By Katie Ocampo
Long Island Business News
As I enter to meet my veteran clients at the LegalHealth (NYLAG) law clinic located in the Northport VA Medical Center, Florence looks up with a bright smile to greet me. At 88, Florence has been a volunteer at VA for nearly 20 years. She is one of about 800 volunteers at VA.
Voluntary Service in the VA Health Care System was established in 1946 and has become an integral part of helping the VA provide for the needs of more than nine million veterans enrolled in its care. There are endless opportunities for volunteering: occasional volunteers including one-time groups, such as a high school team who may visit a VA nursing home for the day, or a regularly scheduled volunteer such as Florence who donates countless hours of her time.
One could fill a position completing clerical tasks or guiding veterans to where their appointments are located. Those with musical talents can donate by providing entertainment services for a VA event. Other opportunities include assisting with the Body-Mind Program (including yoga), escorting veterans who need mobility assistance, and delivering items and gifts to patients to put them at ease. Volunteers can be assigned to specific departments, including but not limited to, physical therapy, social work services, the emergency room, and the Disabled American Veterans office which provides free transportation for medical appointments.
Volunteers from the community have been instrumental in the Northport clinic’s progress in numerous ways. Volunteers escort clients to their legal appointments and also direct clients to the legal clinic when lost (anyone who is familiar with the vastness of the Northport VA can appreciate this service). Furthermore, volunteers not only refer clients every week by interacting with veterans, but many are also patients in the medical facility themselves and need services. Those volunteers who have a connection to or are veterans themselves also bring information about the legal clinic to outside service organizations and spread the word. This relationship is essential to the seamless web of activity, comradery, bonding and kindness which anyone will inevitably see at any VA hospital.
In asking Florence what brought her to Voluntary Service at Northport, she became animated, telling about how she wants to help veterans and that she is proud of them. Her husband was a veteran and went to Northport for his medical care and decided to later volunteer. Florence joined him in his service to the VA until he passed away, but then continued to volunteer on her own. Volunteering is her way of showing her loyalty to those who have served and protected, as well as showing her love to her two grandsons who are currently active with the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps. She summed it up by saying, “If it wasn’t for veterans I wouldn’t be here”.
Not only are individuals supporting veterans by giving their time and donations, they also connect veterans with invaluable services such as NYLAG’s legal clinics through word-of-mouth and referrals. Community involvement is essential to meeting the veteran population with medical, social, and legal needs.
This is a good day to say thanks to all those volunteers – and maybe it’s also a good day to start thinking about joining them.
For more information regarding volunteering time, money, or goods, contact Voluntary Services at your local VA medical center or the Northport VA at 631-261-4400. The legal clinic at Northport complements healthcare by providing free legal services to low-income patients. For more information call 631-261-4400 extension 6591. Veterans must be registered at the Northport VA to be eligible.
Katie Ocampo is an attorney with the New York Legal Assistance Group who staffs the legal clinic located at the Northport VA. The clinic is grant-funded and is part of a medical-legal partnership with services including execution of health care proxies, power of attorneys, and advanced directives. Other assistance may include legal action for defense of an eviction or benefits appeals.
Originally published in Long Island Business News on April 9, 2019.