Heroes for Heroes: Fostering Social Connection for Nevada’s Veterans through Free, Virtual, Volunteer-Hosted Social Support

2021 Poster ~

Samantha Savalli ~ Graduate Research Assistant ~ Dementia Engagement, Education, and Research Program, School of Community Health Sciences, University of Nevada, Reno:
Samantha Savalli serves as the Graduate Research Assistant for the Dementia Engagement, Education, and Research Program in the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) in Reno, Nevada. Samantha graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Biology and is now pursuing a Master in Public Health with an emphasis in Health Administration and Policy at UNR. She is currently conducting research on social isolation and loneliness amongst Nevada’s veterans who are homebound or living in long-term care communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Full list of authors: Samantha Savalli, Amy Garland, Rachel Jelenic, Casey Acklin, Daniella Alexander, Jennifer Carson:

Who are your heroes? Odds are they aren’t storybook characters with larger-than-life personas. Heroes live all around us, and among them are Nevada’s over 200,000 veterans. When COVID-19 struck in early 2020, veterans—along with all of Nevada’s citizens—were ordered to stay home and stay safe for Nevada: another act of service selflessly performed for the good of the public. This left many veterans socially isolated and susceptible to the negative health effects of loneliness. This held particularly true for elder veterans and veterans living with disabilities, many of whom are either homebound or living in Nevada’s two residential care communities for veterans: the Northern and Southern Nevada Veterans Homes. Our heroes deserve better than to feel alone. and while some do have social connections, nobody has ever been at risk of having too much social support.

To support and maintain connections between veterans and the people closest to them, the Nevada Department of Veterans Services convened the Family Connections Task Force. Quickly, an opportunity for partnership became evident. The NEST Collaborative (NEST = Nevada Ensures Support Together) was offering free, virtual, volunteer-hosted social support to elders and people living with disabilities. What if veterans could more readily access these services through a synergistic partnership?

And so, the Heroes for Heroes program was born, with the goal of offering social support via The NEST Collaborative to all residents of the two Veterans Homes and to homebound veterans across the state. The program officially launched in December of 2020.

This poster details the origins of the Heroes for Heroes program, its philosophy and mobilizing principles, its enablers of success—including the robust integration of veteran-centered care principles into NEST Collaborative programs—and a roadmap for anyone hoping to launch a similar social support campaign for veterans in other states across the county.