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Utah workshop to train end-of-life care providers to treat veterans

Published April 8, 2013 8:56 am

SLC workshop to offer end-of-life training for veterans' caregivers.
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Nearly half of the men who will die in the United States this year — one in every four dying Americans — will be veterans.

Such statistics are startling, even for those who work every day with the dying.

"This is the big World War II tsunami, and it's overlapping with the Korean War tsunami," said Kathie Supiano, an assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Nursing.

And it's one reason that professionals in end-of-life care — such as nurses, social workers, chaplains, doctors working in hospices and nursing homes — need to know more about how veterans' needs differ as they die.

Supiano, director of the college's Caring Connections: A Hope and Comfort in Grief program, is organizing a workshop for that purpose.

Titled "Improving Care for Veterans Facing Illness and Death," the April 18 event is geared to professionals but is open to anyone interested in the topic, Supiano said.

The workshop is part of the Hospice Foundation of America's annual Living With Grief Program and will feature a 2 ½-hour video about veterans, followed by a panel discussion.

Amy Tucci, chief executive officer of the foundation, said it's an important topic not just because World War II and Korean War veterans are dying in big numbers; the country is beginning to lose its Vietnam veterans at a faster pace.

In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs predicts that by 2015, the number of Vietnam War veterans dying will eclipse the number of veterans from each of the two previous wars who die every year.

Vietnam veterans who bore the brunt of their fellow Americans' disgust with the war may struggle with that as they die, she said.

"It's hard to imagine right now what Vietnam vets went through when they came home. For many of them, it has affected their entire lives. And consequently, that affects how they die," Tucci said.

Supiano said that old traumas often arise when one is dying.

"Things bubble up to the surface that they have been able to keep under wraps. It's their last chance to be aired and voiced," she said. "This is something we need to be very attentive to and learn how to listen, how to allow thoughts and feelings and memories."

Kelly Otteson, a social worker at the George E. Wahlen Ogden Veterans Home, said post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) clearly affects veterans of all generations.

"It doesn't go away when you're 90," said Otteson, who will be on the panel at the Salt Lake City workshop. "We see that with our older veterans; it's still an issue."

One difficulty for clinicians is trying to assess and alleviate veterans' pain, Tucci said.

"If you were in the military, you're pretty much conditioned to endure pain and suffering and to not complain and keep a stiff upper lip at all times," she said.

Providers also need to care for grieving families, who often learn details of their loved one's war experiences only as death nears.

"Often, families at the bedside don't realize that PTSD has been an issue until the end of life," Tucci said.

kmoulton@sltrib.comTwitter: @KristenMoulton —

About the workshop

End-of-life care providers will learn about how to care for dying veterans at a workshop titled "Improving Care for Veterans Facing Illness and Death," from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the University of Utah College of Nursing's Annette Poulson Cumming Building, 10 South 2000 East, Salt Lake City.

Registration is $25 and due April 15 at the college's Caring Connections office, 801-585-9522. —

By the numbers

The numbers of Americans who served in past wars and how many survive.

World War II: 16,112,566 served worldwide during the war. 1,462,809 living as of fall 2012.

Korean War: 5,720,000 served worldwide during the war. 2,100,735 living as of fall 2012.

Vietnam War: 8,744,000 served worldwide during the war. 7,247,414 living as of fall 2012.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says nearly 630,000 American veterans die every year. That's more than a fourth of those who die each year in the country, which is roughly 2.5 million.






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