USA — Organization Reaches Out to Wounded Warriors

WASHINGTON — In what start­ed out as a small pilot pro­gram, mem­bers of Dis­abled Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans, work­ing with the Defense and Vet­er­ans Affairs depart­ments, began vis­it­ing wound­ed war­riors at Fort Bragg, N.C., to talk about ben­e­fits and ser­vices avail­able to them after they leave active duty.
Now 40 DAV tran­si­tion ser­vice offi­cers have become reg­u­lars at 144 mil­i­tary instal­la­tions par­tic­i­pat­ing in the joint VA-DOD Ben­e­fits Deliv­ery and Dis­charge Pro­gram, which pro­vides tran­si­tion assis­tance to sep­a­rat­ing ser­vice mem­bers who incurred dis­abil­i­ties relat­ed to their mil­i­tary ser­vice.

National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo.
Dis­abled Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans Nation­al Com­man­der Wal­lace E. “Wal­ly” Tyson, address­ing par­tic­i­pants in the Nation­al Dis­abled Vet­er­ans Win­ter Sports Clin­ic in Snow­mass Vil­lage, Colo., in March 2011, said DAV is reach­ing out to wound­ed war­riors and the newest gen­er­a­tion of dis­abled vet­er­ans.
VA pho­to
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DAV Nation­al Com­man­der Wal­lace E. “Wal­ly” Tyson called DAV’s con­tri­bu­tion a vital link to the newest gen­er­a­tion of dis­abled vet­er­ans.

“We want to get to those vet­er­ans before they are released from active duty so we can help get them on a path toward rein­sti­tut­ing a life for them­selves and mak­ing sure they know what ben­e­fits are avail­able to them and their fam­i­lies,” he told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

As part­ners in mil­i­tary tran­si­tion assis­tance pro­grams and dis­abil­i­ty tran­si­tion assis­tance pro­grams, DAV tran­si­tion ser­vice offi­cers con­duct or par­tic­i­pate in pre-dis­charge brief­in­gs, review wound­ed war­riors’ treat­ment records on request and con­fer with Defense and Labor Depart­ment offi­cials and oth­er par­tic­i­pants in the dis­charge process.

The pro­gram, Tyson said, enables DAV to help ser­vice mem­bers through the process of devel­op­ing evi­dence, com­plet­ing appli­ca­tions and pros­e­cut­ing claims for vet­er­ans ben­e­fits admin­is­tered under fed­er­al, state and local laws. But one of the biggest ben­e­fits of the effort, he added, is ensur­ing that sep­a­rat­ing ser­vice mem­bers don’t find them­selves in a sit­u­a­tion where their mil­i­tary ben­e­fits are dis­con­tin­ued and VA ben­e­fits have not yet start­ed.

“I can’t overem­pha­size the val­ue of the com­plete pack­age,” agreed Ron Minter, DAV’s nation­al ser­vice offi­cer super­vi­sor for Mary­land. “When [tran­si­tion assis­tance offi­cers] have that oppor­tu­ni­ty, it allows more prompt ser­vice and a smoother tran­si­tion and, to a greater degree, a seam­less tran­si­tion” from mil­i­tary to civil­ian life.

And even if tran­si­tion­ing ser­vice mem­bers may not feel the need for DAV sup­port now, Tyson said, that ini­tial con­tact lays impor­tant ground­work for future help, when and if it is need­ed. DAV’s out­reach to wound­ed war­riors about to make this tran­si­tion is a nat­ur­al exten­sion of its his­toric mis­sion to serve vet­er­ans with ser­vice-con­nect­ed dis­abil­i­ties and their fam­i­lies, he said.

Robert S. Marx, a cap­tain who had been wound­ed in the Meuse-Argonne Offen­sive in France in Novem­ber 1918, is cred­it­ed with found­ing DAV to serve dis­abled World War I vet­er­ans who returned home to lit­tle gov­ern­ment sup­port. Con­gress, impressed with its effec­tive­ness, char­tered DAV in 1932 as the pri­ma­ry advo­cate for dis­abled vet­er­ans.

Nine­ty-one years since its found­ing, Tyson said, DAV is as rel­e­vant today as it’s been at any time in its his­to­ry. He not­ed the grow­ing num­ber of vet­er­ans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have joined its 1.2 mil­lion-mem­ber ranks, ben­e­fit­ing from its claims and ben­e­fits assis­tance and its vol­un­tary ser­vices pro­gram.

DAV offers a broad range of ser­vices to dis­abled vet­er­ans, all at no charge, thanks in large part to an army of more than 14,000 vol­un­teers. Some dri­ve a fleet of more than 1,400 vans, trans­port­ing vet­er­ans to VA med­ical cen­ters, super­mar­kets or even bar­ber shops. Oth­ers vol­un­teer their ser­vices at VA med­ical facil­i­ties and region­al clin­ics.

In addi­tion, a cadre of high­ly trained nation­al ser­vice offi­cers, all with wartime-ser­vice-con­nect­ed dis­abil­i­ties, reviews vet­er­ans’ claims and ensures vet­er­ans know what ben­e­fits and ser­vices they’re enti­tled to.

Dur­ing 2010 alone, they inter­viewed almost 185,000 vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies, Tyson report­ed. As a result, they filed more than 250,000 new claims for ben­e­fits, obtain­ing $5.1 bil­lion in new and retroac­tive ben­e­fits for the dis­abled vet­er­ans they rep­re­sent­ed.

In addi­tion, DAV employs nine nation­al appeals offi­cers who rep­re­sent dis­abled vet­er­ans before the VA’s Board of Vet­er­ans’ Appeals. Last year, these nation­al appeals offi­cers rep­re­sent­ed appel­lants in about 5,000 cas­es. Of those cas­es, Tyson report­ed, almost three-quar­ters result­ed in the orig­i­nal deci­sions being over­turned or remand­ed to region­al office rat­ing boards for addi­tion­al devel­op­ment and re-adju­di­ca­tion.

In an effort to bet­ter sup­port dis­abled vet­er­ans, DAV is increas­ing its out­reach into rur­al areas and oth­er areas where vet­er­ans tra­di­tion­al­ly have been under­served. Dur­ing 2010, DAV’s 10 new mobile ser­vice offices trav­eled almost 115,000 miles and vis­it­ed 815 cities and towns to inter­view more than 20,000 vet­er­ans and oth­er poten­tial claimants, Tyson report­ed.

“This out­reach effort gen­er­ates a con­sid­er­able amount of claims work from those vet­er­ans who may not oth­er­wise have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to seek assis­tance at DAV nation­al ser­vice offices,” he said.

One of the more pop­u­lar out­reach efforts, the “Harley’s Heroes” project, involves set­ting up DAV booths at local Harley-David­son Motor Co. deal­er­ships that under­write the cost of the project. Mobile ser­vice offices vis­it­ed 183 Harley-David­son deal­er­ships last year. In addi­tion to serv­ing up refresh­ments and dis­trib­ut­ing infor­ma­tion, DAV nation­al ser­vice offi­cers offered to review vet­er­ans’ paper­work to help in deter­min­ing whether they’re eli­gi­ble for ben­e­fits or ser­vices.

“We want them to bring any evi­dence they have, if they nev­er filed a claim or want to reopen a claim,” Tyson said. “And they’re get­ting the best of both worlds. They don’t have to trav­el [to a VA facil­i­ty], and they are going to get an expert work­ing on their claim. Our nation­al ser­vice offi­cers are the best-trained out there.”

With most of its cur­rent mem­bers from the Viet­nam War era, Tyson said, it’s time for the orga­ni­za­tion to throw its sup­port to the nation’s youngest dis­abled vet­er­ans and wel­come them into the fold.

“We don’t want a repeat [of the Viet­nam home­com­ing expe­ri­ence],” Tyson said. “We hope we have learned from those mis­takes, and to a great degree, I believe we as a nation have. Now we want to incor­po­rate the younger vet­er­ans. It’s our turn to men­tor them and let them take some of the lead­er­ship roles” with­in DAV.

“I believe, per­son­al­ly, that we are the best advo­cates for dis­abled vet­er­ans, their wives, their wid­ows, their chil­dren and their sur­vivors,” Tyson said. “That is because we have one and only one mis­sion: to build bet­ter lives for dis­abled Amer­i­can vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies. We have struck to that since this orga­ni­za­tion was found­ed, and I believe that is the rea­son the orga­ni­za­tion is so suc­cess­ful.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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