Serving Those Who Have Served


Serving Those Who Have Served

Getting Involved with Veterans Organizations

By Carole Jakucs, RN, BSN, PHN
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Servicemembers make many sacrifices to serve in our all-volunteer military: They spend time away from loved ones and if they’re deployed to a combat zone, they may risk their lives on a daily basis. Their efforts to protect our country and values are integral to keeping American citizens safe and our way of life fairly stable.  Military families sacrifice, too, sometimes having to relocate across the country or around the world at the drop of a hat, making do on often meager income and of course enduring constant worry about their uniformed loved one’s safety.

Volunteering to help veterans and their families is a great way to say thank you to those who have given so much for the benefit of everyone else. If you’re not sure how to get started, Southern California offers several unique opportunities to reach out to veterans in meaningful ways:

Disabled American Veterans

Transporting veterans to medical appointments

If you want to interact with veterans and enjoy driving, the Department of Veterans Affairs needs volunteer van drivers for the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. The van service program is operated by the nonprofit organization Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and is attached to VA hospitals.

The purpose of the van service is to transport veterans to and from their medical appointments at the VA Hospital or other approved places of care. The service helps veterans receiving treatments like dialysis, chemotherapy or radiation therapy who are either unable to drive or lack practical public transportation options for reaching their appointments.

“The veterans are so grateful to all of the volunteer drivers and the DAV,” says Blas Barragan, transportation coordinator for the DAV program in Los Angeles. “One veteran recently said if not for the volunteers, he doesn’t know how he’d get to his appointments. He calls the volunteers his angels.”

If you are interested in volunteering, start the process by calling the VA volunteer office at (310) 268-4350 to schedule an orientation session or contacting Barragan at (310) 478-3711 ext. 49062 for more information and instructions.

Fisher House

Caring for families while servicemembers undergo medical treatment

If you have a passion for working with families, you might enjoy volunteering for Fisher House, a nonprofit organization that provides temporary lodging for the families of servicemembers or veterans receiving medical care at VA or military hospitals.

Having concerned family nearby while undergoing medical treatment provides an emotional boost for almost any patient, but many servicemembers and veterans have to travel great distances to receive treatments or major surgeries, which can be a huge burden for family members.

Fisher Houses are located on or near the campuses of major healthcare centers, providing a home away from home for those families. Some families may stay only one night while others may call Fisher House their home for several weeks, depending on the servicemember or veteran’s course of treatment. 

“We are always in need of volunteers,” says Sharon Hudson, manager of the West Los Angeles Fisher House, which is located on the grounds of the West Los Angeles Veterans Hospital. “We provide a distraction to families that are experiencing one of the most stressful times of their lives.”

Volunteers can support Fisher House in a variety of ways. If you love to cook, you might prepare a meal for the guests; if your hobby is gardening, you might be able to plant flowers on the grounds.

If you’re interested in volunteering or donating items on the Fisher House wish list, you can contact Hudson at the West L.A. Fisher House at (310) 268-4457 or visit Hudson meets with prospective volunteers to match their interests with the needs of families and the Fisher House organization.

Honor Flight
Helping WW II veterans to visit the Washington D.C. Memorial

If you have soft spot in your heart for World War II veterans and love to fly, the organization Honor Flight might appeal to you. Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization and a network of 127 privately operated flight hubs in 41 states whose goal is to transport veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial.

Honor Flight San Diego recruits volunteer “flight guardians” to accompany each veteran on the trip to Washington, helping to ensure that veterans have a pleasant and safe trip. The flight guardian’s duties include providing physical assistance and emotional support to the veteran on the round-trip chartered flights, at the memorial and at the hotel. Flight guardians contribute towards their own travel expenses.

While flight guardians can come from any walk of life, nurses and other healthcare professionals are greatly appreciated because some veterans are on oxygen and/or in wheelchairs. According to Dave Smith, chairman and cofounder of Honor Flight San Diego, many flight guardians volunteer for multiple flights. “This is a wonderful way to honor World War II veterans,” he says. “The freedoms we enjoy today are due to their sacrifice.”

If flying back east for a three-day trip is not an option for you, the organization also needs volunteers for other duties such as greeting veterans upon their return to San Diego, fundraising and clerical work. For more information or to download a volunteer application, visit Honor Flight San Diego’s website at

Team Rubicon

Working alongside vets to provide disaster relief here and abroad

If you want to work alongside veterans, have a passion for disaster relief work and love the excitement of travel, Team Rubicon may be just what you’re looking for. The group responds to natural disasters in the United States and abroad, including everything from disaster preparation to light search and rescue, clean-up and home repairs.

Current law precludes Team Rubicon’s domestic missions from having a medical focus, but the organization’s international missions are generally medically oriented, with nurses and other medical personnel providing patient care and health education to affected local populations. Circumstances “on the ground” vary with each disaster and determine what type of medical care is appropriate in each situation.

Team Rubicon was created in 2010 by two U.S. Marines in response to the earthquake in Haiti. In addition to providing disaster relief, the organization’s goal is to give veterans the opportunity to utilize their military skills and training for the greater good. Mike Lee, Team Rubicon’s director of communications and fundraising, says, “Veterans can lose three things once they leave the military: community, purpose and sense of self.” The organization seeks to rectify that by providing opportunities for camaraderie, mission-driven teamwork and helping others.

Team Rubicon covers all expenses for their volunteers. For more information and volunteer applications, visit the organization’s website at

American Gold Star Manor

Providing volunteer nursing care to veterans and their families

If you enjoy working with the geriatric population, consider volunteering with the American Gold Star Manor in Long Beach. The manor is an apartment complex originally founded as a home for members of American Gold Star Mothers, an organization of moms whose sons or daughters were either killed in action or passed away while in active military service.

While some Gold Star Mothers still reside at the Long Beach campus, the complex now also houses Gold Star couples and fathers as well as veterans and qualifying low-income senior citizens who may or may not have any previous military service. The Long Beach campus has more than 400 residents in all.

The organization is looking for volunteer nurses and other healthcare professionals to staff the manor’s social activity center. The manor staff hopes to have volunteers to work on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., providing blood pressure checks and companionship for residents and possibly assisting with recreational activities.

If you’re interested, contact Bethann Cairns, manager of the Long Beach campus, at (562) 426-7651. For more information on the history of Gold Star Manor, see their website at

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