BANGOR, Maine — Gray hair was prevalent at the 2009 annual Disabled American Veterans convention held over the weekend, and the disabled military veterans advocacy group’s leaders say younger members are needed to pick up the torch and lead the group into the future.
“The majority of our members in DAV are veterans from World War II, the Vietnam era and Korea, and with those particular veterans phasing out … the membership needs to be replenished with young blood in order to keep the organization going,” Gidget Rizzo, the new DAV supervisor for Togus Office, said Sunday.
“In their eyes and in their minds, we’re a bunch of old farts,” Gary Burns, treasurer of the Maine DAV, said Saturday, talking about veterans from the Gulf War of the 1990s and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’re a lot more than a social group.”
DAVs across the county have been instrumental in bringing issues, such as shell shock, now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, to the forefront to ensure those suffering from the disabling problems get treatment, he said.
“We need a few good guys and girls,” Burns said.
Younger veterans often do not know what programs their regional DAV offices offer and should contact them before getting discharged to ensure they have the needed paperwork to apply for services, Rizzo said.
Even if veterans don’t have physical injuries, or symptoms, they should “know what’s available so they can utilize programs in the future,” if problems arise, Burns said.
Military benefits are available for dependents and surviving spouses, for those in the Reserves and National Guard and active service members, she said, a fact some veterans are unaware of.
Around 120 disabled veterans gathered for the convention to discuss issues that will be brought to the national DAV convention in August in Denver, to elect leadership for the next year, review services and programs, and for fellowship.
Gov. John Baldacci, and U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, along with Bangor Mayor Gerry Palmer, spoke at the two-day convention.
Just before Baldacci spoke, the veterans group went over to Bangor International Airport to join the Bangor Troop Greeters in welcoming to Maine a plane filled with troops who were flying to the Middle East.
Back at the conference, “I went off on how important” troop greeting was, Baldacci said Sunday. “We didn’t do a very good job when our Vietnam vets came home.”
The governor also spoke about how important military service is to this country. He talked about the “difficult budget” that state legislators are working on, the swine flu, energy and veterans issues, including perpetual cemetery care for veterans’ graves.
DAV State Commander Terry Leavitt and Senior Vice Commander George Mathis were re-elected to their posts at the convention, and members picked Richard Brunell as the first junior vice commander and Gary York and the second junior vice commander for the group.
To learn about the DAV, visit dav.org, or call the Maine DAV office at 623-5725.