Jim Crowe with the Dothan chapter of the Disabled American Veterans talks about the need for volunteers for the organization in Dothan on Monday.
Posted: Saturday, July 2, 2016 5:17 pm | Updated: 10:54 pm, Sat Jul 2, 2016.
Posted on Jul 2, 2016by Jimmy Sailors
Larry Castleman, Charlie Walker and Jim Crowe don’t believe in leaving fellow veterans behind.
The officers with Dothan Chapter 87 Disabled American Veterans and others volunteer at the chapter’s service office to assist veterans and their families.
The office provides help with overdue utilities and rent payments, food and transportation. More importantly, it helps veterans and their families file claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for compensation related to illness and injuries caused while serving on active duty.
Compensation includes benefits and services earned through military service and provided by the VA and other government agencies.
For some veterans it takes years or decades for a physical or mental problem or illness to develop.
“For me, it was 40 years from when I retired from the military until I filed a claim,” said Castleman, who serves as Dothan chapter commander. “When I filed a claim they gave me a disability.”
All of the services provided by the DAV are free of charge, yet many veterans don’t know about the office at 545 W. Main St. in the Mixson Business Center.
Castleman is one of the service officers who went through training to do the paperwork. He said veterans should always seek assistance in filing claims.
“The rule I guess is don’t ever file a claim directly to the VA,” Castleman said. “Get a military organization to be your advocate, and then they kind of look out for you.”
Castleman said the DAV can help any veteran find out about benefits that are available, from rehabilitation and education programs to pensions, death benefits, employment and training programs.
According to the organization’s national website, in 2015 alone DAV helped veterans and family members obtain more than $4.04 billion in new and retroactive benefits.
Records, especially medical records, are often key in filing a disability claim. Documents can help back up claims on anything from Agent Orange and asbestos exposure to the burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan to incinerate trash and materiel.
Walker, the senior vice commander of the Dothan chapter, said a lot of veterans learn about the office through word of mouth.
“They’re complaining to a friend, the friend says ‘go see the DAV,’” Walker said.
Castleman said if the DAV cannot help it directs veterans and family members to organizations that can. He said Wiregrass United Way 2-1-1 is a tremendous source of information on agencies and programs, and often refers callers to the DAV.
Crowe, the chapter’s treasurer, said Dothan’s Saliba Center for Families donates the space in the Mixson Business Center free of charge “because they believe in us that much, they see what we do. Without their support we’d be in trouble.”
The DAV office relies on fundraising projects and donations to operate. While the Dothan chapter has over 700 members and an auxiliary that consists of veterans’ spouses and family members, relatively few help raise funds or work at the service office.
The national DAV is close to 100 years old. The Dothan chapter has been a part of the Dothan market for more than 40 years and has had an active service office for more than 30 years, Crowe said.
Some newer service organizations don’t cover all veterans. The Wounded Warrior Project, for instance, helps only post-9/11 veterans.
Some organizations send care packages and do other things for active duty personnel, “but that doesn’t take care of the veterans once they leave service,” Crowe said.
Castleman said Mayor Mike Schmitz is a big supporter of the Dothan chapter and all veterans organizations. Businesses like Golden Corral and Harley-Davidson of Dothan and organizations like the National Peanut Festival and the train and gun shows it hosts help provide ways for the DAV chapter to raise funds to assist veterans and their families.
The chapter works with the Wiregrass Area United Way Food Bank to provide food for people who apply. It can always use donations and volunteers.
It also needs younger veterans to get involved so the DAV can continue to provide assistance for years to come.
The service office operates from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. It can be reached at 836-0217, extension 122.
So what do those who work in the service office get out of volunteering?
“Satisfaction in helping someone who needs it,” Walker said. “I hate to see a veteran out there not making it.”