Thirty-one years ago, Harold Lee Davis, an Army Veteran, began serving Veterans by volunteering along with his wife Hilda, first at the Fort Howard VA Medical Center and then at the Loch Raven VA Medical Center. Today, he has a dual role as a representative for the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks on the medical center’s VA Voluntary Service Committee and as a volunteer group leader.
Davis has helped organize Christmas in July events, participated in National Salute to Veteran Patients Week, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day recognition luncheons and lent himself to an array of other activities. He was the VA National Advisory Committee Male Volunteer of the Year for 2019.
Pandemic disrupted volunteer activities
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the normal activities of thousands of VA volunteers like Davis and his wife have been disrupted since early spring. VA paused its volunteer program to protect patients, health care providers, and volunteers from the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
The pandemic has kept Davis away from his volunteer duties since March. But it hasn’t stopped him from worrying about the Veterans and wondering if they are feeling isolated, lonely, and bored. He found himself considering how he could continue serving Veterans upon his return.
“We’ve already missed this year’s Christmas in July event but we are researching all the necessary steps to implement a movie night for Veterans when volunteers are able to return,” he said.
Welcome back volunteers — gradually
Now, across the country, VA medical facilities are expanding services, including previously cancelled elective procedures and routine in-person appointments. Along with these services, we will begin welcoming back our volunteers carefully and gradually with several safeguards.
Based on our critical needs, we’ve created new volunteer roles, adapted some, and continue to pause others. Other changes include virtual assignments at some locations and continuing the pause for students under 18.
Checklist: what to do before volunteering
Before showing up for work, volunteers should obtain approval and complete orientation and safety training. Like everyone at VA facilities, they need to wear a face covering and follow physical distancing guidelines while on duty. They also need to consent to health screenings, including temperature checks, prior to entering the facility.
Volunteers interested in returning to work should contact their local Voluntary Service office to discuss current facility needs and their interests. To find your local office, visit https://www.volunteer.va.gov/directory/ and click “VOLUNTEER OR DONATE NOW.”
Leadership will bring back volunteers in phases, beginning with the most essential assignments. Volunteers should consider their own personal safety and comfort before returning to service.
Volunteers at risk, please stay home
Older people and people of any age who have serious health problems are at higher risk of developing serious symptoms of COVID-19. Those health problems include: heart or lung conditions, weakened immune systems, severe obesity and diabetes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people at higher risk stay home when possible. They should also keep distance between themselves and others if COVID-19 is spreading in their community.
We know how dedicated our volunteers are to their service and we look forward to their safe return as soon as possible.
R. David Edwards is the chief of Public & Community Relations at the Baltimore VAMC; Dore Mobley is a communication specialist for VHA Internal Communications.