Limestone County veterans organization struggling to recover

Limestone Co. veterans organization struggling to recover

LIMESTONE COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - One of the longest-serving veterans organizations in Athens and Limestone County could fold without help from the community it serves, an official said.

The local Disabled American Veterans James L. Daniel Chapter 51 was founded in 1954. It works to empower disabled veterans, helps them obtain benefits and services earned through military service and provides hope and support to the veterans and their families through community outreach, volunteer programs and the representation of veterans' interests before federal, state and local government.

The financial crisis of 2008 dealt a hefty blow to Athens- Limestone chapter, and it has arguably struggled to recover, said Chapter 51 Commander Jonathan M. Flanary.

"We played a big role in the community for a long time," Flanary said. "We gave scholarships at Athens State until the financial crisis hit us. We were giving out several thousands of dollars in scholarships to Athens State and I think Calhoun."

Flanary, who served in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne

Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom, was elected commander in 2013. While young, disabled veterans like Flanary continue to return home, a decline in active participation and membership from that demographic is adding more strain to the chapter, he said.

"Because of this decline, we're unable to do our missions," he said. "We're unable to help veterans in need, and that's disheartening for us."

Locally, those missions have included building handicap ramps, helping veterans understand their benefits and options provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, supporting the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives in Athens, and providing military honors at the funerals of local veterans through the Veterans Burial Detail.

Flanary said while the DAV is a national organization, his focus as commander has always been on the community level, asking what the DAV can do for the veterans they see and interact with each day in Athens and Limestone County. He hopes the community can help him and his fellow members breathe new life and activity into the chapter.

"Some of these guys who helped found these organizations, including ours, have passed away or are no longer able to support because of age and different things like that," Flanary said. "... If we don't get support from the community, from our members — and get new members — then we will fold. We will lose our charter and fold up, cease to exist." To be eligible for DAV membership, a person must prove they served in the armed forces, were honorably discharged and were wounded, disabled to any degree or left with long-term illness as a result of their service. Flanary said while those are the requirements for membership, veterans of any status are welcome at meetings and all are encouraged to donate their time or money to the cause.

"Donations go to support veterans in need in Athens and Limestone County," Flanary said. "Everybody has heard this before, but if you can't give your money, give your time. If you call or email or whatever and say, 'Hey, I want to help but I don't have the funds to do it, but I'm willing to come and help you out,' I'm sure there will be someone who can say, 'That's fine. Come help us serve spaghetti or chicken stew' or whatever. People will be happy with that. There's plenty of ways for people to help."

Flanary said the DAV held a meeting earlier this week to discuss options for the future. Another meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 10, at the veterans museum. Flanary hopes the meeting will serve as the turning point for the DAV.

"All of us have gone through our periods of not doing well, and now it's our turn," Flanary said. "... If we don't get help, if we don't get people helping out and joining, we're going to be out. That's a tough pill to swallow for me. It's a tough pill for the others to swallow as well, given that we've been around for so long. We have a history here."

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