In 2019, upon my retirement from the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, I joined Louisiana Hospice and Palliative Care in Jennings, La., as a volunteer coordinator. My wife, Kristi, is our agency’s social worker, and a very important part of our mission is to establish meaningful, ongoing relationships with veterans in our community – helping them and their families in challenging times.
Our team is dedicated to supporting our veterans and the We Honor Veterans program, and we have assisted veteran patients in obtaining much-needed resources. The highlight of my week is accompanying two of our volunteers to provide music in patients’ homes.
I was born and raised in the rural community of Welsh, La., where I developed a strong desire to see the world. In 1982, I enlisted in the Navy and took my first airplane ride – attending boot camp in San Diego. My first “wow” moment was arriving onboard for my first command, the USS Nimitz, while it was out at sea. I learned things like underway refueling and small boat operations, and I found that these and other seamanship duties came naturally for me.
But most importantly, I learned to help others – thanks to the examples and outstanding leadership displayed by those above me. I had already assisted in numerous military funerals, but it was not until I performed my first death notification that I found my “calling.” As time went by, I started receiving more of these life-changing extra duties, allowing me to eventually lead training in this area. I discovered that helping others was a way to help those like me get through unpleasant events.
I ended my career in the Navy 20 years later as the Command Chief at a Naval Training Command in Tampa, Fla., and joined the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs. I was able to obtain knowledge and experience in helping fellow veterans get their earned VA benefits. I served in several roles, including office supervisor, regional trainer, and regional manager for Southwest Louisiana.
Assistance through the VA can include monetary monthly payments to veterans, additional healthcare and medical equipment, sitter services, home and auto handicap renovations, home loan assistance, dependent education allowances, help with funeral expenses, grave markers, and death monetary monthly payments for surviving dependents. Many states also offer additional benefits.
As hospice and palliative care providers – even with a limited knowledge of VA benefits – we can make a significant impact. Based on my experiences, here are a few of the most important things we can all learn and remember when it comes to providing service for veterans:
- First, establish trust with veterans by acknowledging their military rank and military service.
- With the Vietnam Veterans starting to come of age, know the Agent Orange presumptive disabilities.
- Have the VA Crisis Line number available for veterans who show signs of PTSD.
- Have an established and ongoing relationship with your area VSO and any local VA establishments – before you need them.
- Offer to provide a letter acknowledging hospice admission so that VA claims can be expedited.
- Ask to address local veteran-related service organizations and/or offer to assist them with some of their activities.
Throughout my life, I have been blessed to be surrounded by outstanding people, both at home and at my different workplaces – people who care about helping others. And I see it in the next generation. One of my most memorable recent experiences was watching my teenage daughter play “Taps” on her flute at our hospice memorial service and for a military funeral.
I have told many audiences at many Veterans Day events: “Not everybody needs to serve in the military, but everybody must serve.” Let us never forget the sacrifices these folks have made – or our obligations in serving their needs.
Charles “Chuck” Davidson
Louisiana Hospice and Palliative Care – Jennings, LA