This year, VA Voluntary Service (VAVS)—one of the largest volunteer programs in the federal government—is celebrating its 70th anniversary.
Since VAVS was established in 1946, VA volunteers have given more than 782 million hours in support of Veterans seeking VA health care across the country. This includes many avenues of service, donations, and help to enhance VA health care delivery in a number of facilities and settings.
As VA has expanded its care of Veteran patients into the community, volunteers have continued to be involved. In fiscal year 2015, active and occasional VA volunteers combined contributed nearly 10.9 million hours of support to Veterans.
In 2013, Sabrina Clark took on her current role as the director of the voluntary service program. Clark understands that as the needs of the Veteran population continue to grow in diversity, so does the need for VA employees and volunteers from all backgrounds who want to serve Veterans.
The VA employee of 24 years cites diversity as a huge benefit to the program. “I think that when we see that type of diversity in our [VA] workforce,” Clark explained, “that it invites that type of diversity in our community to walk in. Our Veteran population is very diverse and demands the opportunity to have those creative and innovative voices and perspectives come in to help us fulfill that mission.”
Clark describes the volunteers as a “true force-multiplier” for VA. “We rely on our community, and one of the main ways that the community shows up for our Veterans is through the volunteer department,” she explained. “In this time in VA’s history, and [with] the challenges that we face as an organization, we definitely need people who want to bring their talents, their skills, their donations, and just their hearts and minds to help us meet that mission.”
Although she’s not a Veteran herself, Clark has strong personal ties to the department’s mission.
“What motivates me most to help Veterans,” said Clark, “is that I am still a sister of a Veteran that served in the U.S. Army. I am a daughter of a Veteran — to my father who served in the U.S. Navy. When I come in to VA and have my time at the medical center, I keep seeing their faces as part of that service.”
Though VAVS has served Veterans for seven decades, there is always a need for those ready to lend a hand. There are a number of traditional assignments available—from volunteer drivers to mailroom workers and hospice volunteers.
“It’s really unlimited in the ways that volunteers can serve,” said Clark. “We have so many great assignments for volunteers, but we also have the opportunity to build that; so when people come in and maybe look at a list of assignments available at a facility, and they don’t see anything that fits them, we always have the opportunity to customize an assignment for that individual, and really find out what it is they have a heart to do.”
Just about anybody can volunteer, said Clark. “Maybe they don’t even know if they have a heart for Veterans, but they’re really experimenting with a career field, or some sort of job exploration that they are doing; they might come in and find that opportunity at VA to try that on. But along the way, they develop that heart for Veterans, because it’s really hard not to once you are at our facility.”
To find out more about volunteering through VA Voluntary Service, visit http://www.volunteer.va.gov.