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New Program Aimed At Supporting Nevada Veterans During The Pandemic

An American flag flying to the right.
Mike Mozart
Flickr Creative Commons
Heroes for Heroes is a program created by The Nevada Department of Veteran Services to provide social support to veterans.

The Nevada Department of Veteran Services has recently launched a program focused on helping veterans with the isolation many of them are facing during the pandemic. Heroes for Heroes will connect veterans throughout the state with volunteers in the community who can provide social support. KUNR’s Tatiana Ramirez spoke with Rachel Jelenic, who is leading this program, to learn more.

Tatiana Ramirez: Rachel, what is Heroes for Heroes?

Rachel Jelenic: Heroes for Heroes is a product of Our Family Connections Task Force. Our Family Connections Task Force was made as a result of COVID. We're just trying to connect families with the veterans. Families can be loved ones, friends, staff of the home that they're living at, friends that they've had for a really long time, neighbors—anybody that shows that they care about the veteran.

So, we're just looking for ways to better connect veterans to the other people in the community. Heroes for Heroes really just works to connect these interested veterans with trained volunteers in the community, to foster friendship, support, [and] assistance through COVID and, hopefully, past it with the vaccines rolling out.

Ramirez: Why is this program so important right now?

Jelenic: Veterans need communities and communities need veterans. Veterans are an integral part of our society. They have history. They teach us lessons [and] respect. There's a lot of different things that go into what a veteran does for our community. We've experienced a lot of veterans that don't feel connected to their friends and family or community resources. So, we're just hoping to take that a step further and to eliminate any issues that they have with that.

This is just a perfect place for them to reach out to somebody and say, “Hey, you know, I can't go grocery shopping because I'm quarantined; or how do I find these resources?” It's just a great way for the volunteer to step in and help a veteran, basically just have a support system.

Ramirez: How is the pandemic impacting veterans?

Jelenic: With veterans specifically, they're a group-oriented population. Having those people—their comrades—around them really helps them incite [sic] trust, happiness and connectedness. 

So when you're not able to do that, you kind of resort to personal coping mechanisms, or just filling in the gaps where you can. Sometimes that just leads to unhealthy measures, and we want to stop those in [their] tracks as fast as we can. We just want to make sure that the support that they're receiving is greater than the issues they're facing.

Ramirez: What are some supplies or resources that vets need the most right now?

Jelenic: Veterans are in need of a lot of social resources, right now. A lot of them go to senior centers or they’ll go play bingo, or go here, go there. Well, a lot of those centers are closed—a lot of them don't have the activities for them to participate in that they usually do every day.

And so that kind of just adds another layer of social isolation to it. We see a lot of caregiving resources are needed. A lot of the caregivers of veterans are veterans that are caregiving for a spouse or loved one. A lot of them are realizing what kind of a task it is and the toll it will take, especially during a pandemic, when you don't have those extra resources.

Some adult day health cares are closed, and respite care is harder to come by. It's just really connecting them with the resources that will take the extra layer of stress off, and some of them have to go through it themselves. That can be caregiving, social support, sometimes even medication delivery and food delivery as well.

To learn more about the Heroes for Heroes program, visit veterans.nv.gov. You can find applications for veterans who want to participate or community members who want to volunteer under the “community” tab.

The photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.

KUNR's Jayden Perez adapted this story for the web.

Tatiana Ramirez is KUNR’s first events and community engagement coordinator, a position where she engages and creates connections with the community, finds pressing issues and develops events to help alleviate them.
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