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Most veterans know that the Disabled American Veterans organization exists. Many of them do not know that the DAV can be their best friend and a major advocate when they seek benefits later on in life from disabilities that can be linked to their time in the U.S. military.
â€śThe sad part is a lot of veterans, especially Vietnam veterans, donâ€™t know whatâ€™s available to them (in terms of benefits from the Veterans Administration),â€ť said Rick Vaccari, a DAV supervisor.
The DAV will serve as an advocate for disabled veterans pursuing disability claims through the VA, Vaccari added. Its agents will go to bat for veterans, free of charge, as their claims advance through the governmental bureaucracy.
â€śThe DAVâ€™s mission is to build better lives for Americaâ€™s disabled veterans,â€ť Vaccari said. â€śWe get involved in the claims and appeal processes for veterans. We do outreach programs where we travel to different locations around the state to meet with veterans in their own hometowns.â€ť
The DAVâ€™s main office in Rhode Island is located in the Federal Building at 380 Westminster Street in Providence, on the same floor as the VA Regional Office. Last Thursday, Vaccari worked out of a regional office in Warwick, meeting individually with veterans as part of the DAVâ€™s outreach program.
â€śMy job is to make sure veterans and their families get the maximum benefits they deserve from the Veterans Administration,â€ť Vaccari said.
Vaccari works frequently with Korean War era veteran Jim Robbins, a Seekonk resident who is commander of Pawtucketâ€™s Lawrence E. Redmond Chapter of the DAV.
â€śI became interested in helping other veterans about 12 years ago,â€ť Robbins admitted. â€śI have my own business (Jimâ€™s Auto Sales and Auto Body Works, Inc. on Central Avenue). I wanted to start giving something back to the community. When you get to my age (79), you want to feel like you have accomplished something with your life. I found that helping others through the DAV made me very satisfied.â€ť
Robbins served in the Navy from 1950-52, working on a minesweeper in the Atlantic Ocean.
â€śI busted my leg and elbow during a hurricane,â€ť he admitted. â€śI spent four months in a hospital on Guantanamo Bay and my leg got worse over the years. Later on, I applied to the VA for compensation. And then I became a member of DAV. I have been commander of the Redmond Chapter for 12 years.â€ť
Robbins, who is savvy in the auto business, bought a few vans at auction and converted them into DAV vehicles that he uses to transport veterans to doctorâ€™s visits, to the VA, or to the DAV outreach programs throughout the state.
â€śIf someone calls and says they need a ride to the doctor or to the hospital, I come get them,â€ť said Robbins, who was named Commander of the Year for Rhode Island in 2009-10.
Robbins also serves as treasurer of the United Veterans Council and is currently president of the Pawtucket Veterans Council.
Robbins, who seems to know everyone in Rhode Island, is also a fundraiser for the DAV. He sells full-page advertisements in the annual DAV Convention Book.
â€śWe sell full-page, color ads for $200,â€ť Robbins said, pointing out an ad honoring the memory of Pawtucketâ€™s Kyle Coutu, who was killed in Afghanistan last year. â€śIf anyone wants to advertise in this yearâ€™s magazine, they can call me at 401-837-2450. We have a tentative deadline of March 31 but I can go into early April if someone calls late, wanting to place an ad. My first year selling ads, we raised $5,500 for the DAV.â€ť
The DAVâ€™s annual state convention is scheduled for April 15-17.
Robbins and other DAV volunteers also collected donated articles that might be useful at the Veterans Administration hospital in Providence.
â€śThey donâ€™t take clothes anymore,â€ť Robbins pointed out. â€śTheyâ€™re worried about bringing bed bugs into the hospital with donated clothes.â€ť
Robbins said he recently picked up a $1,300 titanium wheelchair that will be raffled off at the Providence Bruins game in the near future.
â€śI enjoy doing whatever work I can find for the DAV and our other veterans groups in the Pawtucket area,â€ť Robbins said. â€śWe have a lot of veterans who get involved in helping those less fortunate veterans. We are veterans helping veterans. That makes me feel good.â€ť
Robbins lists fellow veterans like Maurice Trottier, Bob Pray, Bill Donnelly and John Beadle as key figures in the local community. All of these men, and many more in local veterans posts, find ways to help their fellow vets.
The DAVâ€™s Chapter Three organization caters to veterans in the Pawtucket/Central Falls region. It is named after Pawtucket native Lawrence E. Redmond.
â€śHe was the first Rhode Islander to die in France during World War One,â€ť Robbins said. â€śMaybe I shouldnâ€™t say this but we need a better memorial to him in Pawtucket. Right now, we have a $20 flagpole with a small plaque in the ground next to the pole. I am hoping the city will help us provide a better way of honoring the memory of Lawrence Redmond.â€ť
Robbinsâ€™s office on Central Avenue is filled with plaques and photos that tell a story about his dedication to veteransâ€™ affairs over the past decade.
â€śI needed a change in my life,â€ť he said. â€śWorking to help other veterans makes me feel good. I have a successful business and was fortunate enough to be able to go out and help my fellow veterans. Thatâ€™s good enough for me.â€ť
The DAV may be reached at its website: www.dav.org