Fred Zamora can't fight the emotions that rise to the surface when he talks about volunteering at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility. Though he has a wife, grandchildren and hobbies to occupy much of his time, Zamora has still managed to spend 27 years helping out his fellow veterans.
"Some of these guys, no one ever comes to see them," said Zamora, his voice choked with emotion. "This is very special to me. When I came back from Korea and Vietnam, no one was there for me. I want to make sure that doesn't happen to these guys."
Zamora, a member of Post 205 in Augusta, Ga., volunteers at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, and the Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home. He helps organize bingo parties a couple times a month that include food and drinks. During holiday programs at the medical center, he and fellow Legionnaires serve dinner, sometimes feeding up to 500 people. And that's just part of what he does every month.
Volunteers such as Zamora are critical to VA, in both man hours and cost savings. Last year, more than 12 million voluntary hours provided VA with services that would normally total (based on an independent-sector volunteer rate of $18.77 an hour) nearly $244 million. That number is staggering.
So, too, are the numbers that Legionnaires contributed to volunteer work in fiscal 2007: more than 7,500 Legionnaires donated 909,137 hours of their time at 167 VA facilities - that's worth $1.7 billion.
Legionnaires volunteer at VA medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics, Vet Centers, nursing homes, state veterans homes, and many other locations in support of hospitalized veterans. The Legion's Veterans Affairs Volunteer Services representatives attend quarterly hospital meetings, coordinating volunteer and donation needs with local Legion posts.
There is no shortage of ways to help. In VA hospitals and polytrauma centers, volunteers provide administrative support, escort patients, work in the food court, serve coffee, staff the information desk and drive shuttles. Anyone can volunteer; individuals and posts can contact the chief of volunteer service at the local VA medical center to arrange for an initial screening and to choose the right volunteer program. You can volunteer 20 hours a week, or you can put in a couple afternoons a month.
It really doesn't matter in what way or how often you volunteer. What matters is that you do volunteer. Who better to work with men and women receiving care in VA hospitals than men and women who also served their country? The common bond of military service, from World War II to the men and women fighting the global war on terrorism, connects those who were able to leave the service relatively unscathed to those who suffered life-altering injuries, either physical or psychological.
Our volunteerism saves VA millions of dollars each year. But you can't put a price on what it does for patients, especially the veterans no one else ever comes to see.