VAVS Volunteer: Darlene Allen

Posted On: Monday, 08 January 2024

Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS) supports the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Veterans Health Administration strategic goals by recruiting, supporting, and retaining a knowledgeable, diverse, and engaged supplemental workforce of volunteers to assist management in the delivery of VA health care. To learn more about VAVS, visit

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Darlene Allen, on left, helps out at the VA as part of VAVS Volunteer Service.

ALA member of the Department of New Mexico Darlene Allen shares her VAVS experiences as part 1 of this series. 
How long have you been a VAVS volunteer? 
I have been a VAVS volunteer at our VA medical facility since March 2005.
What first interested you in joining VAVS?
To have the opportunity to interact with our veterans, their families, the VA medical staff, and other volunteers. To have the experience of helping veterans make their stay in the hospital more comfortable, to help them write letters to loved ones, play games, watch a movie, and listen to their stories. Volunteering at our hospital has been a rewarding experience.
What are some of the tasks you do as a volunteer? 
I have volunteered at the VA over the years in many positions as needed: 
  • I help with holiday events, furnish snacks, drinks, and cards made by students. Halloween and Christmas are the most important holidays. For Halloween and Christmas, I dress in a costume and with other Auxiliary and Junior volunteers, we visit the 25 patients in the spinal cord unit to bring holiday cheer. Some of veterans have been there for years with truly little family interaction as they live out of state.
  •  Help organize and clean the women’s clothes closet with clean used clothing and new under garments.
  • Deliver comfort items to inpatient veterans. We have veterans come with only the clothes on their backs — we provide toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, deodorant, body wash, shampoo, and body lotion. 
  • Help stock shelves in the gift shop and help veterans shop for items and clothing.
  • Go grocery shopping for the ABQ Fisher House.
 Why is it important to you to help our veterans in this way?
To give something back to our veterans who have given so much to our country and to comfort their families. It is my passion and purpose to have an influence in veterans’ lives, to give them comfort, laughter, gifts, and to give them a better day. This is something I enjoy and love. 
What is your favorite reason for being a VAVS volunteer? 
I find volunteering at our VA Medical Center a rewarding opportunity to help our veterans and their family during these tough times. When a veteran is in the hospital, it not only affects the veteran, but it also affects the whole family. I enjoy visiting with the veteran, listening to their military stories, or hearing them talk about their families, hobbies, sports, and how they are feeling. Some of our veterans have a funny sense of humor and love sharing jokes, music, movies, and enjoying my company.
Any personal stories you want to share from interacting with veterans and/or their families? 
I visited with an 86-year-old Navy Vietnam veteran who is starting to get Alzheimer’s. He does not remember what he did yesterday, cannot remember family members’ names, but he remembers his time in the Navy. He is so proud of all his Navy books, remembering the names of the ships he was on, the countries he has seen in the states, and especially overseas. He loved his time in the military. He served over 25 years and proudly talks about all the awards he received while serving. He loved telling stories of his accomplishments in the service, some happy and some incredibly sad.

One story he told was incredibly sad. I tried extremely hard to hold back my tears. When he was on one of his ships, it had caught fire, and they had to close all the doors on the lower portion of the ship to keep the fire from spreading to other parts of the ship. When the doors closed several soldiers were locked out, unable to escape and drowned. His friend was one of the soldiers that was caught in the boiler room and did not survive. He was devasted by the death of his friend and asked to escort the body home. He said that was the hardest thing he had to do in his entire military career — guard a casket to bring home a soldier to a grieving family. That was a sad memory, but he felt in his heart that was the right thing to do to show respect for his friend and his family.

I could tell from his emotions from this story, he still remembers that day, as though it happened yesterday. I gave him a hug, held his hand, and thanked him for his bravery and service. He reminded me so much of my grandfather who was a World War II veteran. 
What advice would you give to other ALA members who are thinking of becoming a VAVS volunteer? 
I will talk about my experience and why I enjoy being a volunteer. To be a volunteer can be a rewarding experience and it is giving something back to our veterans and their families. For example, when you greet a veteran, you see them smile; giving them a hug, you just made their day; and taking the time to listen to their stories is so important to a veteran. You can comfort an inpatient veteran when they have no family, or when they are in hospice care. Our purpose and our values are Service Not Self — it is up to us to make a difference in a veteran’s life. That’s who we are and that’s what we do.

Is there anything else you want to add? 
I would like to see more youth volunteers. It is a fantastic opportunity for Junior members to learn new skills, gain hands-on experiences, and explore ways to help our veterans. We need to reach out to our Juniors for us to grow and continue our VA volunteer program. 

ALA Mission

In the spirit of Service, Not Self, the mission of the American Legion Auxiliary is to support The American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military, and their families, both at home and abroad. For God and Country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth, and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace and security.