BANGOR, Maine — The new commander for the state’s Disabled American Veterans is inviting young soldiers, especially women, to learn what the veterans’ advocacy group is all about.
“I want to get more females involved with the Disabled American Veterans,” said George Mathis of Newport, who was voted in as the state’s DAV commander during the 2010 annual convention held over the weekend in Bangor. “Woman have been neglected for too long.”
DAV is a nonprofit group established by veterans to help veterans. World War II, Vietnam War and Korean War veterans are active in the group, but those from the Gulf War of the 1990s and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been shy to join, Mathis said.
Getting the word out to younger veterans to let them know about the services the DAV offers is another one of his goals. Younger members are needed to take up the torch and lead the group into the future, Gidget Rizzo, the DAV Togus office supervisor, said at last year’s gathering.
Gov. John Baldacci spoke at the convention on Friday and thanked DAV members for all they do for fellow veterans. He mentioned the Maine Troop Greeters, which includes a number of DAV members — Mathis is one — and the group’s involvement with the Department of Veterans Affairs health clinic under construction in Bangor.
“Having the vets home, hospice center and VA health care clinic” together makes access for veterans easier, Baldacci said. “It’s really a model to how we should be clustering” resources.
The VA’s new community-based outpatient clinic is being built beside the Maine Veterans’ Home on land formerly part of the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center.
The clinic will serve military veterans in Bangor and the entire northern part of the state.
Mathis was at the clinic’s groundbreaking in early April, representing the DAV. At that event, he expressed concern for younger veterans, who have high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
“Younger vets don’t want to admit they have a problem,” Mathis said at the time. “The VA has the means to help these guys, but they have to be willing to come forward.”
DAV chapters across the county have been instrumental in bringing issues, such as PTSD, once known as shell shock, to the forefront to ensure those suffering from the disabling problems get treatment.
Mathis is a retired U.S. Navy airman who was injured on Jan. 14, 1969, during an explosion on the USS Enterprise that killed 27 others and injured 314.
“I lost half my stomach, half my liver and severed nerves in my left shoulder,” he said, adding he also suffered severe burns on his arms and wrists.
He moved to Maine from Massachusetts in 2000, quickly got involved with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and began volunteering. Nowadays, you can find him at one of the VA’s community-based outpatient clinics, or behind the wheel of the DAV’s van.
“I pick up vets between Old Town and Augusta to deliver them to their appointments,” he said. As a volunteer, he has seen firsthand the needs of disabled veterans today and has noticed an increase in women seeking care.
“I’ve seen a lot more female veterans who are going through” problems the DAV has resources to address, he said.
Mathis also is vice president of the Greater Bangor NAACP.
In addition to Baldacci, U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree spoke at the convention. Around 70 disabled veterans gathered for the two-day event to discuss issues that will be brought to the national DAV convention in Atlanta from July 31 to Aug. 3. Members also elected leadership for the next year, reviewed services and programs, and gathered for fellowship.
“The state of Maine is the most passionate state when it comes to veterans and veterans issues,” Mathis said. “I want to bring veterans together.”
Richard Brunell was named the senior vice commander at the convention. Members picked Gary York as the first junior vice commander and Jim Gehring as 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. Those who want to contact state Commander George Mathis may send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.