SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Marine Corps veteran James Logwood was in his 60s, homeless, and plagued by addiction when he hit rock bottom, but now his broad smile is often one of the first things veterans see when they enter the front lobby of Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport.
“If you’re a veteran and here in Shreveport, you don’t suppose to be homeless,” Logwood said. “If you’re looking for help, it’s here. But you gotta want it.”
Logwood volunteers to help other veterans at OBVAMC, where he walks his brothers and sisters in arms to medical and labwork appointments. He even makes veterans popcorn on the VA’s particularly busy days and hands it out for free to those waiting for prescriptions to be filled.
The VA recently celebrated National Volunteer Week, a time set aside to say thank you to those who give their energy and presence to help others.
Find Your Why
Logwood and Pauline Biddlecombe, OBVAMC’s Chief of the Center for Development of Civic Engagement gathered in a small classroom on Monday morning to share stories of why they volunteer.
Helping others helps you, too
Logwood thinks helping others is an important part of his VA-assisted recovery, and he is but one of 22,321 volunteers registered on the VA’s rolls in 2022.
“I like what I do here,” Logwood said of the three days a week he gives his time to OBVAMC. “I go home with a good, clean heart, knowing I did some good for the day.”
Logwood said the feeling he gets when he asks another veteran ‘do you need help,’ is a comfort to those vets because then they know someone is there to help them. Logwood also noticed asking others if they need help is a question that helps him heal, too.
“We place people where they want to be,” Biddlecombe said.
The VA has whole health programs and needs peers and veterans to volunteer to help veterans.
“We have drivers who bring people (to the VA) every day. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer—you’ve just got to find your match.”
Biddlecombe is good at her job because her personal why is centered around veterans that she loves. She is not a veteran, but she easily relates to them because many family members are veterans.
“My dad is a Vietnam vet–he was a B-52 gunner. My husband is an Army (Dessert Storm) veteran.”
“I’ve never been through what he has been through,” she said, pointing to Logwood, “but I can help make his day a little better.”
Biddlecombe said her why is that she likes to give back to the community, particularly those who served. She believes we all have that desire to give back, but that sometimes in life, we can lose track and forget.
That’s when the opportunity to volunteer and feel a sense of purpose can help us return to where we need to be.
The Pandemic’s Affect on Volunteer Efforts
After the pandemic, Logwood was one of the first volunteers to return to the hospital, and Biddlecombe said having veterans like him meet our veterans at the door of the VA makes a huge difference.
Longwood is one of OBVAMC’s official red coat ambassadors, which makes him one of the faces of the VA.
And he still remembers being homeless in Shreveport.
“I didn’t have my own place. Now I meet a lot of veterans and I tell them about the program. I see vets I know on the streets, and I tell them it’s up to them.”
Recovery is Possible
Logwood said when he hit rock bottom, he wanted his life back, and the VA gave him a chance to get it back.
“I was 60 years old when I got to Shreveport. At my age, you don’t get too many chances.”
Logwood vividly remembers the date he arrived in Shreveport for his chance: Jan. 26, 2015.
“One of our things is (asking) what’s your why,” Biddlecombe said. “What’s your why for volunteering?”
Logwood answered that question by saying he wanted to give back to the programs that helped him get from homelessness and drug addiction to a healthy, happy life.
The VA Volunteer Family
OBVAMC volunteers are a big family. In 2022, 72 volunteers gave over 6,000 volunteer hours.
Logwood said his self-esteem was very low when he began volunteering.
“I was at the low point of my life. They put me in that job where I could intermix with people, and people were actually helping me—but they didn’t know it.”
Logwood’s volunteer efforts now help other veterans get where they need to go in a large facility which can be confusing.
Logwood said he used drugs for years after his wife’s death, and though he loved her very much he couldn’t cry for a very long time after she died.
“I needed help. I had went to a couple of state facilities, and the counselors that they had was good counselors, but they didn’t know what was going on with me. They hadn’t seen and did what I’d seen. And they was book taught. But when I got to Shreveport, all the counselors had been through this. They know where you’re going. They know what you’re going through.”
Logwood said he knows counseling changed his life, but it also did something else.
“It motivated me to give back. I guess it’s like a gift to me, because it’s just something that I was missing. I wanted to give back.”
Why the VA Cares
Nobody can estimate how many people care about our nation’s veterans. Nor can anyone place a dollar amount on their lives, or on the importance of veterans volunteering to help veterans.
Biddlecombe said VA’s number one priority is trying to reduce veteran suicide, and having a peer who understands is incredibly important. And for veterans who want to volunteer to help other veterans in crisis, but aren’t able to physically be at the OBVAMC, there’s a special program that needs virtual volunteers.
“We have a program called compassionate contact corps,” said Biddlecombe. “That’s a virtual thing for veterans who are feeling isolated, and we need volunteers who will reach out to them so they will have someone.”
No matter who you are or what your experiences are, Biddlecombe will help you find your place in the VA volunteer family.
Visit www.volunteer.va.gov for more information, or call OBVAMC and ask for volunteer services.