Giving Back to Veterans, Troops and Military Families
How you can help all year long
Being in a profession where healing and nurturing are at the core of what they do, it’s not a stretch to think that most nurses particularly enjoy the winter holidays, when giving is the central theme. In addition to providing for friends and family, it’s also an appropriate time to think about those in uniform who may be celebrating the season far from loved ones. Here, we present ways that nurses and others can give back this holiday season, and afterwards.
VA Seeks Nurse Volunteers
The VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (GLA) is the largest integrated healthcare organization in the Department of Veterans Affairs, serving Los Angeles, Kern, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. According to Chief of Voluntary Program Services Marianne Davis, MPH, MLS, the GLA system uses nurses and aspiring nurses on an ongoing basis as volunteers at the various Southern California VA facilities.
Many specialties are represented among the nurse volunteers at the VA, including geriatrics, nurse practitioners and public health. They also have what Davis calls an “enormous” mental health program and so can use experts in that area, dealing as the VA does with veterans returning from duty with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions.
The VA is a challenging environment, but one where volunteers with professional credentials can be well-utilized to supplement the regular staff and give better care to these patients. For nurses who are between employers for whatever reason, the experience can be beneficial for the nurse, as well as the patients. Graduate nurses seeking full-time employment are wise to keep skills sharp through volunteer work, and the VA is a excellent place to donate time. Although there are never any guarantees, Davis says, “Volunteering is always a good idea when you don’t have a job. Develop relationships and, well, things happen.”
For those who are working, the VA can be flexible in its demands on volunteers’ time; Davis suggests at least one four-hour shift per week, although other arrangements can be discussed. If you would like to explore the possibility of volunteering with the VA, please visit the volunteer page of their website: www.losangeles.va.gov/giving.
If you have too little time to volunteer but too much stuff, you can also contribute to the comfort of both active military personnel and vets through private nonprofit organizations like Soldiers’ Angels.
As early as August, Soldiers’ Angels begins planning and collecting Christmas and holiday gifts for soldiers and other personnel in military service. Later in the year, the group sends the donated goods to troops fighting in places such as Afghanistan, making sure American servicemen and women get a little comfort from home during the holidays, which are a tough time to be away from loved ones in a strange and hostile land.
For longer-term involvement, you can “adopt” a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine by committing to send cards, letters or care packages at least once a month for six months or one year. (Of course, you may, if you wish, support an individual throughout his or her entire deployment). Recently the group’s website reports 81 servicemen and women awaiting “adoption,” although the number fluctuates weekly.
Cristina Harman, corporate administrator at Soldiers’ Angels, says the items most requested are nonperishable snacks and personal hygiene articles such as shampoo, razors and deodorant. Cash donations can be earmarked for specific purposes, such as buying gas cards to ensure that injured vets can get to necessary medical appointments or for paying the salaries of vets who have packing and shipping jobs in the Soldier’s Angel warehouse.
For more information, see www.soldiersangels.org.
Books for Soldiers
Books and other gifts may also be sent through Books for Soldiers, which serves as an information portal to connect donations with soldiers on active duty. The organization’s website posts a continually refreshed list of requests for books, entertainment and personal care items wanted by soldiers overseas. You need to set up an account for access to the requests; you can then review the requests online and choose a soldier to whom to send your items directly.
This is a year-round program, but the holidays are an especially nice time to forward your gently used paperback books, DVDs or CDs or new small sports equipment (baseballs, baseball gloves, footballs, Frisbees and the like). Some types of packaged food items are also welcome, particularly things the soldiers might not be able to get where they are stationed, such as beef jerky, granola bars, canned nuts or single-serving packets of coffee.
See the website for more ideas and a list of restrictions: www.booksforsoldiers.com.
New Directions is a West Los Angeles nonprofit that assists disabled and homeless veterans, offering an array of services, including transitional housing, counseling, job training and mentor and peer support. Many vets of both genders are homeless; many are dual-diagnosed and suffering from substance abuse, mental illness and PTSD in addition to chronic medical problems. According to estimates from the Weingart Center, Los Angeles County may have the largest population of homeless military veterans in the nation, more than 8,000.
There are many opportunities to help New Directions in its mission. In addition to cash or in-kind donations of goods or services (a list of needs is posted on the “Get Involved Now” page of the organization’s website), you can volunteer your time in a non-medical capacity — New Directions is a social services agency, not a healthcare organization, but, as a nurse, your knowledge and expertise will surely be useful.
If you would like to offer your skills on a regular basis, there is an application form online in the “How You Can Help” section of the New Directions website. You can also help on a more occasional basis with tasks like putting together “Welcome Home” baskets containing kitchen staples and basic household items.
A fundraising dinner gala is held each November at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. You can volunteer to work as staff at the event or raise money ahead of time. You can also buy tickets and attend a fancy night out for a good cause.
See www.newdirectionsinc.org for more information.
If you would like to do some hands-on work helping our local heroes transition into civilian life, twice a year, U.S. Vets organizes volunteer-driven events called “Stand Downs” that provide many important services to homeless vets. Stand Downs provide employment assistance and workshops, clothing, vision screening, dental care, counseling, showers, haircuts, hygiene supplies and legal assistance. Stand Down events are held in Compton each September, while a smaller, women-only Stand Down providing similar assistance for female vets is held each July. If you want to help at either of these events next year, contact StandDownHelp@gmail.com.
Offering a veteran a job is probably the most helpful thing one can do, says Bridgette Liebert of the organization’s Workforce Development Center. If you have some influence over hiring for non-clinical positions at your hospital or facility, U.S. Vets can supply a pool of qualified applicants. In the past year, U.S. Vets has helped 300 veterans get jobs through the organization’s sites in Long Beach and Inglewood. Contact Bridgette directly at (424) 227-0875 to arrange interviews.
For more information, visit www.usvetsinc.org.
AN ANGEL LANDS IN AFGHANISTAN
Last spring, Beth Schietzelt, volunteer coordinator at Soldiers’ Angels, received this email:
I am requesting support for my Company which is currently deployed in Afghanistan. We live in a Combat Outpost high in the mountains in Paktika Province. We do not have a PX, so everything we receive is through mail order. Items such as snacks, hygiene products, laundry soap, sheets, blankets would be greatly treasured. We have about 180 male soldiers, we live in bunkers and my soldiers spend most of their days patrolling the mountains or pulling guard duty. Your support will be greatly appreciated.
After a shipment of packages was sent, the servicemembers replied with this photo (above) and note:
This is the first time I have ever seen this much support given to us. Every time the mail comes in there are boxes from Soldiers' Angels. Knowing of individuals outside of our friends and family that take the time and effort to send a package shows us just how much support and respect our nation still has for our military.
— 1st Sgt. Paul R. in Afghanistan, June 2012
VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System Volunteers: www.losangeles.va.gov/giving or on Facebook
Soldiers’ Angels: www.soldiersangels.org, on Facebook or at soldiersangels on Twitter
Books for Soldiers: www.booksforsoldiers.com, on Facebook or at books4soldiers on Twitter
New Directions, Inc.: www.newdirectionsinc.org, on Facebook or at NDVets.org on Twitter
This article is from workingnurse.com.