“The recipients of these awards represent the best among the best of veterans’ advocates. They go above and beyond inserving the men and women who sacrificed for this nation. This isn’t just a job for them; they’re fulfilling a promise.” –National Commander Joseph W. Johnston
Dr. David Tharp, a DAV life member and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, is a psychologist at the Waco Mental Health Post-Traumatic Stress Residential Rehabilitation Program.
“I see the VA as a continuation of the DOD,” said Tharp. “Our veterans deserve the best treatment possible and we have some great clinicians and researchers that are working diligently to make that happen.”
Tharp recognized that his patients felt most comfortable relating with staff who had spent time in a combat zone. This led Tharp to volunteer for a deployment to Afghanistan, where he served as the NATO medical advisor and commanded the medical assets of 28 countries. While forward deployed, Tharp suffered a spinal-cord illness but stayed in Afghanistan an additional month after the injury to fulfill his ten-month tour and to ensure the combat-effectiveness and continuity of care to NATO forces.
“Dr. Tharp volunteered to go to war so he could better understand the men and women he served in his full-time civilian capacity at the VA,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine. “His selflessness came at great personal cost, but he was committed to doing whatever it took to provide the best service and treatment to veterans returning from combat.”
Since returning from Afghanistan in 2011, Tharp has used his real-world experience to provide direct clinical care to veterans. He has implemented significant improvements to PTSD residential treatments and has improved performance scores from 65.5 percent to more than 90 percent.
In addition to a doctorate in psychology, Tharp holds three master’s degrees. He has authored nearly a dozen scholarly articles and journals, several of which focus on issues impacting veterans.
“Dr. Tharp simultaneously serves his country and his fellow veterans,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “He works tirelessly to support veterans on their road to recovery—a path he knows from experience is not easy.”
Sharon McGill serves as both homeless veterans outreach coordinator and special projects manager in the Decatur Veterans Benefits Administration. Her father, husband and brother are veterans, and she says giving back is a reward in itself. “I have a passion of helping others,” she explained. “The best payment is making a difference and seeing a smile on a veteran’s face.”
McGill has been serving veterans for 13 years and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. She joined the VA as a voucher examiner and quickly worked her way up the ranks as she took on more responsibilities that resulted in her directly assisting more veterans.
“A lot of the veterans I serve have never had anyone sit down and tell them about the benefits they are entitled to,” said McGill. “It makes a difference in their life realizing someone cares.”
In her current position, McGill oversees homeless claims processing. She also conducts outreach throughout the state of Georgia. She is responsible for identifying homeless veterans and educating them on services and benefits available to them. She has interviewed more than 3,000 homeless veterans since 2010.
“Ms. McGill has logged an impressive number of interactions with veterans who are not easy to find or identify,” said Augustine. “The sheer volume alone is a testament of her dedication to eradicate veteran homelessness.
“Ms. McGill is recognized for immersing herself in the community and finding veterans in neighborhoods that most people avoid,” continued Augustine. “She finds them under blankets near highway bypasses and in cardboard boxes over heating vents. Each veteran she seeks out is treated with integrity and respect.”
“No one who served our country should be huddled under a bridge, in a shelter or camped out in the woods,” said Burgess. “Ms. McGill recognizes this injustice and goes to great lengths to support this underserved segment of the population. She is committed to standing up for the men and women who served, and I applaud her for putting veterans first.”
DAV life member Teresa Maryska takes pride in helping fellow veterans obtain meaningful employment and a better quality of life through her work at the Texas Veterans Commission.
As a Local Veterans Employment Representative, Maryska contacted more than 140 employers this year to talk about veteran job seekers and their unique skillsets. She led her region in the job placement of 81 veterans, including 10disabled veterans.
“Ms. Maryska is dedicated to ensuring that the men and women who stood up for us have the tools they need to competitively enter the job market,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine. “Her impressive placement numbers illustrate her skill and commitment to serving veterans.”
The U.S. Navy veteran serves on the local Chamber Diplomat Committee, which enables her to welcome new companies to the area while simultaneously fostering relationships with established employers.
Maryska is known for pursuing new opportunities to better serve veterans in their career search. These unique initiatives have included a “Suits for Vets” drive, which provided veterans with professional apparel for interviews, and procurement of donated bicycles for veterans without a means of transportation for work.
“Ms. Maryska’s innovation helps veterans overcome obstacles as they seek high quality and fulfilled lives,” said Augustine. “Her service to America’s heroes extends outside of the office and throughout the community.”
“I am honored to receive this award and thankful to be recognized by DAV, an organization that stays focused on being a prominent leader in all aspects of disabled veterans’ rights and benefits, for doing my part in taking care of those who ‘stood the watch,’’ said Maryska.
Army veteran Alphaeus Richburg, Director of the Fort Custer National Cemetery in Augusta, Michigan, is responsible for all burial, maintenance and administrative operations at the cemetery, where there are as many as 50 burials per week.
“Freedom is not free. It comes with a cost. Some pay the ultimate price,” said Richburg. “It’s important for me to give back to my fellow veterans.”
Richburg was initially hired as a cemetery representative at Beaufort National Cemetery in South Carolina in 2009, but was quickly promoted as he continued to excel at each new responsibility he took on. Prior to his current position, Richburg served as Director of WoodNational Cemetery in Milwaukee, where he was nominated to receive the Commander’s Award.
“Mr. Richburg recognizes that the final resting place for our nation’s heroes is sacred,” said Augustine. “He goes above and beyond to honor his fallen comrades with respect and dignity.”
Community engagement is a priority for Richburg. He initiated an outreach program that encourages feedback from and cooperation with groups like DAV, which helps him connect with veterans and ensure they are aware of their benefits.
“There are a lot of veterans who don’t realize that they are eligible to be interred at a national cemetery free of charge,” said Richburg. “There is no cost because they’ve already paid it through their service to the country.”
“Day in and day out, Mr. Richburg works diligently to ensure that families burying their loved ones know that this final resting place will honor their hero’s service and sacrifice,” said Burgess.
“I work with people on the worst day of their life, because they’ve lost a loved one,” said Richburg. “I understand we only have one chance to get it right. So I make sure what I’m doing, and what my staff is doing, is showing that family honor, compassion, dignity and respect.”
DAV life member Roy Fillion, an employment specialist at Job Service North Dakota, ensures that every veteran who seeks his support receives the answers and assistance they are looking for.
Fillion travels extensively, serving 10 counties in northeastern North Dakota, where he helps veterans obtain meaningful employment. He is also responsible for ensuring their offices are informed about current veterans’ issues and opportunities. But it’s the one-on-one interactions with veterans that set Fillion apart.
“It is not uncommon for Mr. Fillion to encounter dejected veterans who have lost hope in obtaining employment,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “By the time a veteran is finished speaking with Mr. Fillion, they have a renewed sense of hope and a plan to get them back on their feet.”
“This is the most meaningful job I’ve had in my life.,” said Fillion. “Veterans do so much for this country. I enjoy giving back even a part of what they’ve done for us.”
Fillion is an active member of the Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee where he maintains important relationships that help him better understand the employment needs of the community and the veterans he serves.
Fillion is committed to the veterans he is serving from start to finish, providing frequent follow up for each case. Outside of work, the Air Force veteran has served as Commander of DAV Andy Nomland Chapter 2 and as Department Commander of North Dakota.
“Mr. Fillion never ‘clocks out,’” said Burgess. “He epitomizes veterans helping veterans in all that he does, both inside and outside the office.”