Imagine a full-time job in which the only payment received is the satisfaction of helping others. That’s what the nine volunteer staff members, including six service officers, with Disabled American Veterans Chapter 46 do each weekday.
Chapter Commander Walter Helmick said he and his staff are all disabled veterans, and they volunteer their services because they care about veterans and their spouses.
Helmick, a former Army vehicle mechanic, said he’s been a member of the DAV for seven years. He said he was the chapter adjutant for four years and currently is beginning his third term as chapter commander. He described the DAV as an advocate for disabled veterans, saying the chapter is like the “middle man” between the veteran and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This organization is strictly for the disabled veteran, but that doesn’t mean we turn away any vet,” he said. “A veteran is a veteran. I love what I do for veterans and their spouses. I’ll do what I think needs to be done to get their claim packets together ... My reward for doing this is seeing disabled veterans get the compensation they deserve.”
He said his service officers are trained by the DAV’s national service officers in Decatur. They look through the information the veteran brings to them before he or she submits a new claim or appeal for disability compensation. He said that information begins with the veteran’s DD Form 214 and his or her military medical records. The packet also is checked for other necessary government forms or supporting medical information.
In many cases, the packets will include a power of attorney that allows the DAV’s national service officer to represent the veteran before the VA regional office. This POA does not, however, give the service officer authority to sign any document for the veteran. The veteran must sign all documents, he said.
When the local chapter’s service officers have completed their work in assembling the information in the veteran’s claim packet, Helmick said the packet is returned to the veteran, who then is advised to send the packet to the national service officer in Decatur. They then will review the packet again to ensure nothing is missing before it goes to the VA.
Helmick acknowledged that the VA currently is backlogged with disability claims. The wait many veterans have for an initial response from the VA is 12 to 18 months. He admitted it often is a long fight, but his service officers are committed to continue working until the veteran gets the benefits he or she deserves.
In addition to helping disabled veterans, Helmick said Chapter 46 recently started a welfare and relief program. New member Hoy Lesniowski, who recently transferred to Hinesville from a DAV chapter in Virginia, leads the program, which raises funds to help veterans who are homeless, are about to be evicted or have had their water or electricity turned off. He said the program has prevented 10 evictions since it began last month.
“We work with Daisy Jones and the city’s Homeless Prevention Program as well as the Homeless Coalition,” Lesniowski said. “We’ve also raised over $36,000 through a grant company that is used to help veterans (on a one-time basis) pay the rent or a (utility) bill.”
He said the grant company requires proof that applicant is a veteran and has a valid need. The veteran also must show that he or she will be able to pay the bill in the future without assistance, he said.
According to a DAV membership-application form, the DAV is a nonprofit association with more than 1.2 million members, all of whom are disabled veterans.
For more information about the DAV, call 368-2546.