United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
Sharing a Desire to Care: A "Soldier's Angel"
Woman sits and types at a computer.
Carolyn helps an OEF/OIF Veteran patient by searching for financial assistance options.

All nurses care. But nurses like Carolyn Dunbar live to care.

Not only does Carolyn care for active duty service members from Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) at the VA Medical Center in New Orleans, she also spends her time volunteering as a "Soldier's Angel," sending letters and care packages to soldiers overseas, baking cookies to greet returning service members at the next "Welcome Home" event, or brightening someone's day by serenading them with her gospel choir.

Caring is something Carolyn does, and does well.

As a case manager for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) Veterans, Carolyn helps Veterans make a seamless transition into the VA health care system and also helps them transition back into civilian life.

Matt Cole, one of Carolyn's OEF/OIF patients, is grateful for her help. "She calls me at least every other week to check on me. If anything needs to be solved, she's the person to contact and she knows right where to go. She's special, and we Veterans are lucky to have her," he said.

Nothing Can Keep Her Down

Carolyn has worked at the VA her entire 28-year nursing career. Twenty-seven of those years have been at the VA in her hometown, New Orleans.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Carolyn was out of town waiting for the storm to pass. She was eager to return and get back to work, but fate had a different idea, and she did not return to her hometown for another year.

Carolyn Dunbar and Matt Cole pose in front of a tree.
Carolyn Dunbar meets with OEF/OIF Veteran, Matt Cole. "She's special and we Veterans are lucky to have her."

"My house was destroyed but it didn't matter — I didn't lose my life or my family," Carolyn recalled.

The natural disaster also left the New Orleans VA Medical Center in ruins. With no home and no workplace, Carolyn relocated to Shreveport, La., where VA coworkers supported her during her time of loss. When the timing was right, she returned to her New Orleans neighborhood and worked to rebuild her home and her community.

Carolyn's return to VA New Orleans resulted in a few changes. The Medical Center is in a rebuilding phase until 2013, so she works at one of the VA clinics in her new role as an OEF/OIF case manager. She transitioned from working with substance abuse patients and welcomed the opportunity to try something different.

"I love case management. It gives me the opportunity to work with patients in all aspects of life. Whether it be medical or they just need someone to talk to, Veterans can talk to me about anything."

Finding Her Passion

Carolyn's mother was a nurse, but she wasn't sure if nursing was for her, too. She gave nursing school a try and soon realized she had chosen the right field. "When I was working in a mental health rotation, I really fell in love with nursing. I have a passion for mental health nursing and have worked in every area of mental health while at the VA."

Working at the VA has been personal for her as well. She grew up surrounded by military service members, including her brother, her sister and many of her aunts and uncles.

Outside of work, Carolyn is a coordinator for an annual women's spiritual retreat. The retreat is designed to "give women a break from their daily stressors and gather to lift their spirits and praise God." She also sings in a gospel group called Fired Up Praisers, volunteers as a "Soldier's Angel" and participates in a number of community events.

Carolyn loves helping others and loves her job. "It's an honor to work for men and women who have given up their freedom to go to war in order to preserve our freedom."

By Megan Tyson, VA Staff Writer

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