As a child did you enjoy time spent with your grandfather, a favorite uncle, or another elder adult?  Was history one of your favorite subjects in school?   Do you enjoy talking about fishing, hunting, farming, or your children/grandchildren?  Do you enjoy spades, cribbage or other card games?  Are you a good listener?   Do you respect members of our military, or have you served in the armed forces yourself?

As a Knight of Columbus, chances are that you answered “Yes” to at least one of these questions.  (I can hear those wheels turning in your collective cranial right now.  “Here comes the kicker,” I bet you’re thinking,  “I wonder how much money this is going to cost me!”)

If you can spare as little as one hour a day on a consistent basis, I would like to invite you to meet some of the most special people in the State of Iowa. . . the patients at the various Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospitals throughout Iowa.  It costs you nothing to spend an hour or two volunteering your time at a VA hospital.  The Volunteer Services office will interview you, and place you in a position consistent with the hospital’s needs and your wishes to serve our veterans.  

I am one of several Knights of Columbus currently volunteering at the VA Hospital in Des Moines.  Over six years ago I joined John Martinez, a Past Faithful Navigator of Assembly 263 as a volunteer at the VA.  I served as a “hospital ambassador” initially.  This volunteer opportunity consisted of helping out-patients find a specific clinic, delivering specimens from various clinics to the lab, transporting patients to various clinics and, in general, helping hospital staff.  I subsequently joined the palliative care team on the CLC ward (Community Living Center), where I visit each Wednesday with veterans who are receiving long-term care or who are palliative care patients.   My involvement as a volunteer at the VA hospital was initially a 2 hour commitment every Wednesday, and it has now evolved to approximately 7 hours a day every Wednesday.  I occasionally come in on the weekend or holidays as well.

What drives me to give so freely of my time to visit with these veterans?  Is it because I am a Knight. . . or a veteran myself?  I don’t know.  What I do know (and I’m sure that John Martinez would agree), our veterans gave so much for us and our freedom, I feel that a few hours once a week is a very small way to repay my thanks to them.

My volunteer time at the VA hospital has taught me a lot about myself and it has enhanced my spirituality.  I have gained many new friends through the time I have spent with the patients at their bedside.   I have visited veterans ranging in age from their mid-40’s through mid-90’s.  My visits have involved veterans who have served during peacetime, as well as the World War II, Korea, and Vietnam eras.  An hour spent with an elderly veteran is a walk through a history book, and I have heard stories and met heroes I will never forget.  For example, I have talked with veterans that fought in North Africa, were wounded, and returned to participate in the Battle of the Bulge; I have known a waist gunner on a B-24 that was shot down over Germany and survived 2 years in a German prison camp.  We owe these humble heroes so much.  Every Wednesday I go to the hospital, I hear a new story.

I feel that the small amount of time I spend with our veterans every week can never repay what our veterans have done for us.  They have greatly enriched my life, and – I hope that in some small way --  that I have brought a small degree of comfort to their day.

In addition to the VA Medical Center in Des Moines, there are other VA facilities throughout Central Iowa in Knoxville, Fort Dodge, Mason City, Marshalltown and Carroll.  These facilities vary in size and scope.   If there is no VA facility near you, do not despair.  Stop by your local American Legion Hall or VFW post.  Let our veterans know that they are appreciated, by spending an afternoon with them on a regular basis.  You will be surprised how enriching the experience can be.

There are many different volunteer opportunities available and it would offer you a chance to give back to our honored veterans.  The Central VA Healthcare System can use your skills whether it be clerical, shuttlebus driver, or just having a big  heart and a desire to serve the community.  Give it a try, you’ll be glad you did.

If you would like to join John Martinez and other Knights by volunteering at the VA hospital, or would like more information about volunteer opportunities at the VA hospital in Des Moines or in your area, or would like to discuss your availability further, give me a call at the number shown below.  I would be happy to talk about my experiences or place you in touch with a volunteer coordinator at the Des Moines VA Hospital.  

Here’s hoping we see you soon!


Bob Ukena

Military Outreach Chairman

Iowa Knights of Columbus

(c) 515-422-0192

(h) 515-440-0277


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