Vail Veterans Program takes on a new program to help injured vets
'Our Mission Continues' provides direct aid to injured veterans, from help with bills to providing assistance to caregivers
The Vail Veterans Program isn’t going to let a pandemic stop its work to help our nation’s injured veterans and their families.
The COVID-19 pandemic was just starting to hit home in Eagle County when the veterans left March 6 from the program’s most recent winter program in the Vail Valley. Soon after, the local nonprofit group decided it had to suspend in-person programs at least through August.
Rethinking the group’s mission led to the creation of “Our Mission Continues,” a different way to reach out to program alumni and others.
According to a release about the program, Our Mission Continues “will enhance the well-being of wounded veterans at home and wil let them know that we are here for them as they continue on their journey of healing.
Vail Veterans Program founder Cheryl Jensen said the pandemic compelled the group to “look hard at how to support our alumni.”
The group started virtual programming in April, which included newsletters focused on health, wellness, behavioral health and other topics.
That virtual program has been “very successful,” Jensen said, but Our Mission Continues aims to do more.
Aid and comfort
The program provides direct grants to veterans and families for emergency financial assistance, mental health support, caregiver support, family experiences and more.
Applicants are vetted, of course, and most are program alumni. Those people, Jensen said, are forever and always part of the Vail Veterans Program family.
“You think about those vets who feel like they’re in isolation — the world weighs heavy on them,” Jensen said. That weight only increased with the onset of the pandemic and the shutdown of much of the nation’s economy.
A lot of veterans are in some sort of financial bind, from job loss to bills coming due and the stress that comes with all that.
A little aid from Our Mission Continues can ease some of that stress.
But a lot of veterans who have applied for aid aren’t asking for anything for themselves. A lot of vets who wrote in asked for support for spouses and family members.
“It’s really beautiful to read these letters,” Jensen said, adding that people are writing in to ask for something as simple as money to hire a babysitter a couple of times. The response often is, “how about six times?” Jensen said. Other families have received funds for a proper vacation, a way to take a break from the pressure of everyday life.
Alumni were asked if they had college or high school graduates. Those graduates were presented with either an iPad or Surface tablet, engraved with best wishes from the Vail Veterans Program.
Helping the helpers
The program this year had to cancel a summer program for caregivers, who are often spouses or family members. Most of those caregivers are women.
“They just need a break,” Jensen said, adding it’s important to understand just how important it is to care for caregivers.
There’s a lot of personal contact with program alumni. That’s important, too.
Jensen recalled a phone conversation with a Black veteran that soon turned into a psychological discussion about how to raise three sons in the country’s current racial strife.
Through tears, Jensen couldn’t say much more than “tell your boys to stand strong.”
That veteran needed someone to talk to, and hearing that message from Jensen was important.
“I just needed to hear that from a white woman,” Jensen recalled the veteran saying.
“That’s the beauty of contacting (veterans) personally,” Jensen said, adding that simple conversations often take a deeper turn.
As the pandemic restrictions ease, Jensen believes Our Mission Continues will continue to be an important part of the Vail Veterans Program. She hopes program supporters allow that work to continue.
“This community truly loves what we do,” Jensen said. “We feel so connected to our veterans in general.”
Jensen noted that most of the valley’s nonprofit groups have had to adjust to the current pandemic restrictions. But, she added, changes including Our Mission Continues can be silver linings in shadow of the pandemic.
“We want to have our in-person programs back,” Jensen said. There are plans for a fall program, although it may be limited to those who can drive to the valley.
And even if the next winter program runs with only half as many participants, that still counts as veterans and families to support and love.
And there will be Our Mission Continues.
“We have a clear direction now,” Jensen said. “It’s so important, for the people we serve and our donors.”
Providing old and new programs is going to require the organization to dig deep, and probably ask more from donors.
That seems to be a pretty easy request.
Jensen said donors live throughout the country, and not just in the Vail Valley.
“One of our donors lives in New Jersey,” Jensen said. “He sees the benefits of what we do, and told us ‘I want to be a part of this.’”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com.