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VA greeter uses own challenges to create welcome environment and inspire Veterans

Man sits in wheelchair in hallway, photos behind him
Veteran Rod Romero offers VA visitors a warm welcome, directions and support.

Just inside the main entrance of the Cheyenne VA in Wyoming, visitors may encounter a greeter named Roderick “Rod” Romero.

This Veteran started his military career in the U.S. Army Reserve before serving for nearly five years active duty with Army Special Forces. 

Calm in crisis

Romero worked at VA in 2011, before leaving to attend college through the facility’s Vocational Rehabilitation program. Years later, after earning three degrees, Romero returned to VA and began working as a screener during the pandemic.   

“Veterans were upset and scared about wearing masks,” said Romero. “I tried to bring it down a little. I put music on to calm people. I tried to smile every time, saying, ‘good morning.’ Let them know it’s ok.”

For his efforts in bringing compassion to this role, Romero said he’s earned two “Be All You Can Be” awards for exceptional service. 

A lasting role

As screeners disappeared from VA entrances, Romero said his facility decided they needed a greeter, so he stayed at his post. 

In addition to welcoming visitors with a smile, Romero offers directions, escorts people to appointments or talks with Veterans if they’re having issues. 

An inspiration to others

Currently using a motorized wheelchair during his rehab from a procedure, Romero is undergoing physical therapy and determined to walk again. 

“They see me in this chair and say, ‘You’re one of us,’” he said. “We’re all having physical issues. I try to give them motivation. I tell them, ‘don’t give up. I’m not giving up.’ They need somebody to inspire them when they walk in.”

Romero has even turned his rehab into an opportunity to assist wheelchair-bound Veterans. He explained how grasping the small, thin stick that controls the wheelchair’s direction sometimes aggravates his arthritis. 

His solution came in the form of a rubber bouncy ball. He drilled a hole into a ball, about 2 inches in circumference, and fit it over the stick, allowing him to easily direct his chair without pain. Romero now buys bouncy balls in bulk and offers them free to Veterans in electric wheelchairs. 

His presence valued

This greeter has carved out a niche among Veterans at Cheyenne VA. Romero said he recently took two days off and when he returned, people told him they were concerned about his absence and expressed how much they missed him. 

“It’s the Veterans that keep me going,” said Romero. “That’s why I like what I do. It makes me want to come to work and be an impact to others. They mean a lot to me.”

Romero feels his interaction with Veterans can have an emotional impact on them. “I told a Vietnam Vet, ‘Thank you for your military service.’ He shed a tear and said, ‘No one ever said that to me. You’re the first one that said welcome home.’” 

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April Love is a Writer-Editor on the VISN 19 Creative Task Force. She began working for Denver VA in 2016 and lives in Aurora, Colorado.

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