Over the past several years, American Legion Riders from Chapter 374 in Omaha, Neb., have raised thousands of dollars during their annual poker run for the Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program. In preparation for this year’s event, the Riders wanted to highlight a Nebraska veteran who has benefited from an OCW grant. However, when Department of Nebraska Adjutant and Legion Rider Dave Salak called National Headquarters, he learned an OCW grant has never been requested from the department.
This prompted Salak to contact the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System in Omaha and ask if “there was something that The American Legion could do to help them and (Brett Stidfole and I) put together a wish list,” Salak said. “I was overwhelmed when National approved everything on that list and still bought some extra comfort items. (OCW is) a truly generous program!”
An $8,000 grant was presented to the Omaha VA on March 14, which included health and hygiene items, kayaks, fishing poles, ping pong table, dart boards and a Bowflex machine.
“What this donation will do is help the veterans connect back into the community, with nature and with their families. It will not only help in behavior change with the veterans, but increase their social, cognitive and motor skills as well,” said Brett Stidfole, a recreational therapist in the hospital’s residential unit.
Stidfole has surveyed the veterans in the past about what equipment they wanted to have on hand to aid in their recovery, so the items OCW donated were an answer to their needs.
The OCW donation “is their voice as well,” Stidfole said. “We are all very appreciative of this grant because we know how much it means to our veterans and to our staff because we know how much it’s going to help the veterans with their recovery. All these items are proven to decrease depression and anxiety, and increase well-being.”
During the presentation of the comfort items to Omaha VA staff, National Vice Commander Douglas Boldt spoke about the mission of OCW and the impact it’s had on wounded servicemembers, veterans and their families. “This donation was special to me because I have spoken at several fundraisers for OCW but have never been involved with delivering the goods,” Boldt said.
Other Legion family members involved with the donation delivery included Department of Nebraska Commander Beth Linn, and Legion Riders from Chapter 374 helped purchase, pack and deliver the items as well.
The donation “was way more than we ever imagined that we would get from the program. It’s incredible,” Salak said. “You could just see the looks on (hospital staff’s) faces during the delivery about how incredible the program is. OCW is based on what our organization is all about, which is helping veterans who need that extra support.”