TAMPA, Fla.—DAV (Disabled American Veterans) has named Army veteran and Green Beret Mike McElhiney of Maple Plain, Minnesota, the 2021 Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year. A disabled veteran of the war in Afghanistan, McElhiney has championed veterans issues in several roles before the Minnesota Legislature. He will be presented with the award July 31 at the 2021 DAV and Auxiliary National Convention in Tampa, Florida.
McElhiney was injured in December 2001 when a U.S. 2,000-pound bomb was mistakenly dropped on his position after an equipment malfunction. He and the other Special Forces soldiers assigned to Operational Detachment Alpha 574 had deployed to Afghanistan in the initial weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, to conduct irregular warfare and root out Taliban and al-Qaida leaders. Three American Green Berets and five friendly Afghan fighters were killed in the accidental strike, which injured 20 Americans, including McElhiney, who lost his right arm and suffered severe chest injuries and shrapnel wounds in his legs, torso and left arm.
While in recovery, McElhiney got his first taste of advocacy when he connected a younger soldier with an arm amputation with resources and contacts to fit him with a more up-to-date prosthesis. Since then, McElhiney has used his knowledge, experience and ambition to advocate for veterans both as legislative director and chief of staff for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs.
McElhiney has been instrumental in the passage of crucial programs for veterans, including a multiyear effort to build three new veterans homes in Minnesota. He’s secured tens of millions of dollars from the state and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for those who served in his state. He also helped establish grants to groups supporting veterans, funded through the state’s “Support Our Troops” license plates. Under McElhiney’s leadership, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs launched two additional grants for veterans and their families who suffered a loss of income due to COVID-19.
“‘Impressed’ doesn’t begin to describe how other veterans and I across Minnesota feel about Mike and the immense impact he’s had,” said fellow Army veteran and DAV National Commander Stephen “Butch” Whitehead. “Mike is passionate about his service and brings the same energy and commitment he showed in uniform to his advocacy on behalf of those who’ve served. He’s an inspiration to us all.”
McElhiney continues to be an active DAV volunteer. He is responsible for connecting the Department of Minnesota with critical funding for its outdoors program by introducing local business leaders to DAV.
The Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year award is reserved for veterans who overcome tremendous challenges and serve as an inspiration for others.
DAV empowers veterans to lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity. It is dedicated to a single purpose: keeping our promise to America’s veterans. DAV does this by ensuring that veterans and their families can access the full range of benefits available to them, fighting for the interests of America’s injured heroes on Capitol Hill, providing employment resources to veterans and their families, and educating the public about the great sacrifices and needs of veterans transitioning back to civilian life. DAV, a nonprofit organization with more than 1 million veteran members, was founded in 1920 and chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1932.