VA goes online

February 13, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

VA goes online

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Melvin McDaniel had computer experience before becoming a patient at the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center, but he never expected he'd exchange quips and talk about his poetry with a U.S. senator via computer.

"That was exciting. It was something I never thought would happen to me, having that opportunity," McDaniel said.

On Wednesday, McDaniel helped kick off the medical center's Patient Phone Home program, chatting online with U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

The program is designed to enable patients to use computers to communicate with family and friends who live outside the area, but the possibilities extend beyond chatting with mom.


Although the program is for everyone, disabled and homeless veterans will benefit the most, said Dr. Frank Miller, coordinator of the hospital's work therapy and vocational education programs.

Homeless veterans can access job sites, while disabled veterans can shop online.

"One of the guys yesterday was going through Columbia House. Isn't that cool? For those disabled veterans who wouldn't normally be able to go out to the record stores, this is a way to do that," Miller said.

Veterans will receive computer training to learn how to use the four computers, which will the be sent home with them.

"I'm starting off small because we've got to get the folks in to use them and train them," Miller said.

McDaniel is already computer literate.

He helped set up the computer lab and has been teaching computer skills to other veterans.

"Veterans helping veterans is more than just an expression," Miller said.

A patient since October, McDaniel was a receptionist for the City of Alexandria before entering the hospital's substance abuse program.

Although he could use the Patient Phone Home program to talk with his family and friends in his home state of New York, he's more likely to access the job sites.

"Veterans can use the computer to get any Veterans Affairs office in the country, find out what positions are available, as well as put information out there on themselves. Instead of filling out an application, they can do it over computer," McDaniel said.

McDaniel said his part in the kickoff Wednesday was a thrill.

"Just being able to talk to a senator in Washington, D.C., to have him personally call me by name and recognize my poetry," McDaniel said.

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