Written by: Rebecca Churchill, volunteer
The work that volunteers do to support the mission of the Red Cross is essential. Service to the Armed Forces volunteer, Letha Atwater, is one such volunteer. Letha serves in two capacities – as a volunteer in the Client Services Department and as the Red Cross Veterans Affairs Volunteer Services (VAVS) Lead. Having uncles who served in World War II and the Vietnam War, and a brother in the Marines, it is no surprise that she felt a special connection to working with members of the military and the veteran community. She is soft spoken and passionate about how the Red Cross helps so many of those who serve in the armed forces, veterans and their families.
At any given time, Client Services receives a dozen active military cases each week as part of the Red Cross’ Hero Care Network. As a caseworker, she determines how best to respond to each one. There are elements of military life that are beyond a civilian’s experience. Letha remembers a particularly moving case where a father of three military sons was in the hospital when his wife was diagnosed with brain cancer and was severely ill. He needed to reach his sons at once and deliver this heart-breaking news. The Red Cross was able to find the soldiers deployed around the world, bring them home, and provide wrap-around services for the family, including monetary support and counseling, to help them through their time of need.
Letha is no stranger to medicine or hospitals; she was a young resident in Colorado when she started doing rotations in the veteran’s hospital. She would later leave medicine in order to devote more time to her children and family but said, “I had developed a passion for interacting with veterans in a medical setting… and (with the Red Cross) everything came full circle.”
Letha’s work as the Volunteer Lead with VAVS demands great energy and commitment, as she is the go-between the Red Cross and the Washington DC Veterans Medical Hospital. She organizes outreach events to connect veterans with health care and other services they need. One collaboration, the Winter Haven Homeless Veterans Stand-down, is now in its 22nd year in Washington, DC. The event provides goods and services to some 800 veterans, some of whom are persons at risk, with personal care items, clothing, medical services, assistance with benefits, and clothing items. The event is designed to be a touchpoint opportunity to make contact with existing clients and hopefully bring other veterans to the hospital. Another outreach program is specifically for female veterans. The program focuses on wellness for female veterans and offers a unique opportunity for them to connect with one another, as well as get access to health checkups, services, and even a little dining and dancing. Letha notes that these programs are designed to connect with veterans and to create relationships between them and the hospital, health care providers, other veterans, and service organizations.
“I am forever thankful for the Red Cross for trusting me and giving me the opportunity to do what I do,” she said.
Her dedication and commitment to the well-being of service members and veterans has not gone unnoticed. Letha was recently recognized by VA Hospital Director Brian Hawkins and VA Secretary nominee David Shulkin for outstanding support to the DC VA Medical Center. She is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Neuropsychology and Clinical Mental Health Counseling.