How important are organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US (V.F.W.), Disabled American Veterans (D.A.V.) and the American Legion to local military veterans?
“We laugh together, we grieve together at certain times when we lose a member,” said Commander Ed Hutchinson of V.F.W. Post 985 in Goshen. “It’s a place to come and meet friends, eat a meal on a Friday night. There is entertainment and if they need assistance, we can help. It’s a club if you want to join and if you want to become involved. A member makes it what they want. You can pick out who you want to talk to or ignore the rest, but we all try to get along.”
Each organization provides similar services for veterans, such as providing rides to VA hospitals and clinics for medical appointments or medical devices including wheelchairs, canes or walkers to borrow or keep. They offer financial assistance for bills such as heat, support for job searches and military funeral honors.
Commander Charlie Hostetler of American Legion Post 210 in Middlebury describes the difference between the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans.
“The American Legion is one of the oldest veteran organizations with a large membership,” Hostetler said. “The Legion does a lot of lobbying for our memberships and we have a lot of clout with senators and representatives to help veterans nationwide on a national basis.”
The D.A.V. chapters focus on local disabled veterans, Hostetler added.
Commander Jim Gills of D.A.V. Post 19 in Elkhart said their chapter is a place to meet and talk with other vets about issues concerning them.
“We advocate to get their needs met,” Gills said.
There’s a laptop at the chapter with websites bookmarked for medical assistance, job applications and social media connections.
“We serve meals at low cost or for free and provide money if they need some help,” Gills said. “We go to people’s houses to rake leaves or help in other ways. We have a chaplain who spends time with every veteran in the hospital. We have a honor guard for our fallen comrades if a family asks. We have had 17 funerals this year, so far.”
Helping the community
The groups help the community and each other through various programs.
At the V.F.W. in Goshen, there’s a meal every Friday night with a varied menu and bingo or music at different times including special meal deals for holidays such as Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day.
“We utilize our kitchen,” Hutchinson said. “When you have bills to pay you have to make money. We have a good bunch of volunteers who are members and a couple individuals who aren’t members.”
The Middlebury American Legion and the American Legion Riders support the Robert L. Miller Sr. Veteran’s Center (MVC) for homeless veterans in South Bend.
“The post is used to hold benefits for people in the community. We support a Boy Scout troop and the Girl Scouts sell their cookies here. We interact with numerous groups from schools,” Hostetler said. “We have our own scholarship fund of $4,500 for Northridge High School seniors. The Legion Riders club raised $20,000 for scholarships last year, but we didn’t have enough applicants for the money from our own school system so we opened it up to Elkhart Career Center for seniors to apply for scholarships.”
The D.A.V. in Elkhart is holding a fundraiser March 2 from noon to 11 p.m. to raise money for a female veterans retreat.
Attracting younger veterans
The organizations currently face a big challenge — trying to attract the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan wars as members.
“We would love to have younger veterans, but young people don’t historically play bingo,” Hutchinson said. “We do offer stuff for younger ones. The average age of our members is approaching senior age status. The World War II vets are dying off. The Korean War vets are in their 70s and Vietnam War vets, myself included, are in our 60s. We sure could use the younger members.”
Hostetler shared his thoughts on the challenge facing the Legion.
“We want to reach out to the younger ones and help them,” Hostetler said. “I don’t think they realize we can help them, even though we have dues. We have strength in numbers and we can give them information for different things like benefits. They can talk with other vets who understand what they have gone through. It’s a challenge with the social media versus coming into the Legion for socializing. I don’t think the younger guys value the social aspect like the older guys do.”
Hostetler added the Middlebury Legion is a smoke-free facility and encourages young families to come in and socialize.
“The kids are welcome and we don’t turn anybody away,” he said.
Gills said a club will live or die based on its membership, voluntarism, and the support of the auxiliary, who are individuals that didn’t actively serve in the military, but are connected with veterans.
Local Veterans Organizations
The following is a list of area Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US (V.F.W.), Disabled American Veterans (D.A.V.) and the American Legion.
V.F.W. Post 985, 1201 W. Pike Street, 533-6460
American Legion Post 30, 123 S. Fifth Street, 533-3600
D.A.V. Post 19, 1205 Middleton Run Road, 293-0761
American Legion Post 143, 905 Maple Street, 848-4002
American Legion Post 484, 106 W. Washington Street, 642-3511
American Legion Post 210, 103 York Drive, 825-5121
American Legion Post 154, 201 W Lincoln Street, 773-7686
American Legion Post, 114 W. Waterford, 862-2965