If you need an introduction to the veterans of Victory Pointe, Keith Vaden is your man.
Vaden started volunteering at the uptown Veterans Affairs hospital 18 months ago and spends at least five days a week, six hours a day, with the men who live in the community living center.
His shift is spent doing laundry, supervising activities and bonding with the men who have become his friends.
“It just feels good to know I can take some of the burden off (the nurses),” Vaden said.
Volunteers play a huge role in keeping Augusta’s two VA hospitals operating smoothly, said Benita Williams, a voluntary services specialist. There are 1,186 active volunteers at Augusta’s two hospitals; they volunteered 86,444 hours in 2011.
Mark Frazee, the acting chief of voluntary services, said the paid staffers provide the care veterans need, but volunteers work in all the support roles that improve the veterans’ experience at the hospitals. The duties range from clerical work to feeding people, with seasonal opportunities such as raising money for gifts at Christmas.
That so many work long hours, often coming in at 6 a.m., means that they really want to be there, Williams said. That, in turn, “equals quality care,” he said.
Vaden, 53, was a bit overwhelmed when he started volunteering at Victory Pointe, a permanent residence for aging veterans. Many of the residents are in varying stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which will lead to occasional outbursts as the veterans refight a war in their mind.
Vaden eventually learned when to back away from an agitated veteran and at what point to stay and listen. As a Air Force veteran of 20 years, Vaden holds some common ground, but he loaded weapons onto planes and never came close to combat.
“(War) wasn’t like that for me,” he said.
Terry Schure, 63, is an Air Force veteran living at Victory Pointe. He said Vaden is respected and loved because of his tact, friendly personality and ability to listen.
“He’s about the No. 1 person here,” Schure said.