243 or by email at ithorman@transitionshospice.com.