One out of every four dying Americans is a veteran, according to We Honor Veterans.
Fairview is committed to improving health care for veterans, including end-of-life care, through our active participation in the We Honor Veterans initiative.
Developed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs, this national program partners with local hospice care providers to recognize the unique needs of veterans and their families.
Volunteers are trained in making hospice visits to patients who are veterans. This training includes a focus on “respectful inquiry, compassionate listening and grateful acknowledgment” of the veteran’s service.
Whenever possible, these visits are made by volunteers who are also veterans—known as Veteran to Veteran volunteers.
We operate hospice programs around Minnesota—in the Twin Cities metro area/ Princeton, Chisago City/ Wyoming and Hibbing/ International Falls—all of which take part in the We Honor Veterans program.
Since 2012, we’ve served more than 560 veterans through trained volunteers as well as Veteran to Veteran volunteers. We have nine Veteran to Veteran volunteers—most at Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice in Chisago City and one at Fairview Range—and are seeking more.
“We had one client who didn’t want a hospice volunteer until he found out he was a veteran,” says Polly Bjorkquist, volunteer and bereavement coordinator at Fairview Range Home Care and Hospice in International Falls.
“Another client said that he didn’t want to talk about being in the service with ‘anyone!’ But when he talked with our vet volunteer, he started telling him his feelings,” she adds.
“His wife then got all choked up and told me that this was the first time she’d seen her husband cry and talk about what happened in the service.”
“There’s no greater way to thank a veteran than to acknowledge their service and to recognize what they did and how much it still means today,” says Chris Belfield, 57, a 22-year veteran of the Air Force.
Chris and his wife, Mary, are both Veteran to Veteran volunteers at Fairview Lakes Homecaring & Hospice. Both went through a hospice volunteer training program about a year ago, and Chris is now visiting his eighth patient who is a veteran.
Chris also works as a Ramsey County corrections manager and as lead chaplain for the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office.
When he visits a veteran in hospice care, Chris never brings up that he’s a veteran—he just encourages patients talk about whatever they want to and waits for them to broach the topic of the military—if they want to. They usually do.
“I have a relatively short haircut, and sometimes they’ll ask, ‘Were you ever in the service?’ That opens up a whole new dialogue.”
“As a veteran, they understand the significance of camaraderie—that pretty well transcends everything else,” adds Chris.
Judy Weiler, a Fairview employee, agrees. Her father, Joseph Martin, was a World War II Army veteran who received hospice care last year through Fairview Lakes HomeCaring & Hospice. She knows he appreciated the visits from volunteers—especially veteran volunteers—in the program.
Judy calls hospice volunteers “angels on Earth.” And having a veteran visit a fellow veteran—even from a different generation and branch of service—is beneficial. “Once you’re in the military, you have a common bond.”
We’re always looking for hospice volunteers and are particularly seeking veterans interested in Veteran to Veteran volunteering. Find out more about our hospice programs: