Caregiver Support Volunteers Develop Meaningful Relationships With Veterans

Claude Lee and Butch Look At Photos
Volunteer Norman “Butch” Applegate talks vintage cars and motorcycles with U.S. Army veteran Claude Lee as they look through a photo album of Lee’s custom upholstery work. Applegate has been Lee’s caregiver support volunteer since October 2011.

Volunteers help veterans in many ways throughout the VA St. Louis Healthcare System. More than 1200 people from all over the St. Louis region volunteer tens of thousands of hours each year in assignments ranging from driver to nursing assistant.

For some volunteers, one particular assignment brings them closer to veterans and their families than any other.

The volunteer caregiver support program pairs a veteran and their primary caregiver—usually their spouse—with a volunteer in their local community. The volunteer visits the homebound veteran once or twice a week for a few hours, providing socialization and friendly companionship. They interact with the veteran by playing games, working on craft projects, listening to music, reading aloud, watching movies and many other activities depending on the veteran’s condition.

Norman “Butch” Applegate started as Claude and Nancy Lee’s caregiver support volunteer in October of last year. Applegate was already a VA volunteer driver for the Disabled American Veterans and is VFW Post 2866 Commander in St. Charles. Lee lives in O’Fallon, Mo and is a U.S. Army veteran.

“Both Claude and Nancy are wonderful people and great candidates for the caregiver support program. Claude loves to talk, listen to music and work in his craft room. Nancy is happy to finally get time away from the house to run errands. She’s comfortable leaving Claude knowing I’m there watching over her husband,” explained Applegate.

Caregiver support volunteers are a vital part of a network of family, friends, social service and health professionals who provide comfort and assistance to homebound veterans.  Through this program, volunteers provide a much needed break for the caregiver so they can renew their energy and spirit while providing compassionate support to ill and injured veterans in their homes.

“Before Butch started volunteering, it had been many months since I was able to get out of the house. I just couldn’t leave Claude home alone in his condition,” said Nancy. “Now I can plan errands and shopping ahead knowing that every week, Butch is coming over to spend a few hours with Claude. He’s really been a huge help with both Claude and myself. We’re very thankful Butch is here.”

The program’s ultimate goal is to provide veterans a high quality of life by allowing them to stay at home with their family as long as possible. In doing this, everyone involved—veteran, caregiver and volunteer—get so much more out of the program than they ever thought possible.

“I get consistent reports of our volunteers developing a strong bond with the veteran and their family over time,” said John Farrell, VA St. Louis Healthcare System volunteer caregiver support program manager. “All the volunteers in the program thoroughly enjoy their time with the veterans and caregivers and often say they’re treated like family. It’s really a unique volunteer opportunity for people who want to give something back to those who served their country and develop that close relationship with a veteran.”

For information on how you can become a caregiver support volunteer, visit our website or contact John Farrell at (314) 289-6393.


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