What is the Disabled American Veteran’s organization all about?
Since its founding more than 80 years ago, the Disabled American Veterans has been dedicated to a single purpose: building better lives for America’s disabled veterans and their families. Fidelity to that mission has required DAV to respond creatively and flexibly to changing and sometimes unpredictable problems faced by its constituency. Whether disabled veterans have needed a voice on Capitol Hill, a nationwide service program, a transportation network or unique rehabilitation opportunities, DAV has focused its attention and resources to meet those needs.
What kind of “Challenges” does the DAV face in today’s world?
The current environment presents a unique set of challenges to which DAV must respond. The explosion of the “information superhighway” and developments in computer science will affect virtually every area of DAV’s operations, from claims advocacy to fundraising. So too, the changing needs of an aging veteran population require adaptation by both DAV and the federal government, a government increasingly prone to cost-cutting and led largely by persons with no military experience and little passion for veterans’ issues.
Recognizing that the 21st century would present both enormous challenges and breathtaking opportunities to DAV, National Adjutant Arthur H. Wilson in 1998 commissioned a team of select DAV managers to begin work on a Strategic Plan to ensure the continued viability and vitality of DAV well into the future. Since then, input has been gathered from DAV leaders throughout the entire organization. Their insights have been incorporated into this Strategic Plan which, like DAV, is intended to be flexible and responsive to the ever-changing needs of disabled veterans and their families. This Strategic Plan is a blueprint for DAV to remain the greatest veterans’ service organization in the world. America’s disabled veterans deserve nothing less.
Made up exclusively of men and women disabled in our nation’s defense, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) is dedicated to one, single purpose: building better lives for all of our nation’s disabled veterans and their families. This mission is carried forward by:
1. Providing free, professional assistance to veterans and their families in obtaining benefits and services earned through military service and provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other agencies of government;
2. Providing outreach concerning its program services to the American people generally, and to disabled veterans and their families specifically;
3. Representing the interests of disabled veterans, their families, their widowed spouses and their orphans before Congress, the White House, and the Judicial Branch, as well as state and local government;
4. Extending the DAV’s mission of hope into the communities where these veterans and their families live through a network of state-level Departments and local Chapters;
5. Providing a structure through which disabled veterans can express their compassion for their fellow veterans through a variety of volunteer programs.
The DAV’s Long Tradition of Service
| When the troops came home from World War I, some 300,000 carried grim reminders of war: disabling injuries, battle scars, gas-seared lungs, and prolonged illnesses. Following a tumultuous hero’s welcome, America wiped the horror of war from its mind almost as quickly as the ticker tape was swept from the streets of New York City. As a result, the needs of the nation’s disabled heroes were swept aside as well. Prejudice kept capable and qualified–but disabled–veterans from gaining employment in a job market with few enough opportunities to offer anyone. Veterans benefits programs were administered by three separate government agencies with conflicting and overlapping responsibilities, leaving disabled veterans with massive confusion and red tape. Without a medical system dedicated to their needs, many disabled veterans found themselves sleeping on cots–or even on floors–in the halls of America’s overwhelmed hospitals. Some just gave up the struggle, sitting on street corners with tin cups and signs reading: “Help Me. I’m a Disabled Veteran.” Angered by the negligence and incompetence of the federal government in dealing with their problems, disabled veterans began forming local self-help groups in cities across America. In 1920, leaders from 250 of these groups gathered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Under the charismatic leadership of Judge Robert S. Marx, himself a veteran disabled in France, they federated into a national body named the Disabled American Veterans of the World War (DAVWW). Judge Marx’s public life took him to cities across the country, affording him the opportunity to use his superior organizing skills in the new DAVWW’s behalf. The new organization also attracted some very high-powered supporters from society at large. For example, our first corporate sponsor was Henry Ford, who supplied a caravan of 50 Model-T Fords to carry needy disabled veterans to San Francisco for the organization’s second national convention in 1922. At that convention, the famed Rudolph Valentino became the DAVWW’s first celebrity sponsor when he threw a benefit concert on the organization’s behalf.
Early on, the DAVWW also opened a Washington, D.C., office to help veterans file claims for disability benefits. By the mid-1930s, the DAVWW had veterans’ benefits experts stationed in Veterans Bureau hospitals across the country. When the specter of World War II raised its head, the DAVWW dropped the reference to the First World War from its name, becoming simply the Disabled American Veterans, or DAV.
Among those who led the DAV in the era following World War II were two famous generals. One was General Jonathan M. Wainwright, well known for his defense of Corregidor and his 39 months as a prisoner of the Japanese. The other was General Melvin J. Maas, who became known as the “blind general” when he remained on duty after combat wounds suffered on Okinawa took his sight.
The World War II and Korean War generation built a DAV that could never have been imagined by those who founded the organization back in the 1920s. Their efforts to open up employment opportunities for disabled veterans and other handicapped people are legendary. They built a volunteer network that now contributes nearly 2 million hours annually to patients in VA medical facilities. Using a formula provided by Independent Sector, an organization that provides oversight to American nonprofits, this time is valued at $30.5 million. Most importantly, they prepared an organization that was ready to serve the veterans of the next generation, those who returned from the Vietnam War sick and wounded. In doing so, they resolutely stood in opposition to a society that often shunned these younger veterans. In the belief that Vietnam veterans should be treated with the same respect enjoyed by earlier generations of veterans, they worked hard on behalf of the Veterans Readjustment Act of 1966. In the years following the war, they worked with younger veterans to establish a treatment model for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a model later adopted by the VA Vet Center program. The DAV’s Vietnam generation continued that tradition of advocacy, among other victories winning recognition of the needs of veterans exposed to radiation in the post-World War II era and Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. They also won establishment of the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals, which affords veterans the right to gain judicial review of unfavorable VA decisions.
If the DAV’s World War II and Korean War veterans were quick to respond to the needs of Vietnam veterans, the Vietnam generation proved just as ready to respond to the veterans of the Persian Gulf War and other post-Vietnam military conflicts. They have been outspoken in their advocacy on issues like the unexplained illnesses that plague the lives of so many Gulf War veterans. In addition, they’re actively recruiting a new generation of DAV National Service Officers from disabled veterans now in their twenties and thirties, a generation that will lead the DAV into the 21st century.
It is important to note that the DAV has had a quiet partner as the organization built this substantial record of achievement. It takes funds to field the kind of services, programs and advocacy the DAV offers to disabled veterans and their families–more funding than could possibly be supplied by the dues paid by disabled veterans for membership in the organization. The American people–good and loyal people like yourself–have stood by our organization, providing nearly all of the funding necessary to field our extensive network of services. We are not exaggerating one bit when we say we are eternally grateful to you. Your generosity has allowed us to touch the lives of literally millions of disabled veterans and their families. Thank you for such great kindness.