Despite an ongoing global health crisis which inhibited volunteer efforts at VA facilities, Gulf Coast VA Voluntary Services reports that through April, community volunteer efforts have remained consistent.
“Our volunteers play a critical role in the health care we’re able to provide,” said Sharon Ladner, Voluntary Service assistant. “The hundreds of regular volunteers at our facilities have been unable to volunteer in person. Still, they and so many community organizations and individuals have continued to donate.”
Gulf Coast facilities welcomed back volunteers April 19. That was after more than a year of discontinued in-person volunteer efforts due to the ongoing global health crisis.
Instrumental in efforts to provide health care
Director Bryan C. Matthews noted this will have a positive impact on the Veterans served along the Gulf Coast.
“There is so much these volunteers do for our facilities,” he said. “They direct visitors to the right clinics and ensure every Veteran is greeted. That goes a long way in our continued efforts toward providing health care. These volunteers are instrumental in our efforts and having them back in our facilities is a welcome addition we have sorely missed.”
Pictured above, Matthews welcomes volunteer Vicky Osborn back to the Biloxi hospital.
Osborn is a long-time volunteer at the Biloxi VA Medical Center. She received a COVID-19 vaccination earlier this year. Now, she’s returned to volunteer at the facility. She says she missed the interaction with employees and the hundreds of Veterans she greets.
“I’m fully vaccinated and ready to get back to spending time volunteering,” she said. “I want to help those who have given so much for us.”
All volunteers are required to have received a COVID-19 vaccination as well as register for the organization’s volunteer program.
Outpouring of community support
According to Ladner, many volunteer efforts are often unseen but appreciated. Volunteers provide a variety of programs. Their efforts are appreciated not only by Veterans, but the men and women providing ongoing care, too.
“The outpouring of community support to our Veterans has been something that we have always appreciated,” Ladner said. “These range from the donation of toiletries and personal items for our homeless Veterans program and donations to our food pantry to the physically distanced cookouts for our Veterans in the Community Living Center. All of these volunteer efforts make a difference to our organization, and most importantly, to the Veterans we have all pledged to serve.”
Received over $200,000 in donations
Voluntary Service Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator Mike Grey said that donations and requests to volunteer at the organization’s five facilities in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, have remained high.
“Even while we maintain CDC recommendations and VA guidelines requiring face coverings and physical distancing, we have received more than $210,000 in monetary and non-monetary donations since March 2020,” Grey said.
VA’s Center for Development and Civic Engagement has recorded more than one billion volunteer hours since the program began 75 years ago. Volunteers, many of them Veterans, have contributed to the well-being of others through VA programs.
“Veterans Service Organizations and civic, academic, nonprofit and corporate groups have pledged their support to our local Veterans,” Grey continued. “Our dedicated support network of volunteers has truly been a factor in our capability to continue serving those who have served their country.”
The Biloxi VA Medical Center and the Mobile, Pensacola, Eglin and Panama City VA Clinics are all part of the Gulf Coast Veterans Healthcare System (GCVHCS). The GCVHCS is headquartered in Biloxi, Mississippi. It provides medical outpatient services to more than 77,000 Veterans.
Bruce Cummins is a public affairs specialist for the Biloxi VA Medical Center. Photo by Wayne Alley, of VA Medical Media.