03/17/08 — More are on the way

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More are on the way

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 17, 2008 1:45 PM

Bill Graham looks across a table inside the Disabled American Veterans' Post 45 home base off Patrick Street.

He listens to his 40-year-old junior vice commander respond to the notion that veterans' groups are dying out.

"These young kids fighting over there now, a lot of them are going to follow you," Graham says to the organization's youngest member.

The others in the room agree.

They reject the idea that as their generation ages and fades away, so, too, does the need for services for those who wear -- or once wore -- the uniform.

In fact, most would tell you troops returning from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan need them more than those who came home from Europe, Vietnam and Korea decades ago.

"There are a lot of veterans coming back from the wars on terror that need service through the DAV," Graham said. "We're not dying out. We're going to be here for an awful long time to come."


Donald Wooten has seen an "increasing need" firsthand.

A service officer at Post 45, he often files medical claims for those who have recently returned from the desert.

"Iraq and Afghanistan, that is the reason I got involved. These guys are coming back with all kinds of problems," he said. "Legs cut off in Vietnam, most people would not have survived that. But with the medicine they have got now, you have more injuries coming back home."

Most show signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a byproduct, Wooten says, of mortar and Improvised Explosive Device attacks.

"This particular war has more stress associated with it than any other war," he said. "It's a different kind of fight."

And it is a different kind of veteran, too.

In fact, the vast majority of Wayne County's DAV membership represents battles waged long before conflict in the Middle East seemed imminent.

Of the 1,000-plus that make up the post, the average age is 68.

But Larry Walls recognizes "a shift."

"A lot of veterans from Vietnam and from World War I and World War II, they didn't get those benefits until they got over 60. Well, now you have this conflict going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, and you have veterans receiving disability at 19, 20, 21," he said. "They fit the category for DAV a lot sooner than those from Vietnam. In Vietnam, if an individual got wounded, he still had to fight to get his benefits -- 15, 20 years after he left the war. He was 40 years old before he was receiving compensation."

Maybe his or her symptoms did not show until the wear and tear of a decade set in.

Or maybe he or she simply had too much pride to file a claim -- or did not know that depression and anxiety were covered.

Whatever the reason, the number of claims filed inside Post 45 has increased dramatically.

And for Walls, it is a trend he fears will lead to the group's membership outgrowing its small base on Patrick Street.


A building might simply be a building, but without the space to facilitate the anticipated increase in membership, service officers say they would be limited in their ability to help veterans get the compensation they deserve.

So Walls and others are currently looking for a new home for Post 45.

But finding a new building -- one that will facilitate another 1,000-plus -- is becoming an expensive proposition, one expected to cost $200,000.

"We definitely need a facility that can service more people. Everyone who wants to attend should be able to attend," Walls said. "I think it will be good for Wayne County to finally have a place where all its veterans can be served, so they can begin to take advantage of the services we provide."

And whether that means filing a medical claim or simply showing up for some fellowship and a warm meal, services should always be there for a veteran, he added.

"If you are a disabled American veteran, that means you had something taken away from you or something happened to you that made you less than what you were when you went into the military," Walls said. "It shouldn't be you on your own taking care of that."

He hopes Wayne residents agree and that pride in the military will translate into dollars.

"I think all Americans owe that to a veteran," he said. "If he raised his right hand and took an oath that he would protect this country, we owe that individual."

Donations for the Post 45 building fund can be dropped off at its Patrick Street location.

Wooten remains optimistic.

He "knows" the money will come in.

And until it does, he will continue to fight to provide for the next generation -- just as the heroes of the world wars did for him and his comrades.

"It's a fight I love. It comes from being a military person. That's what you did when you were in the military -- you always fought for what you believed in," he said. "You know, you go and fight for freedom and most veterans think when they come back, they say, 'I went and fought in this war. It's going to be good for me.' But it's not. You have to come back and fight every day for what is yours. And when you get it, you have to fight to keep it."

For more information or to make a donation to the building fund, call the DAV at 736-3015.