VA Western New York Healthcare System
Volunteers Head to the Streets
Sometimes hearing a phrase like; “I’ve been there too,” can make all the difference in a young Veteran’s decision to take strides toward a healthier lifestyle. At VA Western New York Healthcare System, one special group of volunteers is doing their part to ensure that phrase is heard loud and clear.
Six Veterans, who call themselves “The Pathfinders,” have taken to the streets, talking with Veterans of all ages, letting them know they are not alone and educating them about benefits that are available to them.
“A lot of guys just don’t know how to get the process started,” said Marty O’Connor, a Pathfinder and Vietnam Veteran. “Our mission is to say, hey, VA has helped us, they can help you too.”
Through face to face meetings at outreach events, as well as personal phone calls, Pathfinders help America’s Heroes better understand the workings of the VA system. While they are not service providers, they communicate with Veterans and act as a liaison between them and professional VA employees to help the Veteran attain the services that they deserve. O’Connor says that getting a person who needs help to the door is job number one.
“We just want to get them in here,” said O’Connor. “After that we let VA take care of the rest.”
To help reach their target audience, the group is constantly working to keep the latest information on hand in order to provide Veterans with the most accurate, up to date information. Staying current, they say, is essential in alleviating Veterans fears and dispelling rumors they may have heard about VA health care in the past.
Due to the tireless efforts of groups like the Pathfinders, as well as the thousands of volunteers nationwide, VA has named the week of April 10 through 16 “National Volunteer Week.” Local festivities are held at both the Buffalo and Batavia facilities all week long in an effort to thank those who donate their time, talent and contributions to VA Western New York Healthcare System.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service is the largest centralized volunteer group in the federal government. Last year, VA Western New York Healthcare volunteers logged 140,439 hours and accounted for $764,385 in donations.
For volunteer groups like the Pathfinders however, no amount of time and donations are great enough; and no accolades can ever compete with the satisfaction they receive from helping Veterans. Pathfinder Bill Scharra says that seeing just one Veteran get help is all he needs to keep going.
“If we can reach just one person out of the hundreds we may see at an event, it’s worth it,” said Scharra. “The purpose of volunteering is to help others,” he said. “But a lot of times I feel like I am helping me.”