Volunteers needed to keep lonely veterans company in the hospital

e set out to learn more about programs created to keep our heroes company.

SAN ANTONIO - You might remember Jacob Mitchell. He's an Air Force veteran once alone in the ICU and was soon after reunited with his mother, thanks to the help of Military City USA.

As KENS 5 covered his story, we learned his case is not unusual. A lot of veterans find themselves at the hospital for days or even weeks, and they never get visitors.

We set out to learn more about programs created to keep our heroes company.

"We all want to know that someone cares. We all want to know that we're significant to someone. We all want to know that someone wants to hear my story," Juliana Lesher, the Chief of Chaplain Service for the South Texas Veterans Health Care System said.

Three years ago, the Chaplain Service began focusing on veterans who were nearing the end of life.

"We really wanted to ensure that no veteran would die alone," Lesher said.

The Chaplain staff of 13 as well as 7 trainees will sit with veterans who are in their last days in the "No Veteran Dies Alone" Program.

"[They may] read to them, they may play music for them, they may hold their hand, they may take a wash rag and wipe their brow," Lesher said.
As their efforts continued, it became evident there were so many other veterans inside the VA hospital who may be alone.

That's when they decided to expand to include the "Angels of Presence" program where chaplains and volunteers can sit with any veteran who is inside the VA alone.

"The nighttime hours in particular are many times a lot more difficult for veterans with who may have PTSD, flashbacks or anxiety issues," Lesher said. "Sometimes, we find that people may not want to necessarily talk, but they just want someone to be there to hold their hand."

Simply having the company is so treasured.

Just ask veteran, Joe Cubillos.

"We just talk about the Spurs or whatever comes to mind," Cubillos said about his conversations with chaplains.

"Some of my family lives out of town so they can't always come and see me," Cubillos added. "Two of my daughters live in town. Two of my other daughters live out of town."

Cubillos considers the "Angels of Presence" program is extended family; His "VA family".

Another component of Chaplain Service is the "TeleChaplaincy", where chaplains can connect with a veteran who lives in a remote area and provide them companionship via video chat (i.e. Skype).

"Bring a chaplain into the home of a veteran, bring the chaplain into an area of a veteran where he or she may feel lonely, may feel a sense of isolation or disconnect," Lesher said.

Lesher shared an example of the power of TeleChaplaincy involving a veteran nearing the end of his life who was staying in the Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital.

The veteran's dream was to be able to get well in time to attend a family reunion two months away.

Lesher says doctors told the veteran he only had one month to live. That's when the TeleChaplaincy program kicked in.

"Through chaplain service and TeleChaplaincy, we were able to provide a TeleChaplain family reunion and work with other VA facilities across the country where we were able to have those family members come to those VA facilities, then have a group gathering where the veteran was here in our hospital viewing a small computer screen in front of his hospital bed and was able to see family members in four different areas across the country." Lesher said.

Through TeleChaplaincy, chaplains were also able to connect a veteran with his brother, a fellow World War II veteran. The brothers hadn't seen each other in nearly 37 years.

The Chaplain service is in need of volunteers for the No Veteran Dies Alone and Angels of Presence programs. Ideally, they'd like to have one volunteer each day.

If you're interested in lending a helping hand to our nation's heroes, call the Chaplain Service at 210-949-9231.

© 2017 KENS-TV


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