After two decades in the Army and another two with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department, Ron Barnes was used to giving back.
After retiring, Barnes wanted to continue giving back and would figure out his next mission through a function at his church. Through the We Honor Veterans Program and LifePath Hospice, Barnes has found a way to continue giving back now that he's retired.
"This helped veterans, and I know one or two things about that," Barnes said.
Barnes underwent 20 hours of volunteer training and was then matched with a World War II veteran living in South Tampa. The two have met nearly 40 times over the past 12 months, with Barnes visiting on average once a week, from two to seven hours. During the visits, Barnes provides companionship for the patient or respite care for the patient’s primary caregiver.
In collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the We Honor Veterans program focuses on recognizing the unique needs of America’s veterans and their families. With Hillsborough County home to nearly 100,000 veterans, the program provides veteran-specific care and support at a challenging time.
"This is such an amazing program," said Roxanne Riley, LifePath Hospice executive director. “Our staff has learned so much about the veteran population and its culture. We have become more aware of their different needs at the end of life and have worked to address specific issues or concerns they face.”
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization recently notified LifePath Hospice that it had achieved Level II status in NHPCO’s We Honor Veterans program.
After joining the program in June of 2011, the hospice attained Level I status last February. To advance to Level II status, LifePath was required to conduct three veteran-specific presentations for administrative staff, clinical staff and volunteers: integrate veteran-specific content into staff and volunteer orientation presentations, incorporate a military history checklist into its intake procedures, and deliver veteran-specific presentations to local veteran organizations.
In addition, LifePath Hospice has established a partnership with the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa and is working to establish additional partnerships with groups at McDill Air Force Base.
According to Riley, the We Honor Veterans program is much more than policy changes and education. Veteran volunteers and veteran patients bond over shared military experiences and chaplains conduct pinning ceremonies for each veteran that receives hospice services. Over the past year, LifePath Hospice has honored more than 340 veterans with pinning ceremonies to acknowledge the sacrifices they made to serve.
"The pinning ceremonies are so important for veterans, their families and our staff," Riley said. "For many veterans, it has been a long time since they have been thanked for their service. We're proud to stand by them as they face this new challenge in their lives.”
The hospice is moving forward to obtain Levels III and IV status in the We Honor Veterans program. These levels include additional staff and volunteer education, continuing outreach efforts and the development of organizational policies and procedures that recognize veterans’ needs.
LifePath Hospice is also actively recruiting other active-duty members of the military, armed service veterans and committed individuals to serve as volunteers with veterans facing life-limiting illnesses. For more information on the We Honor Veterans program at LifePath Hospice, contact Janet Ricklick at (813) 984-2307.