We need to work harder to set the table for everyone
Being hungry is a terrible feeling
I have always held on tight to the words, “Home is where the heart is.” In the past several years, my view has changed. I have found too many Veterans wonder why they have no home to rest their broken bodies and fractured minds.
A few weeks ago, I met a man at the Orlando Veterans Medical Center (VAMC) at Lake Nona. He was pulling a large suitcase behind him as he came up to the information desk where I was sitting. It was obviously heavy and burdening him down. “
The Veteran asked a volunteer who I know if he could leave his bag there while he “goes find a microwave to pop my popcorn.” She told him they were not allowed to hold personal items. I could see the Veteran was getting upset. “All I want to do is drop my bag long enough to pop a bag of corn. Damn it, I’m hungry.”
The information desk at the Orlando VAMC is primarily worked by volunteers who spend their day escorting patients to their appointment. As one volunteer explained, it would not be feasible for them to watch valuable personal items and do their job. I understand what he said, however, there should be an alternative for the few people who need a place to leave their personal items while they are visiting the VAMC.
I looked at the volunteer and then rolled up to the Veteran. I held out my hand not sure if he would reciprocate. I said to the Veteran, “Hi, my name is Kimberly.” He replied, “Hello.” I told him I was going to the cafeteria and I would love to buy him some lunch. “I love popcorn but it never fills me up when I’m hungry.”
“Why would you do that,” he asked? “Nobody does that.” I told him, “I am just sitting here waiting for my transportation and it would be my pleasure to make sure you have good food to eat today.” He looked at me sitting in my wheelchair seemingly confused and asked if I can afford it. I told him not to worry.
We walked into the cafeteria and he said, “Boy doesn’t that food smell good!” I laughed and said, “It definitely does.” One thing about the VAMC cafeteria, they can put out a delicious spread all day long. “I told the Veteran to get two meals so he would have something for dinner also. His face lit up!
He practically danced his way into the food line almost losing his balance just as he reached the rails where food trays run goes. I gasped thinking, “Thank God he didn’t fall.” Two grand meals selected, food boxes literally overflowing, arrived at the cashier minutes later waiting for payment.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” he said. “You just did,” I replied. “Have you talked to a social worker here at the VAMC about getting housing and other services.” He told me that he had and still was. “So far nothing,” he said. I told him not to stop “going back.”
Then I told him the only thing I could … hopefully, it helped, “God bless you!” I rolled away feeling good.
The VA and other agencies offer homeless Veterans access to a plethora of services and care including services for Veterans who are homeless. Not all services are the right fit for all, but with the right advocacy and “getting the word out” more homeless Veterans and their families will get services they need. I can’t say if the veteran that actually meets the criteria for homeless or not. If he does, I am sure he will get the help me needs.
After speaking to a couple of knowledgeable people at the Orlando VAMC at Lake Nona, including Mike Strickler, Multimedia Services Chief, I found out that the facility provides Veterans who have been referred by their social worker free cards for the cafeteria, an onsite clothing closet, and other places including Walmart. Additionally, they qualify for health care and mental health services.
If you know a homeless Veteran, please make sure he or she knows about the services available through the VA. The fastest way to access VA service for any veteran in need, including someone who is homeless, is through the Lake Nona VAMC Emergency Room or any VAMC Emergency Room.