They provide company, help serve meals and brighten up otherwise regular days.
But the Veterans Supporting Veterans program — the brainchild of Derek and Heather Wilkinson — has much loftier goals.
“It’s spread to a few places now, we take it with us wherever we get transferred, but there’s no reason it can’t be on every base in the county,” said Wilkinson, a Warrant Officer stationed at Fort Stewart.
He and Heather and about two dozen other soldiers spent a day this week at Magnolia Manor, where there are 20 veterans and 60 widows of veterans.
“Nursing homes around bases naturally have a higher veteran population, but we spend time with everyone when we visit,” Wilkinson said. “Everyone in a nursing home can use company.”
Wilkinson said the idea came to him when his grandfather, a veteran himself, passed away in a nursing home shortly before his first deployment to Afghanistan. Heather was working in a nursing home, so starting the program was a natural fit.
“We started off when we were at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, then continued it to Fort Eustis in Virginia and now here,” Wilkinson said. “The nice thing is, those guys at the other places are still doing it.”
At Magnolia Manor, for example, soldiers played piano for the residents, ate lunch with them and delivered blankets. The group also does pinning and award ceremonies.
“We even did one for a veteran who was part of the Bataan Death March,” Wilkinson said. “And the widows really take to us because they know what it’s like to have a husband gone on deployment and having to take care of the family.”
Wilkinson said he is in the process of filing paperwork to make the group a charitable 501(c)3, and recently started a Go Fund me page (https://www.gofundme.com/veterans-supporting-veterans) with the lofty goal of raising $1 million.
“I really think there should be a chapter at every base,” he said. “There’s no reason not to be.”