Veterans’ Voices is literary magic. It takes you into the hearts and minds of men and women who have given much and, through no fault of their own, find themselves a patient in a veterans’ facility. Once offered the chance to write for possible publication in Veterans’ Voices, these veterans become eager to put their thoughts on paper or computer. They’re anxious to tell the world who they are and what they think and feel. This mental exercise becomes as important as physical therapy for those involved in the project.
Writing aides are an integral part of the process. An aide is able to interact with the veterans: listen to what they say aloud and encourage them to try writing. One-on-one conversations often uncover stories that the reluctant authors want to write down but fear others will find unworthy or boring. With encouragement, these people are able to share their thoughts through words (and drawings). By telling their story, they feel better about themselves and offer inspiration to others: veterans, family, VA staff, and magazine readers.
Being a writing aide requires no formal training, but rather common sense, compassion, and an interest in your fellow man. There will be many veterans who are capable of writing their own stories or poems, using pen, pencil, or computer. It’s important to encourage them to write something every day.
For those patients who aren’t comfortable writing independently: visit with them, take notes on the conversation, and then transcribe what they share. If you have trouble remembering conversational details, use a tape recorder. When patients are reluctant to talk, gently probe their memories with your questions. Once the veterans’ thoughts are compiled into a narrative or poem, give them the opportunity to review it and change the wording. Hopefully, they will want to expand on their ideas and add more detail. When they seem satisfied with their writing, type and print the revised version for them. Gradually, some of these writers will begin putting their thoughts on paper or typing them into a computer without the verbal conversation. Continue to be supportive as they learn how to compose on their own.
The last step is to prepare the copy for mailing to Hospitalized Veterans Writing Project for possible inclusion in Veterans’ Voices. Follow the submission guidelines at the back of the magazine. In all my years of volunteering, working for HVWP is by far the most rewarding. My veterans look forward to our workshop meetings and seeing their work in printespecially when it appears in Veterans’ Voices. Their looks of appreciation and satisfaction are heartfelt. Our group identifies with each other and we have become like family.
If you would like to volunteer as a writing aide in a VAMC facility, contact the HVWP office and the center’s volunteer coordinator about getting started. If the facility doesn’t have a writing program, start with just a few veterans: encourage them to write, listen to what they say, and help them write it down, if necessary. Those first patients will help you spread the word about the project and soon you’ll be on your way to helping a larger group of writers. Also, remember, that HVWP subsists on donations from people who believe that writing is good medicine. Become a part of this project: share the writing therapy message and support it with your gifts of time and money. God bless the wounded warriors who have a story to tell and the people who give them voice through the pages of Veterans’ Voices!
Sandra “Sandy” L. Cass is a U.S. Navy veteran. She is married to a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant and they live in Orlando, Fla., where they both volunteer at VAMC facilities. They belong to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Auxiliary as well as the Military Order of the Cootie and Auxiliary. She takes heart from the MOC motto: “Keep ‘em smiling in beds of white.” Sandy learned about HVWP just six years ago and since then has worked tirelessly to establish and foster the writing project in the Orlando VAMC. She encourages those interested in becoming a writing aide to contact her at email@example.com, making the subject line HVWP.
Sandy has been working the program alone, creating citations, giving out awards, typing up stories for Veterans’ Voices and publishing a local book of stories (six so far) for the Orlando veterans. This year she’s added three writing aides and is looking forward to the project becoming bigger and better, giving additional veterans a chance to make their voices heard.