Ron Burge, a retired Army Veteran, says that a motto that held true during his years of military service applies to his volunteer work with senior Veterans in the Colorado Springs area.
“It was ‘Never leave a man down in the field of battle.’ Our seniors now are facing a new battlefield – it’s called isolation.”
Burge is one of the volunteers across the country who are helping Veterans in their homes. This requires flexibility and creativity during the coronavirus pandemic. The program Burge works with is Silver Key Senior Services, which administers the VA Choose Home initiative at the VA pilot site in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The Choose Home initiative allows Veterans who are at risk of moving into a nursing home or other institution to stay at home.
There is a camaraderie between Burge and Carl Roberts, the 94-year-old Navy Veteran he helps. Both men (pictured above) are former educators and have bonded over that history as well as their military service. Burge makes sure Roberts takes his medicine, brings him to doctors’ appointments and has even taken him fly fishing.
Assistance turns into friendship
“Anything to get him out of his house. It starts out as assistance, but it turns into a friendship,” Burge said.
The Silver Key Senior Services administers the VA Choose Home initiative at the VA pilot site in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Burge and other Silver Key volunteers have adapted to physical distancing protocols and have ensured Veterans’ safety however they can, which means sitting outside, wearing masks or socializing from a distance.
“I joke that if I had to sit in my truck with a bullhorn, it might tick off the neighbors but at least we’ll still have a conversation,” Burge said.
Over the past year, Burge and Roberts have developed a bond where they can talk about politics, religion, sports, and joke around.
Grocery list in code
“When he writes me a grocery list, he’ll write in ‘code.’ He’ll write a checkmark plus the letters E and N for ‘chicken,’ just to make me think a little bit,” Burge said.
Burge has dedicated his life to various acts of service. He was an Eagle Scout, an altar boy and served 23 years in the military.
“My grandmother told me a long time ago, we’re on this earth to help people. There are no U-Hauls going to heaven. All the material things aren’t going with you,” he said. “It’s a very rewarding thing and now that I’ve retired, it’s become the purpose that I have.”
Special ingredients for the recipe
He credited Silver Key for offering him a chance to do this work. And he says he works with other volunteers to “compare notes” on how to support the Veterans they serve.
“All the volunteers have their own special ingredient to bring to the recipe,” he added.
VA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE), together with AmeriCorps, provides support for the Choose Home initiative. Here’s more information on OCE’s partnership work.
Dr. Tracy L. Weistreich is a nurse executive for the VHA Office of Community Engagement.