Founded in 1946 to provide for veterans in VA healthcare facilities, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS) is the largest volunteer program in federal government, with more than 350 national and community organizations involved in support of their mission.
Since our founding, American Legion Auxiliary volunteers have served alongside other veterans support organization volunteers and members of the community in the VAVS program. The VAVS supports VA and VHA (Veterans Health Administration) goals as a supplemental workforce of volunteers to assist in the delivery of services, but many of the customary roles changed in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
While the VA continues to engage volunteers in essential assignments and accepts donations of personal protective equipment, many of the roles VAVS volunteers were involved in — like visits to the VA facility units and patients — have stopped.
However, the pause appears to be changing at some facilities. In January, Patricia Murray, an ALA VAVS volunteer, was proud to post in the national ALA Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Facebook group that the Arkansas Auxiliary and Legion department’s VAVS volunteers were back in the facility and serving coffee to visitors at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans’ Hospital. They currently serve coffee to visitors on the first and third Wednesday each month in an atrium on the campus.
Members were really excited to be back.
“We have been asking about returning for a long time,” said Murray. “So, when they announced the VA was opening up, we jumped at the opportunity.”
During the pandemic, Murray said, members were limited to donations only, except for the annual Gift Shop. They missed 2020 but picked up the activity again in 2022. As of press time, members are still limited to serving coffee to visitors but have been told they may be able to start visiting units again soon.
While activities at local VA facilities may be returning, the VA recommends volunteers and visitors to always check their VAMC’s COVID-19 health protection levels before they go. The VA says that as COVID-19 levels change in local communities, they’ll adjust health protection levels at each facility to meet current needs. These can include guidelines for masks, COVID-19 symptom screening, and visitors.
The VA recommends all potential visitors go to their local VA health facility’s website in advance to check the current health protection level. Any changes in levels are updated on the websites on Mondays.
Has your Auxiliary VAVS group started to return to your local VA facility? Tell us about it! Email ALAMagazine@ALAforVeterans.org.