Convention Elects Johnston National Commander

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With the election of Joseph Johnston, of Ohio, as National Commander and special guests President Obama and the first lady addressing DAV and Auxiliary members, the 92nd National Convention was certainly one for the books. It was the best attended convention in more than a decade.

In his acceptance remarks, National Commander-elect Johnston challenged the membership to join him in meeting head-on the challenges that DAV and the entire veterans’ community face. Among them is the need to “maintain DAV’s superb reputation for integrity and good management of the funds the American people donate to our cause,” he said. “We must expand our outreach to the public in general, so people keep veterans forever in their thoughts.”

Other National Officers elected by convention delegates are Sr. Vice Commander Ronald Hope, 1st Jr. Vice Commander Moses McIntosh, 2nd Jr. Vice Commander David Riley, 3rd Jr. Vice Commander Delphine Metcalf-Foster and 4th Jr. Vice Commander Dennis Krulder. Delegates also re-elected Michael Dobmeier as National Judge Advocate and Ronald Ringo as National Chaplain.

The Auxiliary elected Susan Miller, of Colorado, its National Commander. Her theme for the year is “United in Service.” “If we are united in service,” she said, “working together, we can’t help but achieve success.”

During his report to the convention, National Commander Larry Polzin said his tenure was an exciting and enlightening experience, as he traveled the country visiting Chapters and Departments to witness firsthand the dedication and commitment to our mission at every level of the organization. “Serving as National Commander, I certainly grew as an individual. This is especially true in the area of leadership,” he said.

Polzin also had high praise for the important work being done by our National, Department, Chapter and Transition Service Officers, as well as our corps of volunteers. “DAV is honored to have the largest volunteer presence among those serving at VA medical centers. We are the leader, and we set the example for others to follow. And I want to thank each member for what you do,” he said. “With the support of our dedicated members, we have succeeded in giving a powerful voice to those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom.

“During my year as National Commander, one of the most moving moments came during visits to patients at military and VA medical centers,” he said. “Talking with the veterans is a very special experience. It was my opportunity to help shoulder their burdens as they and their families deal with the trauma of war. I can assure you that this will always be my mission, wherever I go.”

In his remarks to the convention, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki cited progress in cutting the claims backlog and noted that the VA has processed nearly all
claims more than two years old. He also noted that the backlog has been cut from 611,000 at the end of March to about 496,000. “We’re on track to eliminating the backlog
in 2015,” he said.

Shinseki also said the Veterans Benefits Management System is ahead of schedule to move from a paper-based claims system to an electronic. The VBMS has now been fielded to all 56 regional offices, six months ahead of schedule.

The Secretary’s remarks included a special salute to Korean War veterans in marking the 60th anniversary of the cease-fire that ended hostilities.

In her remarks, first lady Michelle Obama noted that one of her greatest joys during the past few years has been spending time with veterans and military families. “I
have laughed with your children at barbeques. I’ve gone to baby showers with spouses,” she said. “I’ve learned so much during my many visits to military bases across this country. And let me tell you, day after day, I have been so inspired by your stories—so inspired.”

In an emotional moment, the first lady recounted how she has been inspired by an encounter with a combat wounded Afghanistan War veteran she met at the Walter
Reed National Military Medical Center. She told how Marine Sgt. Winder Perez, who was hit by an unexploded RPG that lodged in his left thigh, had endured some 30 surgeries.

“And time and again, just when he’s regained the strength to walk, his doctors have told him that it’s time for another surgery, and then Sgt. Perez is back in a wheelchair,
starting all over again from square one,” she said.

“Today, Sgt. Perez is walking again. He’s three months into an internship with the Defense Intelligence Agency, and he plans to spend the rest of his career serving his country. And when asked about everything he’s been through, Sgt. Perez puts it all in perspective by simply saying, ‘I just think you’ve got to get back up.’ That’s all he said. You’ve got to get back up.

“And as I look across this room, I see a group of people who know how to get back up. No matter what you’ve been through, no matter what the struggles you have faced, you all get back up. And that is what inspires me. That’s why, every day, I work to push myself harder to live up to your example,” she said.

In addition to stressing a commitment to continue support for vital veterans programs and eliminating the claims backlog, President Obama announced a plan to enhance mental health research and to work with community colleges and universities to help veterans earn college degrees or get the credentials they need to find jobs.

The President paid tribute to veterans of all generations for their service and sacrifice, noting, “Next year, your profound sacrifice will be recognized in the heart of our
nation’s capital when our country dedicates the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.

“That memorial will honor your courage in war, but it will also pay tribute to your bravery in the other battle you have fought—the fight to recover from the wounds of war.  And this may be your greatest triumph of all. Because rather than being defined by what you lost, by what you can’t do, you’ve inspired America with what you can do.”

He also recognized three veterans of the war in Afghanistan: National Service Officer (NSO) Timothy Duke, Staff Sgt. Jacare Hogan and Silver Star recipienc NSO Jason Hassinger. “They’re just examples of all who’ve served in these years of war—the 9/11 Generation,” he said. “And now, you’re beginning the next chapter in your lives wearing a proud new title—veteran of the United States Armed Forces. So this time of war may be coming to an end, but the job of caring for our veterans goes on, and our work caring for our newest veterans has only just begun.

“I believe that now is the time to make sure our nation is truly ready — organized and structured to get this right, not just for this year, not just for next year, but for decades to come, not just for the veterans of today’s wars, but for all wars,” the President said.

“Number one, we need to make sure we’ve got the resources, the budgets our veterans deserve. The next priority is “to make sure you’re getting the veterans health care you’ve been promised,” he said. The third priority is getting rid of the claims backlog.

“It was a great honor to have the President and the first lady address the Joint Opening Session and share the stage with National Commander Polzin and our organization’s top leadership and honored guests,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “I think it says something about our organization to be selected for a presidential appearance. And it was the second time that President Obama has addressed our national body,” he said, recalling the 2010 visit.