Veteran-home volunteers hold hands, listen, comfort

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Capital News Service
LANSING — In 1994, Pam Jackovich of Marquette turned to volunteering to add meaning to her life after the death of her husband, a Vietnam War veteran.
Jackovich visited the D.J. Jacobetti State Veterans Home in Marquette and immediately enjoyed the conversations she had with veterans there.
“I started visiting with the residents and I really started learning more about history,” Jackovich said.

In April, Jackovich was honored for volunteering more than 9,000 service hours at the home in the last 20 years — an average of seven hours a week.
Volunteers who socialize with veterans and run home activities are considered necessary for state veteran homes in Marquette and Grand Rapids, according to Jim Dunn, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency deputy director, who oversees both homes.
“We are extremely grateful. Without these volunteers the quality of care wouldn’t be as high as it is. We need volunteers to accomplish every single thing we do,” Dunn said.
James Tracy, a four-year resident of the Marquette veterans home who served in the Army from 1968 to 1971, said volunteers who are veterans or related to veterans, like Jackovich, often understand his needs better and are able to fulfill those needs.
“They’re great for morale. They keep us mingling with the other members,” Tracy said.
The Marquette home relies on over 1,200 service hours a year from 200 volunteers like Jackovich, who help the home give veterans the high quality of life they deserve, said Brad Slagle, the D.J. Jacobetti Veterans Home administrator.
Slagle said his limited staff is focused on providing medical care, so the time volunteers have to talk with and listen to residents is an important service that helps veterans feel included in the community and less lonely.
Many veterans, especially those with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, benefit from talking with volunteers about their war experiences, Dunn said.
Volunteers plan holiday parties, read to veterans, and assist veterans on outings to events like Northern Michigan University’s hockey games, Dunn said.
“A lot of these activities would be impossible or very difficult to do if we didn’t have the volunteers to help out,” Dunn said.
The Marquette Veterans Home provides about 200 veteran residents with onsite medical, social work, and nursing care. Veterans –no matter what age or level of care needed — are eligible to live in the home if they have completed their active duty assignment, according to Slagle.
If veterans have a severe disability related to their service, they can stay at the home for free, and there are only a few medical conditions the home isn’t equipped for. For example, the home cannot provide chemotherapy, Slagle said.
The total budget to run both homes is $65 million and is funded by the state’s general fund, federal dollars, and payments from residents who can afford it, according to Dunn.
Both state veterans homes in Marquette and Grand Rapids have a “No member left alone” program, to make sure residents have company in their last days. Volunteers take shifts around-the-clock to sit with the veteran, read, play music, and offer them comfort.
“Someone is there holding their hand, or whatever needs to be done, to provide a human presence with them at all times,” Slagle said, adding that the Marquette home’s limited staff wouldn’t be able to provide programs like this on their own.
Slagle said that while volunteers are aiding veterans, they are also learning from these national heroes.
“It really fufills their need to do something for veterans that have done so much for the country,” Slagle said.
Volunteer opportunities at each state veterans home are listed at

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