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COLUMBIA – The Truman VA Hospital celebrated volunteer week Wednesday with an awards ceremony honoring more than 950 local volunteers and 60,000 hours of volunteer work over this past year.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has the largest volunteer organization in the federal government and Harry S. Truman Memorial VA is the only VA hospital in mid-Missouri.
Thirty-four partnering organizations contributed sponsoring donations in 2016 and VA volunteers worked to save the hospital $3.6 million dollars.
Fred Juettner, Truman VA volunteer and Vietnam War combat veteran, has wheeled patients in wheelchairs and beds around the hospital every Monday and driven for Disabled American Veterans every Friday for the past nine years.
“I was looking for somewhere to volunteer, and I was looking to give back to the veterans, because I was a Vietnam combat veteran and I was not wounded,” Juettner said. I feel like I was blessed to come back, in quotes, “unscathed,” so I wanted to give back to fellow veterans that perhaps weren’t as lucky as I was to come home whole.”
Juettner said he uses his sense of humor to brighten the day of VA employees and patients.
“I’m the local Don Rickles at the VA hospital,” Juettner said. “I see doctors get on the elevator and when they start punching buttons for their floor, I say ‘well, doc, if you ever lose your license, you can be an elevator operator.’ They need to have a little humor in their life. At least for a few moments they have forgotten their troubles.”
Like many of the 950 VA volunteers in 2016, Juettner said personal experience compels him to come and give back.
“With Korea and Vietnam, I can also relate to them, honor them, by their service,” Juettner said. “We like to feel like we’re paying back, like the week is filled with something. It’s just a tribute to the culture and the lifestyle of Columbia and mid-Missouri.”
Sylvia Jackson, Truman VA chief of voluntary services, said she believes the community’s volunteer support comes from a place of respect.
“The veterans, when they were active duty, didn’t get a choice,” Jackson said. “When they were given a command they did the command. So my dedication to ensure that the voluntary service program is successful, is giving them that respect back that they earned.”
Jackson encourages people of all ages to get involved and volunteer either with their time, abilities or financially.
“Columbia has always been a giving community,” Jackson said. “It’s just a continual rolling ball of goodness and fulfillment.”