Sept. 25 was a big day for one of the country’s noblest of organizations. On that day, 100 years ago, Disabled American Veterans, known as simply DAV, was founded to serve the nation’s service-disabled veterans, their families and survivors.
The nonprofit relies on more than one million service-disabled veterans who volunteer to assist other vets and their families in accessing the full range of benefits to which they are entitled. They additionally educate the public on the needs of veterans transitioning to civilian life.
It is not surprising that veteran-rich Brevard County can claim five active chapters of the organization. Chapter 123, for example, counts on 741 volunteers who give their time and talent at the chapter office, located at the Brevard Veterans Memorial Center on Merritt Island.
In Titusville, Chapter 109 also boasts a robust, engaged membership. Chapter 32, the county’s largest DAV chapter, is based next to Big Orange on U.S. 1 in Melbourne. Chapter 129 serves Satellite Beach and neighboring communities, while Chapter 155 focuses on Barefoot Bay and the southern tip of the county.
While some chapters might add a bit of socializing and camaraderie into the mix and others choose not to, all chapters have a razor-sharp focus on connecting service-disabled vets and their families with benefits and services that will enhance their quality of life. Veterans need not belong to DAV to receive assistance from the group.
"Many vets don’t have a clue as to what benefits they are entitled to," Chapter 123 Commander Bill Benagh said.
Chapter members are in it for the long run. Chapter 123, which launched in 1974 with 71 members, still counts on charter members Homer Harrington, Vincent Lowell and Duilio Secondini. Thomas Patton, another charter member, still is in the area, but transferred to Titusville’s Chapter 109.
The DAV fills a critical need, for while the Armed Forces and the Department of Veteran Affairs do well in providing assistance to service-disabled veterans, they do not do so in an easy-to-understand manner.
"I bet there are as many veterans receiving benefits as those who are not, because they just don’t know how to get these," Benagh said.
The free, professional assistance by volunteer service officers helps with the convoluted process of claims and appeals for benefits such as VA disability compensation, educational assistance, widow’s pension, burial benefits and others.
The DAV also publishes the "Survivor Assistance Guide," which allows veterans and their loved ones to weave through the complex VA survivor benefits.
"We make this publication available to all vets or family members free of charge," Benagh said.
A look at statistics for just Chapter 123 reveals the extent of service of the DAV. In 2019, Chapter 123 set a record by assisting 4,350 veterans and their dependents. Members volunteered 14,914 hours of their lives to help fellow veterans.
They are injured heroes helping injured heroes.