United Through Reading - Office of Community Engagement
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United Through Reading

Honoring Children of Veterans and their Families through Literacy and Connection

A child reading a book is guided through the book by their parent, a service member, via videophone.
A child reading a book is guided through the book
by their parent, a service member, via videophone.

April 2018 is the Month of the Military Child. During this month, military families and their children are honored for the daily sacrifices they make and the challenges they overcome while they are apart.

United Through Reading (UTR) unites military members and Veterans with their children through the read aloud experience. This program allows Veterans who are separated from their families to share an everyday moment, like story time, with the children in their lives through video recordings. UTR sends the video along with a companion copy of the book, so children can play the recording of their Veteran parent, grandparent or caregiver and read along. 

UTR, a national nonprofit organization, was created to build family bonds and cultivate a love of reading for military children during separations. A 2016 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine notes that parenting practices, such as shared book reading, lead to positive childhood outcomes, both academically and emotionally. More than 2 million military beneficiaries have been served through UTR.

Through the UTR partnership, Veterans build connections with their children and grandchildren, enhancing their relationships and well-being. The Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) goal is to provide excellent heath care with a focus on working collaboratively with Veterans and their loved ones to benefit the whole health of the patient, including relationships with loved ones.

The VHA/UTR partnership offers these recorded reading sessions to Veterans who may be separated from their families during extended medical treatment or while in residential care. For example, Veterans participating in the Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Programs (RRTP) can be away from their families from a few weeks to more than a year, in some cases.

Andrew Tomacari, RRTP Program Manager at the Battle Creek VA Medical Center, said the UTR program has been quite meaningful for the Veterans who have made recordings. Some have requested to participate again to make more videos for their young family members. Tomacari added that the UTR program has become an additional tool for increasing family engagement and reaching individualized treatment goals.

VHA and UTR began recording stories with Veterans in early 2018 at the Battle Creek VAMC in Michigan with the help of Volunteer Services. There are plans to expand the program later this year to the VA Medical Centers in Prescott, Arizona, and Orlando, Florida. As the partnership grows and interest builds, more VHA sites are expected to join with UTR to offer the program to Veterans and their families.

“To care for him who shall have born the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” — Abraham Lincoln 

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