Members of the Disabled American Veterans chapter 46 and their families held a brief meeting Monday night at Dorchester Academy before having a Christmas celebration with a small feast.
Attendees represented service members from current conflicts back to World War II.
Chapter President Walter Helmick opened the meeting by reporting that the chapter’s membership is 714. He said that since July 1, the chapter has added 38 members.
Following an invocation by senior vice commander and chaplain Donald Spencer, members recited the pledge of allegiance.
“I see that some of you say the pledge with your hand over your heart,” Spencer said following the pledge. “You’re disabled veterans. You’ve earned the right to salute the flag.”
According the Americanflags.org, Spencer’s admonishment was correct. “Members of the armed forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may also render the military salute,” the website says. Saluting the American flag is a privilege, Spencer said. DAV members not only are veterans, but as disabled veterans, they’re doubly entitled to salute the flag, he said.
Before taking a motion to end the meeting and begin the banquet, Helmick announced the names of the 2013 veterans of the year, Moses E. Willis and Frank Scozzafava.
Scozzafava was not present, but Willis was recognized with a plaque presented by Spencer as Helmick read the award narrative.
As DAV members and their families moved through the banquet line for turkey, ham, gravy, dressing, mashed potatoes and sweet-potato casserole, Helmick, Spencer and chapter adjutant Pam Viscarra took time to talk about why they work without pay to help other veterans.
“We have (local) veterans from different eras, and they’re all different,” Helmick, a former Army mechanic, said. “But they’re all veterans. The (Department of Veterans Affairs) doesn’t tell any veteran the whole truth. We do. We’re there to be their advocate. We want to ensure every veteran gets the benefits he (or she) deserves.”
Helmick explained that he and other members of the chapter are trained to help veterans complete disability-compensation claims with the VA. He said they know what information the VA is looking for, but won’t necessarily tell the veteran. He said the happiest time for him is when a veteran they have helped lets them know they have received VA compensation or an increase in compensation.
“The training we get helps the veteran, but it also helps the VA with their backlog of disability claims,” said Spencer, who added that he wished the VA was as enthusiastic about helping veterans as the DAV. “I love helping veterans. I remember what happened to the veterans of the Vietnam War. Many of those veterans are still pending a resolution to disability claims.”
Spencer, who was a field artilleryman, said it troubles him to know so many Vietnam-era military members are fighting for benefits they qualified for more than 40 years ago.
Viscarra agreed. After serving five years as an Army administrative specialist, she said she has since worked for other organizations that work with or help veterans. Accepting the role of chapter adjutant fit both her professional profile and what motivates her personally.
“I’m a veteran giving back to veterans. My passion is helping people,” said Viscarra, who smiled when asked about her working relationship with the commander. “With Walter, you have to prove yourself. I think he said I had proved myself by the end of the first month.”
After the dinner, with the help of members’ children, Helmick distributed gifts to each DAV member. There also were several door prizes given out.