CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For nearly 100 years, Americans have paused on Nov. 11 to honor those who serve our country in the armed forces. For the American Red Cross, every day is Veterans Day.
Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) is a robust division within the Red Cross, dedicated to putting service men and women in contact with resources they or their families need while deployed or at home. Here in North Carolina, the Charlotte Metro chapter has helped 256 service members and 403 family members already this year.
To summarize what the Red Cross does, SAF Regional Officer David Laws uses the acronym “COVER,” which stands for Casework, Outreach, Veteran’s Administration (VA) Hospital, Engage Volunteers and Resiliency.
He explains it this way: “Casework consists of volunteers working together with veterans to assist them in finding jobs, financial resources and support. Outreach ensures we, as the Red Cross, make ourselves known to the veterans and the families of veterans before they need our services. This way, we can already be on their list of people to call when they are in need. The Outreach component also helps support our Stand Down events.
“The VA Hospital section provides visitations, game nights and comfort to veterans in hospice care. Engaging and recognizing our volunteers is a big part of not only SAF but the entire Red Cross. Without our volunteers, the relief work we do when disaster strikes and the comfort we provide to our veterans would not be possible.
”And Resiliency is in the form of classes we offer to help people renew as families. Sessions for adults focus on coping with deployment, caregiving for veterans, communicating about anger, stress and depression, and caring for children and their needs during this time. Courses for children focus on communication and the lifestyle of a child with parents in the armed forces.”
This emphasis on service to the armed forces stretches back to the founding of the American Red Cross. During the Civil War, Clara Barton saw firsthand the needs of wounded and homesick soldiers on the battlefield and in Europe, she discovered an organization – the International Red Cross – that was meeting those needs. Barton came home to found the American Red Cross with the express purpose of supplying medical treatment, food and shelter to our troops as well as to victims of disaster.
During World War I, the Red Cross staffed hospitals and ambulance companies and recruited 20,000 registered nurses to serve the Allied forces. It also became the official intermediary between our troops and their families. Since WWI, the Red Cross has played a vital role in every wartime conflict, including WWII, Korea, Vietnam and more recent conflicts in the Middle East.
Red Cross begins its service to individual servicemen and women at Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS), where inductees and their families are reminded that if needed, the Red Cross is here to help in any way we can. Trained volunteers collect contact information so the Red Cross can follow up with the service member’s family, providing information about how the Red Cross can help, and making sure they are adjusting to the deployment as it can be an emotional time for all involved.
If a family member of an active service member passes away, the Red Cross is authorized to process a request for compassionate leave. Visits home can also be requested for an illness or births of immediate family.
In addition, the Red Cross helps get grants and loans to active duty military and veterans. The Red Cross also takes part in “Stand Down” events across North Carolina where homeless veterans can access doctors, dentists, showers, comfort kits and food.
With her background in the Department of Defense, SAF Regional Volunteer Lead Judith Ross says it’s humbling to witness what veterans go through post-deployment. “You gain a certain respect, seeing firsthand what they’re dealing with. Being in the military is a lifetime commitment and being able to help them is important.”
The Red Cross is also a part of the national No Veteran Dies Alone campaign. Red Cross volunteers donate time to ensure no veteran passes away in hospice without friendly faces nearby. Our regional volunteers travel to the VA Hospital in Salisbury, N.C., to visit veterans in hospice care. The Red Cross also provides transportation to and from doctor appointments for veterans.
Whether you are a veteran, know someone who is a veteran, or you are a child of a veteran, the Red Cross offers assistance and support. Please take time this Veterans Day to thank a veteran for their service.
Interested in putting your thanks into action for veterans in your community? Visit redcross.org/volunteer to find more ways to help through your local Red Cross!
Authored by McKenna Estes, intern with the Western North Carolina Region communications department.