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Volunteers Address Veteran Loneliness in Columbus

Two women standing shoulder to shoulder
VA social worker Lori Murphy and voluntary services specialist Anna Giesler lead the award-winning Columbus VA Compassionate Contact Corps program.

Central Ohio Veterans and volunteers are connecting and establishing relationships despite distance, isolation and immobility.

These connections are made possible through Compassionate Contact Corps (CCC), a nationally-recognized VA program that that connects Veterans with trained volunteers for weekly phone calls.

“Veterans get to talk to someone who isn’t in their family,” said volunteer Taisse Torres-Lorenzo about the Columbus VA’s newest social connection program. “They don’t have to feel censored – they have a sense of freedom.”

Taisse and Stuart

Torres-Lorenzo became a CCC volunteer in August 2020 after searching for volunteer opportunities on the Columbus VA website. Unaware of how the program would impact her, she signed up for training and has been matched with Veterans ever since.

“I’ve had Veterans vent about their week and brag about their grandkids,” said Torres-Lorenzo. “Some days we talk for 15 minutes, other days we talk for over an hour. I love hearing about their time in the military and otherwise. I even talked to one Veteran’s daughter during a health scare. You get very attached.”

Since October 2021 Torres-Lorenzo has been matched with Navy Veteran Stuart Burrows. Torres-Lorenzo now lives in Florida, but because of the virtual nature of the program, she can continue her connection with Burrows without location being a limiting factor.

Both Torres-Lorenzo and Burrows speak highly about each other and everyone associated with the Compassionate Contact Corps. 

Risks of Loneliness

The program’s clinical leader is Lori Murphy, a Columbus VA social worker. Murphy explains that despite not being a diagnosis itself, loneliness is a risk factor for many clinical diagnoses, including depression, dementia, suicidal thoughts and cardiovascular issues.

“Loneliness has a significant impact on health,” said Murphy.  

How CCC was born

Before CCC became a nationally recognized best-practice, Murphy was helping to establish VAs Volunteer In-Home Visitor Program (VIVP) - a similar program to provide caregiver respite and address social isolation.

Shortly after training the first volunteers for the VIVP in March 2020 the program shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, no volunteers had the opportunity to make any home visits.  

Still driven by a desire to address loneliness and isolation the eight VIVP site leaders nationwide thought through a way to turn VIVP into a “friendly phone call” program. 

New Ways of Volunteering

This “friendly phone call” program became the Compassionate Contact Corps. Though different in execution, the program’s goals are similar and focused on addressing loneliness and social isolation.

CCC is growing and more volunteers are needed.

Columbus VA currently has 40 active matches and more Veterans remain on a list waiting to be paired with a trained volunteer. Training is important, but simple, and volunteers usually begin connecting with Veterans within a few weeks of expressing interest in the program.

Interested CCC volunteers should contact Columbus VA voluntary service specialist Anna Giesler at 614-257-5493 to learn more about what it takes to be a volunteer.

Any Veteran who is feeling lonely or is interested in CCC should reach out to their provider for more information.

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