By MARINA WATERS
If you see three men out and about in Washington County wearing white, short-sleeve button-ups, with dark blue, old-school side caps sporting a collection of colorful pins, you’ve stumbled upon the members of the Disabled American Veterans group — and they hope you recognize them.
“Anytime we’re out, we’re dressed,” DAV member Keith Jones said. “A lot of veterans groups, they go out and you don’t know if you’re really dealing with a veterans group or some individual that’s trying to hoodoo you. We’re not out there to hoodoo the public; we’re here to take care of our veterans.”
These members, who belong to the DAV’s ninth chapter in Tennessee, have hit the streets of Jonesborough and many other areas of the county in hopes of spreading the word about the local chapter of the DAV and to do some good while they’re at it. From crafts for both local members and service men and women currently in combat to the services they offer to veterans’ families at the time of their passing, Washington County’s local DAV group is ready to help disabled veterans and any other veteran who needs assistance.
“A lot of veterans don’t want to go to the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) and see a VA service officer because they’ve got it in their mind, ‘that guy works for the VA and their trying to keep me from getting my benefits,’” Jones explained. “So we found that it works better if we’re not connected with the VA, even though the paperwork goes through the same place. It’s just that mindset.”
Jones said there have also been times when members of the DAV have been approached by veterans who need assistance filing claims and even receiving their compensation.
“We had a guy that someone told him he couldn’t get compensation for his service connection because the government will take his firearms away from him. Well, the government won’t take his firearms away from him just because he’s service connected,” Jones explained. “And he, for years, wouldn’t go file a claim because he wanted his firearms. We got him in touch and he wound up getting $1,500 a month every single month for the rest of his life that he could have had 20 years ago if somebody was there to help him. It’s those kind of things that we do.”
The DAV also has a food pantry in their new building, at 407 E Market Street, Johnson City, Tennessee, for veterans who are in need of canned goods. They provide veterans with any wheelchairs, power chairs or any other similar medical equipment as well. Jones said the DAV also assists disabled veterans with financial assistance at times once they’ve been properly screened. The volunteer group operates on donations, an annual forget-me-not flower sale and their skeet shoot fundraiser.
“For years people didn’t know what DAV meant,” Commander of the DAV Chapter Ken Sheppard said, “Well now we’re back into the community again and people are starting to understand what we’re doing and who we are. That’s the main thing, to let them know what we stand for.”
The group most recently made an appearance in the Jonesborough Days Parade and was a part of Johnson City’s Pepsi Independence Day Fireworks Celebration. The local group even added a 13-passenger van to their organization that has helped them to become more mobile. But the van has offered another service to veterans as well.
“There are three or four trips we made out to Gray to people that would have died over the weekend if we weren’t able to go out and get them and take them to the emergency room,” Jones said. “This is the first year we’ve ever had a van and it’s really coming into play.”
The group has made an impact on numerous lives throughout the years; Sheppard told the Herald & Tribune about a veteran who always wanted to accompany the group on their trip to the war memorials in Washington D.C. Due to sickness, he wasn’t able to go. After he passed away, the group made a trip in his honor and laid a wreath at the Korean War Memorial for him.
Meanwhile, DAV member James Lamprecht also told the story of a veteran whose dying wish was to have an honor guard at his memorial. Upon just an hour’s notice, DAV members were standing at attention to give the American veteran his honorary service.
“We just do what we can, that’s all,” Jones said.
Talking to these veterans is also a big part of Jones, Lamprecht and Sheppard’s “mission”.
“Especially Vietnam veterans (have a lot of built up memories of war). Vietnam veterans don’t like to talk to anybody but Vietnam veterans,” Jones, who was in the ninth infantry division in the Napalm Delta, Vietnam, said. “They wont talk. They won’t come out. They won’t come out to their families and they won’t come out a lot of time to their friends because they went through a lot of stuff that they don’t want their family to even know about. They think they’re protecting their family from what they went through. And most veterans are that way. But they’ll talk to a veteran or they’ll talk to a good looking woman, but they won’t talk to just anybody ya know.”
For these DAV members, primarily, they serve as a bridge between the help America’s service men and women need and someone who understands what it truly means to be a veteran.
“We’re them. We’re there with them. They’ll unload to us. I’ve had guys tell me stuff they wouldn’t tell anybody else. And I’ve probably told him some stuff I probably wouldn’t tell my wife,” Jones said, pointing in Lamprecht’s direction. “Not that I did anything wrong—just things that I’ve seen.”
The members have shown the community that they’re here to help and they’ve also shown one another the same thing; Sheppard once spent 12 hours at the hospital waiting for a veteran to get out of surgery.
And Jones was there for 11 days before Lamprecht’s wife passed.
“We’re brothers,” Jones said.
“And we’re proud of our chapter,” Sheppard added.