VA NY Harbor Health Care System
Expanding and enhancing technology services for disabled Veterans is the mission behind Veterans Cyber World Inc. The organization was recently formed by Elaine Preto and Satiris (Sonny) Fassoulis, a 94-year-old WWII Army Air Force Veteran and Ex-POW who served as a Diamond Back in Europe and a Flying Tiger in China. Preto said that after Sonny graduated from the program, they met for lunch and discussed upgrading the computer labs to keep pace with advancing technology. As she was putting together the cost to upgrade the labs, he had bigger ideas and asked her for more details because he wanted to test the feasibility of the project. He quickly created a business plan, set up a board of Directors and navigated the complexities of setting up a Charity. Within months, Veterans Cyber World Inc. was approved and we were discussing not only building computer labs in New York but possibly expanding the program across the United States.
“While our Organization is new, our program is not,” says Preto. “The New York Regional Office set up the “No Man Is An Island Computer Program” 14 years ago and since then, Veteran word of mouth and successful results have created an increasing demand for the classes which have always included Veterans of all eras.
Preto explains that No Man is an Island currently provides services under VR&E Chapter 31 Independent Living. It is a special computer assisted program that serves as an adjunct to the VHA medical treatment program to increase disabled Veterans’ awareness, mental alertness, socialization and interaction in the world. She says, “acquisition of computer skills is an important avenue that provides Veterans with a sense of competency and mastery that are often closed to those with a serious disability.”
The vision of the program is that a successful outcome in a positive learning experience and mastery of a skill enhances their quality of life, and fosters recovery. According to Preto, since the program began eleven years ago in Brooklyn, over 475 Veterans from all eras have graduated.
Now that Veterans healthcare has all been automated, says Preto, it’s important to have technology centers in the hospitals so they can access their medical information. The program is set up using the School Readiness Program module which provides varying services based on an individual’s need. Veterans are separated into small groups of 4 to 6 students based upon their knowledge, if any, of computers. They participate in a 24 week 48-hour structured class.
Two full days of instructor-led labs have been added to the program so that any Veteran who is in or has been a part of the program is encouraged to come in for help. “We are teaching Windows 10, so the Veterans are working with touch computers and learning everything from keyboarding, printing, scanning, how to use Windows Apps, surf the internet, email and access My HealtheVet.”
During the lab, the Veterans get hands on practice as they learn to use the computer independently. Additional help is provided to sync their smart phones to their computer, edit and scan pictures, learn the basics of Facebook, and troubleshoot anything they are having difficulty with. Preto says, “we also work with the Veterans to install their computers, and provide home services to the Veterans to help them stay connected. I have just switched our accounts to Chase Bank who will be sending over reps to show the Veterans how to bank online and as we expand our services, we will be teaching the Veterans to use the New VA Apps and adding photography classes. In addition to the Commack branch’s coordination of online training for participating Veterans, Chase is providing our Veterans with free banking, which includes safe deposit box, checks, and money orders.
The best part, according to Preto, is Veterans at VA’s Brooklyn Campus helped her set up the room, put together the desks and volunteer in the labs with her staff. They also open on Fridays on their own. “ It is all very exciting for them and for me. Over the years, I have seen how this program has changed lives and believe that its success lies with the Veterans themselves because they are as selfless in their dedication to each other as in their service to our Country.”
Most recently, with the help of Veteran graduates and donations from local Veteran Service organizations, the first Veteran Technology Center at the Brooklyn Campus has been equipped with desks and computers. We believe, for a Veteran to cope with the challenges of today, computer skills are a necessity, not a luxury. “Setting up a Technology Center at the Medical Center where Veterans receive treatment, says Preto, is helping isolated Veterans make connections.”
Bert Hirsch, Program Director, PRRC, Veterans Support Center, says “It’s a program unique to the NY Metro area. It’s a practical skill that Veterans learn. Younger Veterans have the chance to fine tune their skills and older Veterans have the satisfaction of being able to easily communicate with grandchildren. Participants gain self-esteem and several Veterans who completed the program now serve as homework helpers to other Vets in the class. Elaine is really a special teacher. She has a knack for working with Veterans.”
The Lab officially opens with a Ribbon Cutting on June 2.