In 2019, Vicki Phillips and Vietnam Veteran Melvin Phillips were on their fourth trip to Negril, Jamaica, when they decided to unexpectedly renew their marriage vows on Seven Mile Beach. The 44th anniversary isn’t typically considered a milestone, but they chose to celebrate that day because they were together in their favorite place and committed to each other. Two years later, Melvin flipped through old photos from their time exploring the island as an exercise to keep his mind active since his diagnosis with vascular dementia in May 2020, and Vicki is his caregiver.
“Even before he got sick, I couldn’t say enough good things about him. He’s still an excellent father, grandfather, and husband,” Vicki said.
His diagnosis came at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic as everyone was adjusting to the new way of life. Many doctors’ appointments no longer allowed additional people. Attending social events or going to the grocery store became more of a risk.
Turned to Veteran Community Partnership to learn more
Phillips turned to their local Veteran Community Partnership (VCP) in Louisville, Kentucky, for help because she wanted to learn more about dementia and take better care of him.
VCPs are collaborations – each is part of the larger Veterans Health Administration VCP initiative – that bring together community leaders and organizations with VA Medical Center programs to help Veterans access health care and supportive services at VA and beyond.
“It’s been very difficult because he needs to get out and be exposed to things to keep his mind as sharp as possible,” Vicki added. “COVID has made it more difficult than it would have been otherwise. We have to take more precautions because of his immune system.”
The VCP initiative is a joint project of the VHA Geriatrics and Extended Care, National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships, and other VHA offices such as Rural Health and Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
The Center for Development and Civic Engagement also contributes to VCP success. VA plans to have a VCP at each VA medical centers by September 2024.
“Can’t tell you enough good things about Lori.”
“They have so much to offer and have taken such good care of us,” Vicki said. “I can’t tell you enough good things about Lori and what she does to support us. The first thing she said was, “What can we do for you?””
Lori Paris is a social worker, caregiver support coordinator and Veteran community partnership co-chair.
Phillips says that participating in the VCP virtual meetings taught her what is available for Veterans through VA, American Red Cross, AARP and suicide prevention resources. She also participates in their support groups and found guidance on how to prepare for the next stages of dementia.
Links to more helpful information
Many caregivers find themselves in challenging situations just like Phillips during COVID-19. Take a moment to reach out to a caregiver you know to see how they’re doing and remind them of the resources available through VCPs and VA.
For more information about additional caregiver services the VA has to offer, visit: https://www.va.gov/family-member-benefits/comprehensive-assistance-for-family-caregivers/ or https://www.caregiver.va.gov/.
To learn more about the VCPs in your area, visit: https://www.va.gov/healthpartnerships/vcp.asp.