Veterans get a new visitor in their homes
VConnections started program in March to reach veterans in their homes
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.
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.