Long before the Ladies Auxiliary was founded, women were humanizing hospitals - volunteering their services to brighten the lives of their "boys" who had contracted diseases or suffered injuries while in the service. They sewed lap robes, rolled bandages, and baked breads and desserts; they assisted hospital workers with administrative, janitorial, and laundry chores; they provided companionship to bedridden patients by talking with them, reading to them, and helping them write letters to loved ones. Most importantly, they reassured patients that they were important and not forgotten. And when the Ladies Auxiliary was founded in 1914, many members of the new organization continued their volunteer service without pause.
Despite the number of hours contributed by Auxiliary members in the organization's early years, the Ladies Auxiliary did not officially recognize its hospital program until 1928. That year, the Auxiliary appointed its first hospital chairperson in an attempt to determine the extent of its members' volunteer services and to coordinate their work. The Auxiliary also began formally backing and recognizing its hospital volunteers. With the support of their organization, by 1940 Auxiliary members were annually donating 600,000 hours of their time and over $335,00 to hospitals.
After World War II, the day of the "amateur" volunteer waned. Many volunteers felt that the influx of school-trained nursing assistants, "Candy Stripers," and Licensed Practical Nurses had made their help unnecessary. To address this problem, Veterans Administration (VA) officials met in April 1946 with representatives of the veteran's organizations, ladies auxiliaries, the Red Cross, and the USO. Together they organized a new system for volunteer services - the VA Volunteer Service (VAVS).
The Auxiliary's role in this VAVS system is to supplement the services provided by the trained professionals of the hospital's staff. VAVS volunteers move patients in wheelchairs from their rooms to doctors' offices and treatment and testing areas, provide entertainment, write letters for patients, oversee many outside recreational trips, and in general provide the personal touch that a busy staff has little time to give. In VA Hospitals, one or more full-time professionals direct the services provided by VAVS volunteers.
Over the years, the volunteer Service program has proven itself cost-effective for the hospitals, psychologically healthy for the patients, and emotionally satisfying for the givers. Each year, VA hospitals around the country honor these volunteer workers by recognizing the number of hours donated to the welfare of its patients. Many Auxiliary members have certificates attesting to thousands of hours of volunteer service.
Today, the Hospital and VAVS programs also serve patients in non-VA hospitals, and in nursing and convalescent homes. The challenge faced by these dedicated workers is the growing number of aging veterans who will require long-term care and volunteer support.
© VFW 1998 . Created by Lynn - Last Updated 29 Dec 2001