We Honor Veterans: Connecting Legislators with Heroes and Hospice
Advocating for hospice and palliative care can be accomplished through multiple avenues. One can participate in action alerts or meet directly with legislative offices to advocate for specific legislation. But advocacy for hospice and palliative care can also be effective outside of the legislative process.
Advocacy activities can include educating legislators about how hospice care impacts their constituents and communities. It’s important to show legislators the realities and impact of the day-to-day of hospice and palliative care. This way, when hospices need to ask legislators to support specific policy issues, that office understands why supporting the needs of hospice is so important. HAN encourages and provides resources for organizations to engage their legislators through facility tours and other events.
We Honor Veterans (WHV) is an ideal example of a program that can connect hospice care—including patients, families, and providers—with their members of Congress. We Honor Veterans is an NHPCO-Veterans Affairs (VA) partnership program that provides educational tools, resources, and events in recognition of the unique needs of America’s Veterans and their families. WHV providers offer Veteran-centric hospice care and demonstrate a systematic commitment to improving care for Veterans.
Angela LaBarca is a business development specialist who works in community engagement with Caring Circle hospice in Michigan, an organization that has achieved a Level 5 Status in the WHV program. Angela LaBarca is also a MyHospice Ambassador, earning the Rookie of the Year Ambassador Award for 2022. She says the WHV program helps to open up conversations about hospice care in the larger community.
“Since most everyone knows a Veteran, and is grateful for their service, people are quite interested in the tremendous work we do,” she said. “We also have Veteran volunteers who participate in the program and then become more equipped to speak to the impact of hospice within their communities.”
Angela noted that there’s an important overlap in an organization participating in WHV and being active in advocacy. “Our We Honor Veterans program actively tracks legislation that affects Veterans and advocates for legislation that improves Veteran care. A good example is Gerald’s Law.”
Gerald’s Law (H.R.234 / S.1330) would provide a burial allowance for certain Veterans who die at home or in a nursing home in receipt of hospice care. Currently, burial allowances are only extended to Veterans who die at a VA hospital while receiving care from the VA.
“Since we live in a rural area of Michigan and the nearest VA hospitals are an hour or more away, that is not practical for families at a vulnerable and emotional time who wish to be with their loved ones as they are nearing end-of-life,” Angela explained.
Angela also spoke to how WHV has opened opportunities for her organization to build positive relationships with legislative offices. “They’ve been extremely grateful for the opportunity to interact with constituents by honoring them along with us, and I believe it helps them see what an impact hospice makes, in ways they were probably unaware,” she said. “I’ve been encouraged to ‘keep sending these opportunities our way.’ It makes for a much more dynamic relationship than strictly reaching out to them with a policy ask. They become community partners to help us honor Veterans by bringing their own certificates and Senate and House proclamations.”
Over the past two years, Angela has established relationships with Caring Circle hospice’s Congressional legislators through WHV program opportunities and with the support of the MyHospice Ambassador program. These events have included Congressional staffers attending local WHV events and touring her organization’s inpatient facility. As a MyHospice Ambassador, Angela feels that the WHV program is a great opportunity to open the door between legislators and hospice care
This past Memorial Day, Caring Circle hospice organized a WHV ceremony to honor four Veteran patients. Angela worked on the event with Stephanie Kostizen, a social worker and lead of CaringCircle’s WHV program and a member of the Board of Veteran Engagement Team of Southwest Michigan. Both played a significant role in arranging for the offices of Senator Gary Peters and Representative Bill Huizenga to participate. The legislator’s offices presented certificates of recognition to the Veterans.
Representative Huizenga, whose father was a WWII Veteran, attended the event. The Representative took the time to personally read the certificate for each honored Veteran and to speak with them individually. Angela described the entire event as “incredibly moving.”
For organizations seeking to be more involved with advocacy efforts, and to better inform legislators on the value of hospice and palliative care, WHV can be a great resource to better serve America’s Veterans and their communities, and a bridge to build relationships with policymakers.
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*All photos credited to the South Haven Tribune