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Veterans' News

Support organizations step up to help veterans

Last month we had briefly—and I do mean briefly—talked about the VA and all the various state’s veteran’s assistance departments and offices. Let me clarify something here first that may have been misinterpreted from the last article. Almost without exception the federal and state’s veterans aid and assistance programs are doing everything that they can to provide a high level of services to everyone in the veteran community. Any shortcomings, gaps, delays or failures are due primarily—I say again, primarily—to inadequate funding at every level. From the county courthouse to the state capital and onward to Washington, DC, the mantra of lower taxes over the past several years—and especially during the reign of the previous President  has cost the veteran community—and many others—dearly.

   Way back when—sometime during the middle of the last century—I was exposed to Economics 101. I’m not saying that I’m an economist but one of the things that I did retain was that you can’t keep on spending money on ‘stuff’ if your income is drastically reduced. When George the Second cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans he practically assured us that conditions for the middle and lower classes were going to get bad. Couple that fact with two wars that are to this day costing billions per month and you have the makings of an uncontrollable spiral of deficits that we will be paying on for at least a generation. Simply put, one can’t start wars and reduce your income at the same time. If memory serves I believe it is called ‘The Laws of Diminishing Returns.’ The best analysis of this period can be found in the New York Times in a recent article by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman—I suggest that everyone read it.

Enough on that subject but one of the blowbacks that occurs when the federal and state governments can’t do an adequate job, a lot of stuff falls on the shoulders of the national and local veterans’ groups. I’m sure everyone that reads this knows that the DAV has regularly scheduled runs from Montana to the VA facility in Spokane. Along the way they make stops in Clark Fork, Sandpoint, Laclede, Priest River and probably some I’ve missed. If it wasn’t for this group of volunteer drivers and a donated van, vets from western Montana, northern Idaho and eastern Washington would have far fewer options when it came to getting to their appointments at the Spokane VA Medical Facility. These examples—and many others—are where the VSOs come into their own. But within many of these organizations lies the root of the problem. There are over 200 organizations listed as being chartered to help veterans. Many are nationally chartered through Congress and many more are chartered by the individual states. And, many more are not officially chartered at all.

The DAV, VFW and American Legion are, according to my research, the largest (numbers wise) of the VSOs. But many of these congressionally chartered and unchartered groups have less than 1,000 members. “Why?” you ask? Well, many of them were formed shortly after WWII—an exception is the VFW, which was formed after WWI—and that generation is dying off at a rate of approximately 1,500 to 1,600 per day. Most of the active volunteers within chapters of the VFW and DAV are in their 60s and early 70s and most of them did not serve during WWII but were either Korean War or ‘Cold War’ veterans. Many of these VSOs now function primarily as ‘social clubs’ where men sit around with old pals and talk about their experiences during WWII and Korea over a few drinks. [Short aside here: Many, many years ago, when I was stationed in Charleston, SC, there was one “VSO” that will remain nameless that functioned primarily (apparently) as a means to circumvent South Carolina liquor laws. For a small monthly ‘membership fee’ anyone could store their private bottle in a small cabinet that you held the key to. This VSO would then sell you whatever mixer you wished at inflated prices. By doing this they were able to function as a private club unfettered by pesky state regulations. The only veterans that benefited from that group’s activities appear to have been their local membership.]

Not that sitting around with old friends and having a few drinks is a bad thing—I’ve done that myself on numerous occasions—but 1) the group I’ve done it with was not a chartered VSO and 2) it does tend to interfere with the stated goals of the groups charter—which for most of these VSOs is to assist veterans in any way possible.

There was very little outreach done by the established VSOs to attract new membership from the ranks of Viet Nam era vets—nor those who served during the first Gulf War—nor from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, membership numbers of all the major VSOs are waning. Many of the veterans’ groups that have formed in the past few decades, such as the Vietnam Veterans Association, Iraqi War Veterans Organization and Veterans of Modern Warfare, are based on specific conflicts and/or time periods and have had to basically re-invent the wheel in many ways.

Most of the older VSOs have long-established connections with legislators on the national and state levels while the newer organizations are having to go through the arduous and tedious process of developing these lines of communications. The primary exception that I’m aware of is the VVA, as it has been around long enough to have developed many of these links. The others mentioned above—and many more that are of relatively recent formation—are still trying to establish themselves with varying degrees of success. The evolution of the newer VSOs will be next month’s topic—I’ve got lots of reading to do to get up to speed on these newer groups.

In closing I’ll take a quick look at some of the recent legislative actions and bills that may be of interest to veterans. We have in hopper a couple of things that may have an impact of younger veterans. The IAVO (Iraq Afghanistan Veterans Organization) has gotten some traction on a jobs stimulus bill aimed specifically at returning veterans with Montana Senator Max Baucus signing on. On the Agent Orange front the military is still in the process of adding illnesses to the list of presumed causative results of exposure to it. They are also still adding to the list of military units that were possibly exposed to Agent Orange and are therefore eligible for VA coverage if any one that served in one of the listed units exhibits symptoms of the listed illnesses. You do have to have proof of service in a listed unit—DD214 etcetera—but you can get help in getting the required documents through a variety of sources such as the DAV or county veterans’ offices.

Until next month, hasta luego, compadres. It is time to go out and catch a few rays by the pool—and maybe sip on a cold cervesa.

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Gil  Beyer Gil Beyer A 21 year Navy veteran, lived in Bonner County for over 30 years, Past Commander of the Priest River DAV Chapter and admitted news junkie.

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