(COLORADO SPRINGS) — Through the power of a phone call, volunteers from all around the world can help support the mental health of veterans who are experiencing loneliness.
“It’s a holistic approach to health care for the veteran and honestly, even for the volunteer, it gives them, the volunteer, an opportunity to connect with a national hero, develop empathetic and active listening skills, and also flexibility,” Chief of Center for Development and Civic Engagement, VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, Eva Gergely, said.
Compassionate Contact Corps launched in 2020 and has reached over 3,000 veterans all across the country.
“This program helps combat that, you know, by bringing in volunteers that are matched up relating to their interest or potentially their branches service,” said Gergely.
Diane Erickson is one volunteer of the program who witnessed the positive outcome of simply talking to a veteran.
“I find that each time we talk that they feel more comfortable,” Erickson said. “They’re more [able] to share their experiences and how they’re feeling, which is good. I mean, that they are willing. It has to be driven by them and they are willing to share how they’re feeling and like anyone else talking about your experiences, help to process them.”
Erickson has enjoyed volunteering since she was a little girl.
“Well, I volunteer because I enjoy it,” Eckerson said. “It’s something that I’ve done since childhood, depending on what stage I was in my life. If I volunteered with the church or with my children’s youth groups, girl scouts, boy scouts. So, volunteering has been very much a portion of my life now.”
Through the program, veterans and volunteers schedule phone calls every week, anywhere between 15-60 minutes.
“The veterans come together with the volunteer and then they start contacting each other weekly, biweekly,” Gergely said. “And it can be through text, it can be through the Internet, you know, doing a Zoom call or it can just be a simple phone call, you know, just depending on how tech-savvy that the veteran is and also the volunteer.”
Gergely stated they are in need of more volunteers, and added that the phone call can be taken from wherever you live.
“You could be anywhere in the nation or really anywhere in the world and make those phone calls,” Gergely said. “So that’s my plea and, you know, it’s a great way for our veterans to give back to veterans, veterans helping veterans. So, it’s a simple thing but there’s also benefits for the caregiver. If a veteran is with the caregiver or lives with the caregiver it allows that caregiver to have time to have some respite.”
The program works to pair volunteers and veterans with something they have in common. Erickson said she filled out a questionnaire prior.
Compassionate Contact Corp ensures volunteers are trained for phone calls and how to respond in case there is an emergency.
“We provide a two-hour training and within that training, we talk about empathetic listening, suicide prevention, how to identify neglect and abuse, because unfortunately, that happens,” Gergely said. “And then we also talk about what to do if there is an emergency and how to contact us at the VA or 911. So, we go over all that and make sure that the volunteer has all the tools they need to be successful and to continue this program.”
Erickson advocated to the benefits of serving the program as a volunteer.
“When you volunteer, you’re making the community better,” Erickson said. “You are supporting somebody; you grow yourself because you find out about other people’s experiences. So, it’s a growth for yourself and it makes you feel better, broadens your horizons, makes you appreciate what you have.”