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SALT LAKE CITY, — For nearly 10 weeks, many people have been isolating to avoid COVID-19. During that same time, the veterans who live in Utah’s four veterans’ nursing homes have also been in isolation.
As Memorial Day approaches, the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs wanted to do something special this year for the more than 400 veterans living in those nursing homes across the state. It’s called Happiness for Heroes, and it includes all of us.
“This is a way that we wanted to reach out to honor those veterans who live in our four homes, and reach to them, because obviously they haven’t been able to be with their family members,” said Gary Harter, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans & Military Affairs.
Happiness for Heroes invites everyone to share unique and creative video messages with residents at the state’s veterans nursing homes in Ogden, Salt Lake City, Payson and Ivins. Messages of gratitude and support are already arriving for Utah’s veterans.
“We hope it can provide some level of comfort to all of our veterans,” said Harter.
Veterans in the state homes have not been able to get together with family members or other loved ones since early March due to the coronavirus.
“Some come in every day to visit their loved ones. As of March 12, that’s all shut down,” said Jeff Hanson, deputy director of facilities for the Utah Department of Veterans & Military Affairs.
It’s been a big change for the residents who rely on interaction with the community for emotional support.
“It’s kind of a two-edged sword,” said Hanson. “We protect them, but then it challenges them socially not to have that interaction that they are used to having.”
We’ve been very concerned about the mental wellness of our veterans in our homes.
–Jeff Hanson, Utah Department of Veterans & Military Affairs
The veterans have also been isolated in their rooms for meals, unable to visit with each other in the dining hall and other areas.
“We’ve been very concerned about the mental wellness of our veterans in our homes,” said Hanson.
They must wear their masks and keep their distance when they leave their rooms.
“So, it’s been extremely challenging, and the beauty of this program is that it reconnects the veterans back with the community, which is good for their overall health,” he said.
Simply make a video showing your support of our Utah veterans, then go to veterans.Utah.gov to upload it. On social media, look for #HappinessForHeroes.
The governor, lieutenant governor, and members of Utah’s congressional delegation have already sent in videos of support. Legendary Jazz basketball player, Thurl Bailey has already posted a video. Students from schools in Utah have already uploaded some of their artwork.
“It’s a great project especially for your kids at home if you’re looking for a break from online school,” said Kelsey Price, director of communications and marketing for the Utah Department of Veterans & Military Affairs.
Get as creative as you want, she said. They’ll play the messages for the veterans as they come in.