Ukrainians visit IVH to learn about rehabilitation, reintegration of veterans

Iowa Veterans Home Commandant Todd Jacobus, left, points out the one location on campus where residents can smoke. He told the Ukrainian visitors the facility gets unannounced inspections, which is why they take smoking on the grounds so seriously. PHOTO BY LANA BRADSTREAM

Eight Ukrainian citizens visited the Iowa Veterans Home on Tuesday, Feb. 13. The visit was made possible through Global Ties Iowa, an Iowa City nonprofit organization dedicated to diplomacy.

Commandant Todd Jacobus said the day began with a tour of the IVH campus. In the afternoon, they met with Chief of Mental Health Services Douglas Steenblock, attended the meeting of the Rotary Club of Marshalltown and met with representatives from Iowa Workforce Development.

“The focus of this program is reintegration and rehabilitation of veterans,” he said. “That’s why they’re here. That’s the topic of the visit. They are all involved in that to some degree in Ukraine.”

Showing the different levels of care for veterans was what Jacobus really wanted to highlight. He wanted them to see what long-term care looks like in the United States.

Jacobus said it is not common for foreign groups of people to tour IVH. He helped bring them to Marshalltown through his connections to international organizations such as Iowa Sister States and Greater Des Moines Sister Cities Commission.

“I market this as an opportunity, as a stopping point, as a place to come visit,” Jacobus said.

Global Ties Iowa Executive Director Amy Alice Chastain said the visitors were part of the 84th annual International Visitor Leadership Program.

“We bring leaders from around the world, who’ve been identified by our staff, embassies and consoles and are brought here, fully funded by the State Department,” she said. “This group is specifically focused on the rehabilitation and reintegration of veterans after the war in Ukraine. Everywhere they’re going in the three weeks, they are meeting with peers about that subject and topic, and sharing practices they would like to take back to Ukraine.”

Two Ukrainian interpreters spoke into headsets, which all of the visitors wore, so they could learn about the IVH system, and ask questions. Jacobus started the tour in the Sheeler Building and provided a brief history lesson and basic statistics, such as the 715 staff members, number of residents (404) and which wars they fought in — four of the residents are veterans of World War II, 37 of the Korean War, 204 Vietnam, 18 of the veterans are women, 58 are veteran spouses and the rest are Iraqi Freedom and Gulf War.

“What our mission is is to fulfill the promise that was made to soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen when they volunteered to serve our nation in the U.S. armed forces,” Jacobus said. “If they need support and care, we will be there to provide them with support and care. The people who work here see this as a mission. It is service, just like those who served the country in the military. We will fulfill our country’s promise that we will be there for them.”

On tour

The commandant proceeded to show the Ukrainians specific aspects of the campus. As the tour progressed, Jacobus spoke about the understanding, sympathy and prayers the IVH residents and staff have for Ukraine with the ongoing war with Russia. Many residents voiced their support and offered prayers for the people of Ukraine.

“People are very emotional for you about what’s taking place,” he told them. “It is a travesty what is going on — truly, a travesty. There’s lots of different opinions about what the future holds and what it might look like for the United States.”

Jacobus shared his opinion that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not stop with Ukraine.

“The Baltic nations should be very concerned,” he said. “The country of Kosovo — they’re looking to Ukraine and they see an existential threat for themselves from Serbia, which is a huge ally of Putin and Russia. There is a great deal of concern about their future. They’re looking to the United States, saying ‘What are you doing in Ukraine and what are you going to do to support us when or if Serbia should decide to take offensive action against our nation?'”

Jacobus said Iowa has a sister state in Ukraine — Cherkasy. He added Iowa used to have a sister state in Russia — Stavropol. After the invasion, the relationship was terminated by Gov. Kim Reynolds. The Ukrainian visitors nodded their support and expressed their thanks for the severance.

One of the visitors, acknowledging the support, took notice of Jacobus’ tie, which bore the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag. Jacobus told them he had the tie for 10 years and never wore it until Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Now, it is one of his favorite ties and is quickly becoming worn out.

Jacobus drew laughs a few times during the tour. First, after leading the group into the Sheeler cafe, and pointing out the ice cream machine.

“When that machine that gives out ice cream is broken, people are very upset, because ice cream makes people happy, always,” he said. “Everywhere in the world.”

The visitors also laughed when Jacobus explained the living situations of residents. Each gets his or her own room, which applies to spouses who do not wish to share a living space.

“We had one wife who did not want to live on the same floor as her husband,” he said. “I asked her, ‘Why is that?’ She told me he has been a pain in her rear end for 60 years, and she wants to relax. I asked him and he said, ‘I don’t know why she doesn’t want to live with me.'”

Jacobus also highlighted the issue of smoking, which he said is taken very seriously. He showed the visitors the only area where residents can smoke, and added they can only smoke three times per day. The reason for the strict rules is unannounced inspections performed by the state.

“There’s 800 pages we have to be in compliance with at this facility,” Jacobus told them. “Smoking is a big one. If you end up violating, you get fined and have to pay money to the state.”

Some other campus features Jacobus showed them included the dining room, the fully-functioning library and the chapel. One of the visitors asked about a table in the chapel which bore handwritten cards and stones. It was an interactive prayer altar in which residents can place their prayer requests. Jacobus said in February, March and April of 2022, half of the prayer requests on the altar were for Ukraine.

Jacobus said he was grateful the Ukrainians had a mission to help their veterans. His hope was they will take some inspiration from IVH, and implement some of the practices for their veterans.

“I thought the tour went great,” he said. “We showed them independent living, nursing levels and dementia care. We would certainly be willing to partner with them. We plant seeds and see what becomes of it. This is a great opportunity to make the world a little bit smaller. We do that every time we can.”