In 2017, Vietnam Veteran John Young lost his wife Cindy after 42 years of marriage.
Young has a daughter who is very involved in his life, and lives only four miles away. He also spends a lot of time with his three grandsons. But losing a spouse is painful – no matter how much support one has.
“When I lost my wife, people wanted me to join a grief program, and that didn’t work out,” said Young, who was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star in Vietnam.
Young, who lives alone, said members of his church reached out to check on him. But he never formed a strong connection with the church volunteers.
During an appointment with his mental health provider, Young learned about a new program at the Houston VA called the Compassionate Contact Corps. VA volunteers call Veterans once a week simply to talk and to give them a personal connection.
After agreeing to participate, Young received his first phone call in early 2021 from Paul Rogers, a VA volunteer and real estate agent in the Houston area. The first call was a simple introduction and helped the two determine the best day and time each week to talk.
“There was a contact time set up for me to call him and for him to be expecting the call,” said Rogers. “He was very appreciative that he received a phone call. He just wanted someone to talk to.”
They quickly developed a rapport.
“It all just sort of fell into place,” said Rogers. “He loves his grandkids and daughter, and does a lot of activities with them. He loves to talk about it and I love to listen. With both of us sort of being family-oriented individuals, it helps out a lot.”
Rogers and Young have talked weekly for about 18 months, but have never met each other in person.
“We got to know each other,” said Young about Rogers. “Paul and I just clicked. That’s the best way to put it.”
Rogers said a key aspect of each phone call is letting the Veteran talk about what they want to talk about.
“You listen and you let them know that you care,” he said. “You’re helping out the need of the individual based on what they want to communicate and talk about. I feel very fortunate to be able to participate in the program. To me, it is very essential.”
In conversations with his fellow Vietnam Veterans, Young said others have expressed their interest in participating in the program or simply receiving routine phone calls from someone they know well.
“A lot of Vietnam Veterans would love to have someone call and check on them, especially if you’re staying at home by yourself or single,” said Young. “A lot of Vietnam Veterans want to open up.”
VA needs volunteers for the Compassionate Contact Corps
The Houston VA Center for Development & Civic Engagement started Compassionate Contact Corps during the COVID-19 pandemic – a time when many were facing increased isolation and loneliness. Research has shown that isolation and loneliness can ultimately lead to cognitive decline, depression and heart disease.
“Our Veterans may find themselves alone due to the death of a spouse or partner, separation from their loved ones, loss of mobility or because of lack of transportation,” said ,” said Barbra Bell, chief, CDCE. “It’s our mission to make a positive impact on these Veterans and our volunteers are eager to support our Veterans in need.”
At present, Houston VA does not have enough volunteers to partner with Veterans who want to participate in the program.
If you’re interested in making an impact in the life of a Veteran, please contact our civic engagement office at 713-794-7135 or email email@example.com. Volunteers will receive training prior to calling a Veteran and will need to commit to participating for minimum of six months.
“Communication means the world to the Veteran,” said Rogers. “It shows them that people truly do care.”