Spring 2020 Edition
COVID-19 Deeply Impacts Ohio Veterans Homes
The Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky dates all the way back to 1888, and, as one can imagine, it has faced its share of challenges over the past 130-plus years. However, the current coronavirus pandemic has been a life-changing ordeal to citizens all across the globe and certainly has left an unforgettable impression on the hundreds of residents, caregivers, and staff members at the Homes (the other state-run facility, located in Georgetown, opened in 2003).
Departmental leadership began preparing for this crisis in February and has been careful to follow all the guidelines and safety precautions put forth by the Ohio Department of Health and Governor Mike DeWine. The OVH staffs also formed valuable relationships with Firelands Regional Medical Center in Erie County and Mercy Clermont Hospital near Brown County. Enhanced Care Units were established at each Home, even though there were no reported positive test results for COVID-19 for months. The new normal included screening upon entry for everyone, disallowing visitors and volunteers, the use of all relevant forms of PPE, social distancing and eliminating any congregation, including at mealtime. OVH-Sandusky even separated access between nursing and domiciliary operations.
Activities had to be altered as well, but the staff still found ways to keep up the morale of the nearly 700 residents and hundreds more employees who are working through these trials every day. Bingo, for example, now includes numbers being called from the hallway and residents winning donated gift cards instead of cash. At OVH-Sandusky, some residents and caregivers even broke into a “flash mob” one day, entertaining others with a surprise coordinated dance routine. On another day, residents participated in a socially distanced conga line. “Baseball” games include the use of a beach ball and a pool noodle.
At OVH-Georgetown, residents were treated to a custom car show in the parking lot recently. Similarly, a parade of bikers and supporters in other military vehicles passed through the grounds at Sandusky on Memorial Day. Some family members are visiting loved ones inside through the safety of a window.
After Lt. Governor Jon Husted suggested in a televised address that school-aged children might consider writing a note or letter to a veteran, the Homes have received many such correspondences. Others send blankets, pre-packaged consumables, books and more items.
And one of the most heartwarming days at the Homes occurred at OVH-Georgetown on May 16 as the Ohio National Guard administered tests to 139 residents and 234 staff members. Those test kits were then transported by a State Highway Patrol member to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center lab to be processed. Also, several members of the medical staff at Firelands Regional Medical Center assisted with rampant testing at OVH-Sandusky.
In the following days, ODVS began protocol to file a daily report disclosing statistics on test results for residents and staff members and care status for residents who are positive or have a suspected positive. Those figures are now posted in a daily chart available at OhioVets.gov and coronavirus.ohio.gov.
On May 19, OVH learned of its first COVID-related death – an 88-year-old former Marine and Korean War veteran.
“Like so many in America, we are now faced with COVID-19 in our Homes,” ODVS Director Deborah Ashenhurst said in a statement released that day. “Fortunately, our administrative staff, nurses, doctors, and other professionals have prepared for this for more than three months. Our Homes have cared for our veterans for more than 100 years. In the face of this new challenge, we are resolved to continue this mission."
Governor, Ohioans Make Sure to Honor Fallen
Easily one of the most patriotic states in the union, Ohio traditionally stages Memorial Day events in virtually every sector and burg in the state. Of course, many of those events had to be altered this year because of social distancing requirements and restrictions on mass gatherings. In fact, after ODVS received correspondence from several veterans organizations seeking suggestions on how to proceed with planned events, Director Ashenhurst responded with an official letter to veteran leadership with guidance on how to proceed. Even with all the limitations, Ohioans came through again and found ways to properly honor those who have passed away as well as service members and military families who made the ultimate sacrifice.
For example, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus held the Together National Virtual Walk/Run May 22-25 in remembrance of loved ones, followed by a Memorial Day Ceremony that featured a series of video addresses from the likes of VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Director Ashenhurst. In Westerville, organizers still displayed a stirring “Field of Honor” with 3,500 American flags aligned on the grounds of the Westerville Sports Complex – an amazing sight visible from Cleveland Avenue. Administrators participated in more subdued Memorial Day ceremonies at the Ohio Veterans Homes, including a short tribute at OVH-Sandusky led by Director Ashenhurst and Superintendent Terry Prince, and featuring a bugler playing “Taps.”
Also, in keeping with the Memorial Day tradition of a wreath-laying ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse, Gov. DeWine placed a wreath at Veterans Plaza in remembrance of the men and women who sacrificed their lives in service to their country.
“Each Memorial Day we remember those throughout history who gave their lives to protect the freedoms we know today,” said Governor DeWine. “Although we could not gather together to pay tribute to these brave Americans this year, it is still important to take time to recognize the meaning of Memorial Day and remember Ohio's fallen service members.”
Days later on the east lawn of the Statehouse, the Director was among those who volunteered to help place nearly 700 flags in honor of the number of veterans lost to suicide each month in America. The display is called Flags for Forgotten Soldiers.
This year, ODVS embarked on a Memorial Month project in a Facebook series showing military monuments and memorials from a different county each day in May.
OhioVets.gov Joins InnovateOhio Platform
ODVS is proud to announce an updated and cleaner version of its website, OhioVets.gov. The renovation of the site was launched at the end of May.
The site now provides easier access to valuable benefits and resources for veterans and military families as well as better alignment with the websites of fellow state departments as part of the InnovateOhio Platform. The home page features a bevy of key links including one to a new What We Do page that includes background information on pertinent aspects of the department as well as the ODVS mission and vision.
Popular links remain, such as those to all of Ohio's 88 County Veterans Service Offices, important information related to the Ohio Veterans Homes, state programs such as the Ohio Veterans Bonus, insight into the ODVS Workforce Team, information on Ohio’s women veterans, and our entertaining On The Road video series.
In Time of Need, Benefits Still Await
Before this challenging new landscape, it may be more important than ever for veterans and military families to explore avenues for help and the resources at their avail. A huge part of our mission is to connect honorably discharged veterans to their well-earned benefits, and many of these outlets and programs are illuminated on our website.
In Ohio, former service members are encouraged to contact their CVSO, where officers can help them determine if they are eligible to receive benefits such as …
- Financial assistance
- Compensation for a service-connected disability
- Legal help
- Home loans
- Burial services
- Mental health care
- Military discounts
- And much more
See our new benefits video to find out more.
Afghanistan-era vets may be eligible to receive as much as $1,500 from the Veterans Bonus. Find more information on our website or call 877-644-6838 and press option #2. The MIRF program funds a one-time, tax-exempt monetary payment to military service members injured in active service, or to individuals diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, after October 7, 2001. Contact MIRF at (877) 644-6838, option #3 with specific questions.
Meanwhile, many veterans organizations are finding ways to pitch in and help keep Ohioans safe. For example, traditional organizations such as the American Legion and VFW have stepped up their “Buddy Check” programs to have members check in on fellow members to see how they are coping and determine if they need additional support. Several veteran-oriented nonprofits also are stepping up. Here are a few examples:
- Rubicon – Recently published a special message to their volunteer network urging them to find safe ways to support their community responses to COVID-19. Rubicon also set up a special site where volunteers can self-report activity in their community.
- Team Red White and Blue – Is creating opportunities for members and supporters to connect online, including virtual social hours.
- Bunker Labs – Is supporting small business support opportunities that are arising from state and national initiatives and connecting veteran entrepreneurs to new programs.
- Save A Warrior – Has been scheduling online sessions on dealing with stress and behavioral health issues.
It’s also important to note that many Ohioans want to follow health orders, support local businesses and help those in need during this crisis, which is why the Ohio Department of Health has set up the Together Ohio section of the coronavirus.ohio.gov website.
Thank You for Nominating Outstanding Vets
Despite the current health crisis and all of the impediments it presents, Ohioans still made sure to take time to nominate an eye-opening number of candidates for the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame. With a flood of submissions coming in just before the June 1 deadline, ODVS received 136 nominations from all across the state, which is just below the record 145 packets sent in last year.
Each year, the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame inducts up to 20 former service members in recognition of their outstanding post-military achievements. Originating in 1992, the Hall of Fame honors Ohio’s distinguished men and women who have worn the uniform of our nation’s armed forces and then continue to contribute to their communities, state, and nation through exceptional acts of volunteerism, advocacy, professional accomplishment, public service, and philanthropy. All inductees must be a past or current resident of Ohio who served honorably and exude good moral character. The 13-member Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame Executive Committee reviews all submissions and elects a new class of exceptional veterans each year.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused the Hall of Fame to postpone this year’s annual Enshrinement Ceremony at the Riffe Center for Government and the Arts in downtown Columbus. That event, typically held in early May, serves as an unveiling of the bronze plaque that is permanently displayed in the lobby of the Riffe for the class that was inducted the previous year. Currently, plans are still in place for the HOF to announce the Class of 2020 in the fall and to induct that group in early November just prior to Veterans Day. However, discussions are ongoing regarding potential modifications, or perhaps postponement, of the annual Induction Ceremony if that event conflicts with state guidelines. Last year, Governor DeWine and Director Ashenhurst presented plaques and Hall of Fame medals to the members of the Class of 2019. The past two years, the Induction Ceremony has been held at Radiant Life Church in Dublin.