Clifford Woods, a Vietnam veteran totally disabled by Agent Orange illnesses, could do nothing more than comfort his family as they watched their home burn on a clear June day. The fire spread so quickly there was only time for his wife, three children and grandson to escape their Georgetown, Ind., home. Everything else was lost, including the family pets.
“We were left with only what we were wearing,” Woods said. “We were homeless.”
In addition, the 65-year-old Woods and his family, including two children who are disabled, were destitute.
“My insurance covered what I owed on the house,” he said. “We did manage to purchase two campers to live in and have some money for living expenses. The bathroom was a porta-potty.”
Woods explained it was difficult living in campers without any comforts. Needed medical care became more complex, space was at a premium, and the needs of the family were largely unmet.
In March 2012, Woods learned about DAV’s role in disaster relief assistance when his home was damaged by a tornado. When he lost his home in the fire, he turned to DAV Chapter 72 Adjutant Kevin Coley in Salem, Ind. Woods had served in the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam during 1967-68 where he was exposed to the toxins in Agent Orange, which caused illnesses that totally disabled him.
Coley saw the family’s needs and contacted Chapter Commander Jerry Thompson and Department of Indiana Commander Ken Ward to organize DAV’s help. “We just jumped in and did it,” Thompson said.
In total, four DAV Chapters pooled contributions, which provided enough to help meet the down payment on the Woods’ new home. They also partnered with others to help with the family’s needs for food, furniture and clothing. “They were living in campers without plumbing and didn’t have money for a new home,” said Thompson. “The family was broke and unsure of what to do.”
Home Depot provided building materials to add a deck with a ramp to allow Woods’ disabled son easy access to the home.
“Our Chapters answered the needs of this veteran and his family,” said National Director of Voluntary Services Ron Minter. “The unity provided by the Department of Indiana and the coordination and leadership by the Chapters resulted in a quick response to some very desperate needs.”
“Our Chapters and Departments are the life’s blood of our organization,” said National Adjutant Arthur H. Wilson. “Our members are dedicated to our mission, and being local, they are in a position to respond first, answering the most urgent needs.
“DAV has given so much help,” said Woods. “Kevin Coley, Jerry Thompson and others have been working here with their own hands to build the deck and ramp. You couldn’t ask for a more wonderful group of men. They just get up and go.”
“I am touched to have DAV’s help,” he said. “DAV really cares about veterans.
“DAV is a blessing to me, and that’s putting it mildly,” said Woods. “I’m eternally indebted to DAV. It has given us our lives back. We now have some kind of normalcy in our lives. Before, we were living day-to-day and unknowing what the next day would bring.”
In late October, the Woods family moved into their new home. It wasn’t quite finished, and they didn’t have electricity, however, it was home. “It was so rewarding to see these children playing in the house,” said Thompson. “Before they had to play outside. Now they’re in a warm home playing on a carpeted floor. The 5-year-old grandson is thrilled with his very own closet.
“Veterans know that DAV helps veterans,” he said. “This is visual proof that what we receive in donations goes to veterans to help them in the best way possible. It makes me feel proud to be a member of DAV.”
“This home means everything to my family,” said Woods. “We’re really happy to have a roof over our heads.
“The Chapters have set up additional donations on our behalf, and DAV is obtaining clothing for us,” he said. “I can’t express my feelings to all the wonderful DAV members who have helped us. I told them that anytime they needed me, I’d be there. I can’t do a whole lot, but I can drive a truck.”
“We would never have made it without DAV’s help,” said Woods’ wife, Jerri. “We were down and stressed Today we have a better outlook. We have our family under one roof now, together. And that’s the way it should be. DAV has restored and resurrected us as a family.”
“Helping veterans when they need it makes you feel good,” said Thompson. “You’re able to help veterans who can’t help themselves.”
The home was dedicated Oct. 15 in ceremonies attended by representatives from DAV, Sen. Dan Coats’ (R-Ind.) office, Baird Distinct Mobile Homes and local media. “DAV decorated the house for our dedication, including a red ribbon on the door,” said Woods’ wife Jerri. “I thank them so much and so does our whole family.”
“The final analysis of this support is that DAV can be of service to veterans wherever they may be,” said Minter. “Our volunteers and members exemplify veterans helping veterans in the finest sense.”
“There are many veterans and families in our nation today who have benefited from the charity and generosity of our Chapters,” said Adjutant Wilson. “DAV is always there for them, offering a helping hand.”
Tradgedies such as this give veterans the opportunity to show their support for one another, according to Minter. DAV’s Local Veterans Assistance Program, which was created to recognize nontraditional volunteer efforts on behalf of veterans and DAV, can ensure efforts like those made on behalf of the Woods family receive due credit by the organization.
“DAV wants to recognize the dedication of our members and the public whenever we reach out to provide hope to those in need,” Minter said. “Virtually any effort that advances our cause or assists veterans is eligible for recognition. I encourage all our members and volunteers to contact their local DAV Chapter or the DAV Department in their state to learn more about our Local Veterans Assistance Program and how they can give back to our heroes in their community.”