Once a week, Carol Iriart-Rose travels to Haskell from her home in Fort Gibson to donate her time as a volunteer caregiver for World War II veteran Hilliard Tucker, who served in the 101st Airborne and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
For approximately four hours, Iriart-Rose visits with Tucker which gives his wife Mary and daughter Sharon Smith, the primary caregivers, the opportunity to run errands in town and buy groceries.
“Mainly, I’m just here to sit with him to give them some respite time,” said Iriart-Rose. “When he talks, I listen, and when he laughs, I laugh.”
Even though Tucker is deaf and rarely speaks, Iriart-Rose said he knows she is there next to him.
“Since he can’t hear me, it’s hard to have conversations,” she said. “It took a little while, but I know he knows me, and there are some days he says some words you can understand. I always go over and pat him on the hand when I get here and pat him on the hand when I leave. (One time) when Sharon and her mom came home, I patted him on the hand, he said, ‘not yet.’”
Iriart-Rose is the first volunteer caregiver in the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center’s (JCMVAMC) new Volunteer Caregiver Support Program.
The program is designed to provide caregivers with a brief respite once a week while also providing companionship and compassionate support. The program’s ultimate goal is to provide veterans with a high quality of life by allowing them to stay at home with their family as long as possible.
“More than half of caregivers report medium to high stress levels due to fulfilling all of the demands of being a caregiver – which can be a full time job,” said Kellen Palmer, the Volunteer Caregiver Support Program Coordinator. “The program gives them a much needed break and provides the opportunity for the veteran to have a friendly visitor and more socialization.”
Palmer said Iriart-Rose was an excellent candidate to become the program’s first volunteer caregiver.
“Carol is a perfect example of a volunteer caregiver,” he said. “She is easy to talk to with, very sympathetic, puts others before herself and has been very flexible with her schedule.”
The Tucker family is very happy to have Iriart-Rose as a weekly visitor.
“Carol has been great,” said Smith. “She’s just so very pleasant and a happy person. She fits right in. She’s just been a good person to come do this.”
Smith said the free program is a blessing for her family.
“Otherwise, we’d be paying out-of-pocket for somebody to come or we would be looking for an agency,” said Smith. “I haven’t been able to find anything that helps in that way, so it’s been really a great thing for us.”
Iriart-Rose, who is also an Army veteran and served from 1957-1958, said she enjoys volunteering and encourages other to donate their time as a volunteer caregiver.
“What you get back is much more than what you give,” said Iriart-Rose. “My father always taught me that we give back, always leave a soft footprint and live by the Golden Rule to help others. Everybody is going to need it sometime.”
The volunteer will visit the homebound veteran once or twice a week for a few hours and will interact with the veteran by playing games, working on craft projects, listening to music, reading aloud, watching movies and many other activities depending on the veteran’s condition.
Interested volunteers must be 18 years of age and will need to complete caregiver support training.
If you are interested in serving a veteran as a volunteer caregiver, contact Kellen Palmer at (918) 577-3236.