MAPE members honor veterans Memorial Day and every day

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Local 1102 members who work with MN Heroes

Employees at the Minnesota Veterans Homes (MVH) not only consider it their duty to provide the highest level of care to those who answered our nation’s call, they believe it is an honor.  

“It’s a privilege to work with older veterans and hear the stories of their lives. Some continue to carry the trauma of their military service. They deserve any relief or respite we can provide,” Local 1102’s Susan Parenteau, a psychologist at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis, said.  

Parenteau has worked at the Minneapolis facility for almost 30 years, as the first  behavior analyst then as a psychologist, “When I started, there were still some World War I veterans, then we moved through World War II and Korea. Now we’re solidly in the Vietnam War era, which brings its own challenges. I’m proud that MVH places the importance of our veterans’ mental health as highly as their physical health.”  

“We’re all here to support the veterans. Our society tends to neglect the aging population, especially those with neurocognitive disorders who need specialized care. It’s refreshing to get to work in a place where our aging veterans are a priority, and are treated with the respect, dignity and appreciation they deserve. We’ve all come together to make sure our veterans have the highest quality of life possible,” added Local 1102’s Behavior Analyst Jenna Mattingly. 

Minnesota has eight state Veterans Homes located in Bemidji, Fergus Falls, Hastings, Luverne, Minneapolis, Montevideo, Preston and Silver Bay. The homes serve more than 700 Minnesota veterans, their spouses and Gold Star families.  

The Minneapolis facility has pioneered a nationally-recognized specialized care unit for veterans suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s and other memory issues. Laura Heezen, Local 1102, is one of three behavior analysts at the Minneapolis Veterans Home. “What makes us unique within veterans care nationwide is we are one of the only long-term care facilities in the nation that has an in-house behavioral health program. I am very proud of that,” Heezen said. “I heard today from two families that they are so happy that their loved ones are here. They say nothing compares to the quality of our services here.”  

Behavior analysts at the state Veterans Home in Minneapolis have been asked to discuss their program at a national conference and work closely with federal colleagues at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis. “The special program at the Minneapolis Medical Center is actually very similar to our program. They don’t have behavior analysts and are very interested in our contributions to the program, particularly because it is rare to have behavior analysts working with a geriatric population,” Heezen said. 

Behavior analysts assess residents’ needs and work with staff to design personalized, continuously evolving plans to help residents reach appropriate goals and targets. In addition to special care units for dementia and Alzheimer’s, the facilities provide a combination of skilled nursing care, domiciliary care, rehabilitation services, recreational therapy, chaplaincy and work therapy programs. The Minneapolis campus, the largest in Minnesota, contains 300 skilled nursing beds and 50 domiciliary beds in private and semiprivate rooms.  

“We have a lot of residents from the Vietnam era who were exposed to Agent Orange and have Parkinson’s disease. That is a unique challenge that we’re working to support these veterans with Parkinson’s disease – it affects their motor abilities and can cause distress related to the loss of independence. Residents with Parkinson’s can also suffer delusions and hallucinations,” Local 1102 President Brian MacNeill said.  

MacNeill, a behavior analyst, said it brings him and his colleagues “a lot of joy and pride” to work and support veterans in the final chapters of their lives. “We admire their military service and how much they sacrificed. I am often humbled thinking that staff on these grounds have served veterans from the Civil War to the Gulf War, helping them live the final chapters of their lives in peace and comfort.”  

MAPE members say they are seeing more veterans who traditionally didn’t want to talk about their war experiences are receiving PTSD diagnoses later in life. As a veteran with a diagnosis of dementia, as their disease process progresses, they may be brought back to earlier memories in their lives which includes their time in war. “Our department also evaluates past trauma and works with doctors and family on best responses to vets if they demonstrate symptoms of trauma. We focus on learning what may trigger a traumatic response so then we know how to work with staff to avoid triggers. It may be they can’t have movies of war on tv, sometimes seeing a military hat may trigger how they felt in the war,” Heezen said.  

Mattingly said employees and veterans spend so much time together it feels like a family, “We involve residents in everything so you’re really part of someone’s life when you do this job.” 

Heezen agreed and said, “They’re trusting us with their entire lives and that’s a very important relationship between staff and the patients. You have the ability to make so many positive impacts on them and when you see that good effect – you see the residents feeling happy and safe and like they belong.”  

Flag on Lampost

“The risked their lives to make the world safer for all of us. It is our turn to keep them safe,” MacNeill added.   

The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs announced it will be hosting the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War next month. The three-day event for Vietnam-era veterans and their families and all Minnesotans who wish to thank our veterans is being held June 13-15 at Mall of America.  

Over the three days, attendees can see historical displays from the Minnesota Military and Veterans Museum and watch screenings of Vietnam War documentaries, view the American Veterans Traveling Tribute memorial and walk through a Resource Fair which will provide valuable resources and information for Minnesota Vietnam Veterans and their families. On Friday, June 14, at 11 a.m. there will be a Commemoration Program at Mall of America in the Huntington Bank Rotunda with speakers, music and storytelling, followed by a complimentary brunch for Vietnam veterans. More information is available here