Nearly 2,500 DAV and Auxiliary members and guests gathered at the 2023 DAV and Auxiliary National Convention, held Aug. 5–8 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Members elected new leadership, passed resolutions that will drive DAV’s legislative agenda, and attended seminars and workshops to better understand the benefits and services available to veterans.
During the convention’s final business session, delegates unanimously elected Nancy Espinosa to succeed Joe Parsetich as DAV’s national commander. The first Hispanic woman to hold DAV’s highest post, Espinosa, a service-disabled Army veteran, is a member of Chapter 14 in Layton, Utah; the DAV Department of Utah adjutant; and a past department commander.
During her remarks, Espinosa said DAV members understand the importance of equitable representation for all veterans and have continued to elevate the voice of the underdog.
“We recognize that for decades, too many of those voices were silenced, sometimes intentionally, but often unwittingly,” she said. “Through volunteerism, legislative advocacy and benefits assistance, you have helped lift your fellow underdogs to new heights. We must continue that work with the grit and determination that inspired our military service. Not because we have something to prove, but because it’s who we are—the underdogs who refuse to back down.”
During his report, Parsetich thanked DAV’s members for their support and their service to the organization.
“My term as your national commander has exceeded my greatest expectations in every regard,” said Parsetich. “That’s because I was able to meet so many of you and see the impact of DAV’s mission from so many different angles.
“Our DAV is a living, breathing community that can provide faith, hope and love. But we must love one another in the very true, selfless way we love our families. And often that’s enough to walk someone back from the breach when they’re ready to throw in the towel.”
In addition to Espinosa’s election, delegates elected other DAV national officers: Senior Vice Commander Dan Contreras, 1st Junior Vice Commander Coleman Nee, 2nd Junior Vice Commander John Donovan, 3rd Junior Vice Commander Cynthia Madison, 4th Junior Vice Commander James Procunier, Judge Advocate Michael Dobmeier and Chaplain Debra Varner Dancer.
The DAV Auxiliary elected AnnMarie Hurley as its new national commander. She first learned of the Auxiliary at the beginning of her more than 30-year career as an executive secretary with the DAV Department of Massachusetts.
“I have been blessed with the kindness, friendship and joy in my life because of the DAV and our Auxiliary,” said Hurley. “I promise to do the best job I can as your national commander.”
Other Auxiliary leaders elected were Senior Vice Commander Christopher Easley, 1st Junior Vice Commander Melissa Pierce, 2nd Junior Vice Commander Terry Grabowski, 3rd Junior Vice Commander Kathleen Wenthe, 4th Junior Vice Commander Carolyn Harris, Judge Advocate Paula Raymond and Chaplain Aura-Lee Nicodemus.
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough addressed convention attendees during the joint opening session.
He started off by crediting DAV and Chief of Communications and Outreach Dan Clare for exposing the dangers of burn pits. Clare blew the whistle on burn pits through DAV when he was deployed to Iraq in 2008.
McDonough also praised DAV members for their advocacy work on behalf of the Honoring our PACT Act, saying it would not have passed without DAV’s support. The PACT Act is the largest and most comprehensive expansion of veterans benefits for toxic and environmental exposures.
McDonough also called 2023 the “year of execution” for the VA. He updated attendees on the VA’s progress in combating homelessness, the rollout of the Veterans Crisis Line (988 Press 1) for suicide prevention, expanded health care worker hiring initiatives and increased access to care for veterans.
“But this year of execution isn’t because of me,” said McDonough. “It’s because of you. And it’s because of the nearly 450,000 VA employees in your communities and neighborhoods across the country who keep vets at the heart of their care.”
Comedian and activist Jon Stewart, who has been a prominent advocate for years for burn pit legislation and getting Congress to pass the PACT Act, received the DAV Bugle Award for his outstanding media contributions in support of disabled veterans.
“If you had offered me a flugelhorn or a French horn, I may not have accepted it,” joked Stewart.
Stewart received the award for his years of committed involvement in pressing federal legislators to address military toxic and environmental exposures. He was most prominently in the public spotlight during the summer of 2022 when congressional logjams nearly scuttled the PACT Act’s passing.
He credited the work of reporters Kelly Kennedy of The War Horse and Leo Shane and Patricia Kime of Military Times for getting the issue of toxic exposure and burn pits in front of the American public.
“Too bad there’s only one mouthpiece,” he said about the award. “If we could build one with four, that would be more appropriate.”
He also praised DAV members for their advocacy role.
“Through your tireless efforts, the claims process for veterans is way up, and people are finally going to be able to take advantage of the benefits that they themselves have earned,” said Stewart.
DAV also awarded several other people during the convention for their efforts in serving veterans, including top DAV scholarship winner Jacob Weber and Disabled American Veteran of the Year Kim Hubers.
Weber received $30,000 to continue his studies at Michigan State University. He began volunteering as a teenager at the VA medical center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, inspired by his grandfather who served in Vietnam and is dealing with the effects of Agent Orange exposure. Weber said he’d like to work for the VA in supply chain management after he graduates.
Hubers, a South Dakota Army National Guard veteran, battles the effects of her service-connected conditions daily but doesn’t let them deter her from helping other veterans. Medical issues including arthritis, bursitis, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury all stemmed from her time as a truck driver in the Middle East in 2003. These eventually led to the Army medically retiring her even though they determined her conditions were not due to her service.
She had wanted to make a career of the military.
“I was a lifer. I was a leader. I was good at it. It was something that was meant for me, so having to be ripped away from that was like losing your entire family overnight,” said Hubers. “I never knew what to do to fill that hole in my heart, and I found a way to do that with DAV. And I had my family back.”
She found DAV through benefits advocate Owen Richards, who spent several years working with Hubers to help her prove her disabilities were related to her military service.
Hubers, who joined DAV Chapter 1 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as a life member in 2018, pays it forward by looking out for other veterans and volunteering her time with DAV. In addition to being her chapter’s commander, she volunteers as a department service officer, veteran mentor and women veterans advocate. She and her husband, Clinton Hubers, who is also a Chapter 1 member, regularly use the petting zoo they own to raise funds for DAV.
Hubers said DAV provides hope and a lifeline for veterans.
“Don’t ever give up. Don’t ever stop. Just keep going,” she told convention attendees. “There’s always somebody here that will help lift you up when you need it and somebody you can lift up when they need it.”
In addition to attending daily business sessions, convention-goers participated in resolution committee meetings and sat in on seminars about benefits; veteran-focused research; and ways to bolster their departments, chapters and Auxiliary units.
There were also many opportunities to relax, including the annual Fun Night concert.
Perennial convention favorite Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band took to the stage Monday night for the event presented by TriWest Healthcare Alliance. Sinise and his band entertained attendees with hit song covers from the past several decades, ending with Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”
“I always leave our conventions reenergized by our members, and this year was no exception,” said National Adjutant Barry Jesinoski. “It’s obvious how much each one of our members cares for their fellow veterans. They are committed to putting in the hard work necessary to make sure each veteran they encounter has a chance to live life to the fullest extent possible. There’s no doubt DAV is poised to have an extremely successful year helping and growing our community.”