Thousands of VA volunteers have had their normal activities disrupted since early spring due to COVID-19. Then, VA paused the volunteer program to protect Veterans, health care providers and volunteers from the risk of exposure to the virus.

Sheila Dreadfulwater has been a regular volunteer at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center for over two years. She suddenly found herself stuck at home without her normal opportunities to give back.

“If I’m not out there helping people, I feel like I am withering inside,” said Dreadfulwater. Dreadfulwater also volunteers with Red Cross. “I stayed home for around two months and while I have lots of hobbies, I was really just too depressed to enjoy them.”

She didn’t let the virus keep her down for long though and quickly put her talents to good use.

“After I got over being sad, I thought there are things I can still do to help. I started sewing masks and sending them to the Red Cross and family in other states.”

Volunteers are important to the operation of VA services and programs. Still, most volunteer activities had to be paused to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Sheila Dreadfulwater, volunteer (center), Bunner Gray (left) and Shantel McJunkins (right), voluntary service specialists.

“When they called, I jumped at the chance.”

“I even called Voluntary Service earlier on, after the program was paused and asked if I could come back. So, when they called me, I jumped at the chance right away. I missed being here.”

Pictured above, Dreadfulwater stays busy by helping Veterans and answering phone calls at the Information Desk in the main lobby.

While some volunteers are ready to return to normal, COVID-19 is still a concern for many who are at an increased risk for complications. Voluntary Service specialists Bunner Gray and Shantel McJunkins have been busy getting the medical center ready for the safe return of more volunteers to the program.

We miss their energy and the smiles

“We miss our volunteers and are looking forward to having more of them back once we know that it is safe for them to return,” said Gray.

McJunkins added, “Volunteering is an act of kindness and our volunteers love doing what they do. They are a priceless asset to our Veterans and to our health care system. They fulfill several important roles throughout our facility that make a difference in Veterans’ lives. We miss their energy and the smiles they bring to everyone; they are needed and valued.”

Upon their return, volunteers can expect additional safety measures to be put in place to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of Veterans, staff and volunteers.

“We are preparing for their return by optimizing our Volunteer program in line with the COVID-19 guidelines,” said McJunkins. “We are adjusting to change by putting protocols in place to protect the health of our volunteers upon their return. Volunteers will be required to use the digital screening tool, complete a special training course on COVID-19 guidelines, wear proper personal protective equipment and practice social distancing.”

Voluntary Service has a message for the volunteers who so graciously give their time at the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System.

“We want to extend a heartfelt thank you for your patience during this pandemic,” said McJunkins. “Your volunteering is much appreciated, and you are missed dearly.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteering opportunities visit VA Voluntary Service or call 918-577-3621/3622.

Tiffani Matthews is a Public Affairs TCF intern for the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System.

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Published on Oct. 13, 2020

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