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VConnections holds virtual coffee break

VConnections, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting local veterans to essential resources, held a virtual coffee break on Wednesday to connect socially and discuss resources available amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Bill Buffington, CEO of VConnections, said the purpose of the virtual coffee break — which takes place Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 to 10:30 a.m. — is to spread awareness of available resources to the veterans currently in isolation.

“We are all members of the same family, because we serve,” Buffington said. “We don’t have a membership. That is our membership card for life. We are averaging about 15 calls a day to connect veterans to resources in the area.”

Buffington told the Maryland Independent the main goal of VConnections is to provide access to veterans for food, medical care and prescriptions. He added that, although the organization is maintaining social distancing regulations, he has made some personal trips for veterans in need.

“I have gone out and made some drop-offs. Food security issues are one thing that is not being addressed. Pantries are running real low,” Buffington said. “Safeway has $40 gift cards for those over 60.”

Buffington told the Maryland Independent that — from a local standpoint — the Veterans Administration has been “pretty good” about handling prescriptions and are definitely here for the veterans.

“I know that they are handling prescriptions because I talked to two veterans who received their prescriptions. The thing we have been really concerned about is making sure the VA is responding from a virtual standpoint,” Buffington said. “They seem to be doing a good job.”

The group concurrence during the coffee break was that there needs to be a community spot for veterans who need virtual assistance, and who may have too much post traumatic stress to travel to distant locations.

“Just about every area has a virtual center,” said Charles Williams, community relations manager for VConnections. “One thing we can do is put tools in those spots. For instance, if I want to connect to my therapist in Virginia, I can go to the center in Indian Head and they could do that. You have to provide for people with no access to things.”

Buffington told the Maryland Independent that there is a “high percentage” of veterans who cannot travel to Washington, D.C., to receive the help they need.

“Dealing with mental health issues such as PTSD and having to travel to D.C. puts you in panic mode,” Buffington said. “We could put some of those resources [at one location]. It is a huge concern.”

Robert Wells, a community relations worker for VConnections, said doctors appointments and the lack of health care resources in the midst of the coronavirus is of concern to him.

“On Monday, I had a doctor’s appointment. I was supposed to have lab work done, but the lab closed, [because of the virus],” Wells said. “I had to prepare my temperature, blood pressure and blood sugar ahead of time. Not all people have access to those resources.”

Wells added that his readings were not up to professional standards, and he had to take his blood sugar two times. Each time, there was a difference in the results.

“That is what it is coming down to,” Wells said. “On Monday, I asked my doctor how to get tested, do I need a certificate? And he said we will do it electronically.”

The group agreed that one of the best aspects of VConnections is the ability to connect to each other, share ideas and have other veterans to relate to. The unstructured setting makes them feel more comfortable socializing.

“In a structured setting, they are not able to express themselves as freely as they can at the coffee breaks,” Buffington said. “We have had a lot of veterans with PTSD that get a lot more out of our coffee breaks than they do at structured meetings.”

“Just show up,” Wells said. “There is no membership fee. Sometimes they just want to talk one-on-one. Just two of us will chat and they will be more comfortable than in a group of people.”

Scott Bailey, ambassador of VConnections, said there are a lot of veterans who have gone through a lot of different experiences and agreed that many prefer the one-on-one setting of VConnections.

“You will find someone who will help you,” Bailey said. “[VConnections] is open, you can talk freely. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable in group meetings. I am more of a person who want to sit down with veterans. I enjoy the meetings, they help me out tremendously.”

Williams told the Maryland Independent that there are “no restrictions” on topics the veterans can discuss.

“Whatever they want to talk about and get off their chest, even if it is just to have someone to talk to,” Williams said. “We don’t want them to feel disconnected and isolated. There is no criticism, we stay true.”

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