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Vets Helping Vets in Wisconsin

by CNCS Staff

For too many veterans, returning home from war does not mean the battle is over. In fact, for some, the battle has just begun. Adjusting to civilian life can be challenging, especially when a veteran is suffering from an injury, depression, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Yet, some returning soldiers can neither drive nor have the daily support necessary to make it to the frequent appointments required for treatment—creating stress for themselves and their families.

This problem became apparent to Bob Topel, a member of the Middleton, Wisconsin, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post and volunteer for 10 years. He was the brain behind Vets Helping Vets, a program that partners newer veterans who are unable to drive with a fellow veteran volunteer driver to take them to appointments. This program provides a unique opportunity for veterans—as both volunteers and clientele—to forge bonds and build community.

“As a veteran myself, I know firsthand that transitioning from military to civilian life can be difficult,” said Topel. “Nowadays, we see soldiers returning who truly need help, and what better way to get that help than from men and women who have a unique, shared experience—serving our country.”

Vets Helping Vets is an extension of the Driver Services Program at RSVP of Dane County, a non-profit organization that recruits volunteers primarily 55 and older to serve in the community. For the past 36 years, RSVP of Dane County has provided transportation and delivered meals throughout Madison and Dane County to adults age 60 and over without access to personal transportation. As one of the largest volunteer driving programs in the nation, RSVP of Dane County has more than 600 volunteers who cover approximately 340,000 miles per year.

Starting this past May, RSVP of Dane County has partnered with the Middleton VFW Post to launch Vets Helping Vets—expanding the driver services program to a younger generation and concentrating on the many men and women who are returning home from current war zones. Currently, more drivers are needed; Vets Helping Vets aims to gain 150 new drivers by May 2012.

“Just like the veterans before them, the soldiers returning home from Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere have sacrificed everything to make our lives better,” said Dave Tetzlaff, a Vietnam veteran and executive director of RSVP of Dane County. “The least we can do is drive a few miles to get them to where they need to go, to recover from injuries or conditions they now have to live with daily.”

With more than 2,000 volunteers, RSVP of Dane County is the largest RSVP program in the state. It is one of seventeen Wisconsin programs funded in part by the Corporation for National and Community Service.RSVP is part of Senior Corps, a program with CNCS that also includes the Foster Grandparent Program and the Senior Companion Program.

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