Critter Corner: Veterans Can Connect with Their Families Through Free Portals

Dear Angel,

I am a disabled Air Force veteran, and my husband and I live in Northern Virginia. We have mostly stayed in the house due to the pandemic and miss seeing family. I am pretty technologically savvy and we’d love to communicate with our family members and see their faces since we can’t see them in person this year. I heard about a program where Facebook and the Red Cross are giving away thousands of Facebook portals to eligible veterans. Do you know how it works?

Thanks for your help!

Cee Ingthem

Dear Cee,

You are right about the wonderful program you described. More than 7400 Facebook Portals have been given to certain eligible veterans and their caregivers or other family members, thanks to a partnership with Facebook and the American Red Cross Military Veteran Caregiver Network.

This program is especially helpful for veterans during the pandemic because staying connected to family and friends is important for veterans with physical disabilities and brain injuries. Though social isolation may be a new experience for some, for many veterans it is a common experience.

“When you leave the military, it can be isolating. Then, if you have additional challenges connected to your time in service there can be an additional layer of isolation. Lastly, if you are in need of care for any of those challenges, then your caregiver, who is often a member of your family, has another layer of isolation for them too,” said Payton Iheme, Military and Veteran Policy Lead at Facebook. “We know that technology is not a replacement for face-to-face interaction, but with Portal, we hope to help reduce some of those feelings of isolation and give veterans and their caregivers a way to connect with the people they care about. This builds upon the strong networks that veterans and the veteran community continue to build every day,” said Iheme.

The other partner in this effort is the American Red Cross Military Veteran Caregiver Network (MVCN), which leveraged the Red Cross’ Disaster Cycle warehouses to store and process the Portals. The Portals are packed and shipped by Red Cross volunteers and warehouse staff, some of whom are veterans themselves.

Portals Help Veterans and Caregivers Maintain Caregiver Support Virtually

Not only do the portals help veterans and caregivers stay connected to each other, friends, and family members, they also help caregivers maintain caregiver support virtually. The portals help caregivers access resources and networks to make their roles as caregivers easier and chat with others in the same situation.  “I can’t even count how many times I’ve video chatted through my Portal with other caregivers who are also feeling the isolation,” said Caroline, a military wife and caregiver. “We can see each other, and we can have authentic conversations that aren’t being interrupted by failures of technology.”

Portals are also helpful in providing a way to video chat from separate workspaces on opposite sides of the home. They have music features, reminder features, and of course, the video chatting feature with family, friends, and other caregivers.

Who is Eligible to Receive the Portals?

Veterans and families in the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) Office of Caregiver Support program, VA’s Geriatric Services and Extended Care program, or individuals identified as at-risk for suicide by a VA provider are eligible to receive Portals through this program.

For more information on the VA Caregiver Program, visit www.caregiver.va.gov, or contact the Caregiver Support Line at (855) 260-3274 for more information.

Hope this helps!
Angel

 

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