Veter­ans get a new vis­i­tor in their homes

VCon­nec­tions started pro­gram in March to reach veter­ans in their homes

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL [email protected]­news.com

Bill Need­ham had been through sev­eral sets of in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive hear­ing aids and started to think that maybe his six years served in the Navy on an air­craft car­rier back in the late 1950s and early 1960s would make him el­i­gi­ble for some kind of vet­eran ben­e­fit that would pay for the de­vices. For 15 years, he was thwarted at ev­ery turn by some­one in the large bu­reau­cracy of vet­eran’s ben­e­fits.

“One day I was up at Chick-fil-A with a buddy of mine and we were sit­ting there solv­ing the world’s prob­lems and I see this tall, nice gen­tle­man walk­ing in and he had a T-shirt on that said ‘Veter­ans of South­ern Mary­land Col­lege,’” Need­ham said. That “tall, nice gen­tle­man” would turn out to be Bill Buff­in­g­ton, the founder of VCon­nec­tions Inc., the or­ga­ni­za­tion that helps veter­ans con­nect with one an­other at its “cof­fee breaks” at the Chick-fil-A restau­rants in La Plata, Wal­dorf and Brandy­wine as well as at the Burger King in Char­lotte Hall.

That’s when Need­ham learned of the cof­fee get to­geth­ers that he now at­tends when­ever he can, and he met Buff­in­g­ton, who would ul­ti­mately help him reach the right peo­ple to get the hear­ing aids he needed.

“Thank good­ness for Bill and VCon­nec­tions be­cause it changed my whole life,” Need­ham said.

Since then, Buff­in­g­ton, a Navy vet­eran him­self, has been mak­ing reg­u­lar vis­its to Need­ham’s home in La Plata un­der a new pro­gram he started un­der VCon­nec­tions in March, the Home­bound Veter­ans Vis­it­ing Pro­gram. While Need­ham isn’t tech­ni­cally home­bound — with his wife’s as­sis­tance he gets out reg­u­larly — Buff­in­g­ton still vis­its him at least once a month for an hour on Fri­days, as he does with five oth­ers, just to talk and swap sto­ries — they both spent time as air­men on air­craft car­ri­ers, though in dif­fer­ent decades.

“VCon­nec­tions is a mo­bile or­ga­ni­za­tion and your typ­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports veter­ans are based in store­fronts where veter­ans are ex­pected to go there; the vi­sion I had was a vi­sion that en­abled us and our veter­ans to go out and make con­tact with veter­ans through our cof­fee meet­ings and a few other things we have go­ing on in the com­mu­nity,” Buff­in­g­ton said. “Some of our veter­ans don’t get out of the house [very much] so we de­cided through this pro­gram that they know there’s some help com­ing in.”

Buff­in­g­ton had al­ready seen how his peer-to-peer model — veter­ans help­ing veter­ans — was be­ing em­braced by lo­cal veter­ans com­ing to the cof­fee breaks. Go­ing out and vis­it­ing veter­ans — and wid­ows of veter­ans — in their homes seemed like the next log­i­cal step.

“We talk about ev­ery­thing, what’s go­ing on in the com­mu­nity, we let them know we care

and we want to be there for them as veter­ans and I be­lieve in veter­ans help­ing veter­ans, the ca­ma­raderie and un­der­stand­ing is some­times [such that] you don’t have to speak any words and you can just look at each other and know,” he said.

Buff­in­g­ton said that around 80 per­cent in the Home­bound pro­gram are shut-ins or “al­most bedrid­den.” Many are wheel­chair bound from age or in­jury. “We go through an in­ter­view process to make

sure that the vet­eran wants it and we ad­dress with the fam­ily and make sure we know about any med­i­cal con­cerns or trauma … [we make sure they un­der­stand] we’re not med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als but we want to say hello to other veter­ans who want that con­nec­tion,” he said.

Like their com­pa­tri­ots who are more ac­tive and mo­bile, home­bound veter­ans, es­pe­cially those in ru­ral ar­eas, are of­ten un­aware of lo­cal, state and fed­eral re­sources avail­able to them, such as tax

prepa­ra­tion ser­vices, ceme­tery ser­vices and home re­pair help, Buff­in­g­ton said. He reck­ons there are about 100 ser­vices or pro­grams most veter­ans don’t know about.

“There’s no rea­son that veter­ans and fam­ily won’t be able to get the re­sources that they need,” he said. There’s a lot we have to bring at­ten­tion to; we’re work­ing with our mil­i­tary bases to try to in­crease aware­ness there for the ones tran­si­tion­ing.”

As of late May, Buff­in­g­ton

was the only one mak­ing home vis­its, but he re­cently added three vol­un­teers trained for in-home vis­i­ta­tions has added four more veter­ans to visit. He plans to con­tinue grow­ing VCon­nec­tions to meet the needs of area veter­ans.

“It’s im­por­tant to keep our home­bound veter­ans in­volved just like all the oth­ers,” he said.

For more in­for­ma­tion about VCon­nec­tions and its pro­grams, go to https://vcon­nec­tions.org/ or call 301-861-3383.

STAFF PHOTO BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

Navy veter­ans Bill Need­ham, left, and Bill Buff­in­g­ton, founder of VCon­nec­tions, start work on a puz­zle at Need­ham’s home in La Plata. Buff­in­g­ton vis­its Need­ham reg­u­larly un­der his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Home­bound Veter­ans Vis­it­ing Pro­gram.

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