“I don’t want to talk to you, I don’t want to talk to anyone,” the veteran grumbled angrily. “I’ve gotten the runaround from every organization out here and I just want to be left alone.”
The man had just lost his home to the massive flooding near Boulder, Colo., and found refuge in an emergency shelter when DAV came on the scene. He was surly, even
borderline hostile. But where other volunteers backed away, National Service Officer Doug Miles persisted, promising to offer help right there on the spot.
Within minutes, the veteran’s grimace became a grin and he was on the phone with his friend, a fellow veteran whose home was also ravaged, telling him he knew someone from DAV offering real relief from the tragic events that had unfolded days before.
“No one understands veterans like other veterans,” said Miles, who served in six different conflicts during his 21-year Air Force career. “The hard part isn’t relating to them, it’s finding them.”
As eight days’ worth of rainwater washed down from the Colorado Rockies, the hardest hit areas were also some of the most remote. Eight people were killed, several hundred homes were damaged or destroyed, and it took more than a week to locate all the missing. And with nearly $430 million in damage to surrounding roadways and bridges, getting into the affected areas was a challenge.
Still, this couldn’t stop DAV NSOs from trekking the mountain roads in an effort to reach veterans.
“Going in after a natural disaster always brings unique challenges,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “But where injured and ill veterans are in need, DAV will make every attempt to reach out to them and get them the help they need.”
In Estes Park, a three-foot deluge of water spilled through the streets and into the home of Roger Humes. He and his wife planned to settle in Colorado, retiring on income from a handmade crafts business. The flood wiped out everything they had.
“Before DAV came out, I had about 30 cents left to my name,” Humes said. “Now I have $500.30 to my name. It makes all the difference in the world.”
Humes, whose service-connected illness has put him at risk of leg amputation, walked three miles to the shelter to find help.
“Aside from our normal day-to-day claims services, disaster assistance is probably one of the most personally impactful things DAV does for veterans,” said National Service Director Jim Marszalek. “Unless you’re touched by a natural disaster yourself, you might not even realize DAV does relief work. But for those who have been helped, the assistance is a godsend.”
To date, NSOs have distributed more than 85 vouchers for financial assistance, totaling nearly $45,000.
Brian Austin, supervisor for the DAV office in Lakewood, Colo., helped organize the disaster relief efforts and contends if anyone knows about tragedy, sacrifice and overcoming obstacles, it is a fellow disabled veteran.
“The ability to be the first veterans service organization on the scene to provide immediate disaster relief gives our NSOs a great sense of accomplishment,” said Austin. “I have a great team of NSOs who have traveled over 1,600 miles and worked long hours to provide much needed assistance for this tragic event. I couldn’t be more proud of my staff.”