Seeing the Round Corners

May 23, 2016


Today we take a break from the 2016 politics. Volunteering in America is an idea that changes as we all age, especially for those who did not have time during their working life. Once retired, volunteering often times adds meaning to daily life that work used to provide and the opportunity to give back.

Organizations that depend on volunteers for their very existence are never heard to say, we have plenty of volunteers, or we do not need anyone else. Always far from it. Now for today's reason to write this so-different column, and to be up front with full disclosure, Dr. Donald Bennallack is a very dear friend of this writer and has been for many, many years.

Dr. Bennallack is a retired physician, and has been volunteering for almost 20 years. Until last year, he volunteered two days a week in Denver – Tuesdays reading for the blind, and Thursdays, reading at a different organization in the morning, then making sandwiches at a homeless shelter.

About four years ago, Dr. Bennallack contacted the Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons about a little different type of volunteering. He offered to come out on Thursday afternoons to play the piano and sing in the upstairs lunch room which already had a piano, so no additional accommodation was necessary.

Perhaps because Dr. Bennallack is a 1943 Naval veteran, the idea got a positive reception, and so after making sandwiches on Thursdays, he began his entertainment volunteering. Already being in Denver, the trip to the veterans home was reasonable, but meant a total distance to return to his home of 65 miles as Dr. Bennallack has lived in the mountains west of Denver all his life except for his service in the military and medical school back east.

Now, readers may be saying, so what, it was his choice. True, here's “fly in the ointment” and why fewer and fewer people volunteer.

Dr. Bennallack has a very bad knee and gets around with a walker and wheel chair, but has not let it interfere with his volunteering as he enjoyed the time spent at the veterans home. While the crowd was not huge, one resident, a retired doctor also named Don, loved to sing along.

In recent weeks, handicap parking near the entrance became such a problem, Dr. Bennallack could not navigate the distance, sometimes of half a block with his walker, and called, asking if they bring a wheel chair. Last week, Dr. Bennallack was called on the phone by the volunteer coordinator of the Colorado State Veterans Home and told “we can't be showing you different treatment than the other volunteers.”

When Dr. Bennallack mentioned to the coordinator about how resident Don so enjoyed singing along, he was told, “well, maybe you could just call him, let him sing along over the phone while you play.”

This writer is seldom at a loss of words, but on this one, it is hard to find words to describe such appalling and downright crass treatment of such a distinguished and dedicated citizen as Dr. Bennallack who just wished to volunteer.

At this point, readers may be asking, why does this matter so much as to warrant a writer's column? This is why. If a gentleman such as Dr. Bennallack is being shown such an attitude about volunteering, it is demonstrative of what residents are being shown, and families should be concerned about the internal attitude and care shown residents and family members.

Readers should also be aware that accommodations at Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons are not cheap, they start at a whopping $7,050 a month. YES!!

For background, a 2004 financial audit of the Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons reveals the following information:

• a skilled-care nursing facility created under Title 26, Article 12 of the Colorado Revised Statutes;

• provides health services (including physician care, physical, speech and occupational therapy, dietician consultation, dental care, and 24-hour licensed nursing care);

• related social care to patients who are severely limited in their ability to care for themselves due to severe illness and/or disability;

• an Alzheimer's unit providing a safe and secure environment for patients with Alzheimer's or related disorders;

• serves all veterans of services in the armed forces of the United States, their spouses, their widow(ers), and their dependent mothers and/or “gold star” parents (gold star parent is a parent whose child died in combat or as a result of injuries received in combat;

• preference is given to Colorado veterans; and

• must maintain a 75 percent veterans occupancy based on the number of residents wit no restrictions as to sex, race, color or national origin;

The audit also noted the Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons “is one of a very limited number of facilities which meet U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) requirements to provide care to veterans,” and receives certain funding from VA on the basis of the number of veterans served. Oversight of the home is by the Division of State and Veterans Nursing Homes within the Colorado Department of Human Services.

The reader's comments or questions are always welcome. E-mail me at