Oliver Pettry, Jr., knows that veterans depend on other veterans. He learned it during battle in Vietnam, he benefited from it when DAV represented him in obtaining his earned benefits for his combat wounds, and it rescued him when he had no place left to turn.
Pettry was a U.S. Army machine gun squad leader in 1966, carrying out search-and-destroy and ambush missions with the 25th Infantry Division. A rugged, no-nonsense West Virginian, he looked out for his buddies, and they looked out for him. “Veterans helping veterans is the way we survived,” he said. “You can’t exist without each other.”
He had been wounded, returned to battle and after his discharge carried home the Vietnam Gallantry Cross and memories of nearly constant combat. As years passed, his wounds and Agent Orange exposure began to worsen his health. He turned to DAV for help.
“I was wounded when I was struck in the chest with splinters from a tree shattered by an explosion, possibly a mortar round,” he said. Pettry was sent to a hospital to heal and then returned to his unit. “I was sent out on ambush the day I got back,” he said. “I was still bandaged and oozing blood, but they sent me out.
“In 2007, DAV was there for me, even though the war was long over,” said Pettry, a member of Chapter 28 in Charleston, W.Va. “DAV helped me get care and compensation when my health problems worsened.”
Pettry would again need DAV’s help in 2011, when he was injured in an automobile accident, suffering several broken bones in his leg, hip and chest. “That really hurt me,” he said. “I couldn’t even walk around the house, and I lived alone.”
Not knowing where to seek help, Pettry became a prisoner in his home. “I had no food in the house because I couldn’t get to the supermarket, and I couldn’t cook because of the pain,” he said. “I was starving. I dropped to 140 pounds.
Pettry’s daughter and son, living in neighboring Virginia, were unable to make the long drive often enough to give the daily care needed. His son, Pete, sent an email message pleading for help to DAV Huntington, W.Va., National Service Office Supervisor Calvin Cabarrus.
“I am worried that my father will fall and further injure himself,” wrote Pete. “Might there be some resources or organizations that can assist my dad with his daily needs such as groceries, cooking and other assistance?”
“Any little chore became a monumental task for [my father],” Pete said.
Cabarrus, learning of the dire conditions that the elder Pettry was experiencing, called Chapter 28 Commander Larry Pennington, who obtained groceries, a wheelchair and a walker with a seat, courtesy of the Chapter. After they visited Pettry, Cabarrus alerted the Huntington VA medical center social worker, who assigned a caregiver to Pettry.
“His life was turned around for the better,” said Cabarrus. Pettry now receives Meals on Wheels deliveries four days a week, and the VA and the state provide a caregiver on a regular basis. “DAV was quick to offer assistance,” he said. “Commander Pennington gave me mobility, and Calvin got me the caregiver from VA. They are good men. They helped me a lot.”
“Many times our veterans need more than claims representation,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Barry Jesinoski. “Pettry’s needs were crucial, and DAV immediately began to offer the assistance he needed.”
“Clearly, our National Service Officers (NSOs) do much more for veterans than is generally recognized,” said Jesinoski. “We assist them in obtaining the services available from the VA and often call on our Chapters to provide assistance. Whether it’s disaster aid, obtaining resources for homebound veterans or supporting homeless veterans, DAV is there.”
“I didn’t know if we could find help for my father,” said Pete Pettry. “DAV stepped up, and it was reassuring. I felt the thanks of a grateful nation had been realized by DAV, and it gave me a sense of pride to see my dad being cared for.”
Pete, a U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard veteran, described DAV as a noble organization dedicated to serving veterans. “We’re very grateful for DAV’s help,” he said. “Calvin is one of the unsung heroes, as are all DAV service officers. No one comes close with their expertise.”
“Each time I help a veteran, it feels like I’m making a difference in their quality of life,” Cabarrus said. “I’m an injured veteran myself, and I know what it’s like having someone there to help carry the burden for you.
“After we got total benefits for Oliver, DAV didn’t forget him,” Cabarrus said. “We are lifetime partners. We are always going to be there for veterans. We are more than advocates; we become a friend for life.”
“It was shameful that a Vietnam veteran should waste away in his own home, without food or mobility. And it is heartwarming that DAV was the organization the family turned to for help,” Jesinoski said.
“Our NSOs are dedicated to giving our veterans and their families access to the full range of benefits that are available to them,” said Jesinoski. “Our veterans need to know that they are not alone, and in the case of Oliver Pettry, he found that we are here to help them all. ”
Nontraditional voluntary efforts that provide direct assistance to veterans and the DAV, like those undertaken by Chapter 28, are eligible to be credited through DAV’s Local Veterans Assistance Program. Credited hours make volunteers eligible for national recognition and, for those eligible, can be applied toward the Jesse Brown Memorial Youth Scholarship. For more information on how you can help veterans in your community or be recognized through LVAP, contact your local Chapter or the DAV Department in your state.