ERLANGER, Ky. – DAV (Disabled American Veterans) will present the DAV National Commander’s Awards to three devoted and accomplished Department of Veterans Affairs employees for their outstanding commitment to the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration and National Cemetery Administration. The winners will be formally recognized on Sunday, Aug. 6, during the 2023 DAV and Auxiliary National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

DAV National Commander Joseph Parsetich will present the DAV National Commander’s Award to each recipient.

The Veterans Health Administration Employee of the Year award will be presented to Rhonda Sanford. Sanford is the veterans justice outreach social worker for the VA in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where she coordinates services for veterans and provides clinical support, referrals and education to veterans at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. Sanford was pivotal in establishing Veterans Response Teams with local law enforcement and has provided crisis intervention training for veteran peer police officers.

“Mrs. Sanford’s leadership, selfless service and compassion for veterans in need is a shining example for all,” said Parsetich. “She has shown a commitment to care to veterans for more than 15 years, and her dedication to the VA’s mission adds to the best traditions of quality VA medical care.”

The Veterans Benefits Administration Employee of the Year award will be presented to Army veteran Christopher Gaylord. Gaylord is a program support assistant at the VA regional office in North Little Rock, Arkansas, where he has been a dedicated employee for more than 14 years and has shown compassion in serving his fellow veterans. Gaylord ensures daily operations at the office run smoothly, and his leadership has contributed significantly to the continual processing of veterans’ claims.

“Mr. Gaylord is an avid partner of DAV and true friend to his fellow veterans,” Parsetich said. “He sets a great example of servant leadership, and his tireless efforts help ensure we keep our promise to America’s veterans.”

The National Cemetery Administration Employee of the Year award will be presented to Illinois Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Nathan Hooker. Hooker is a part-time civilian police officer, funeral honor guard presenter and cemetery representative at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois. Hooker has led the planning of hundreds of funeral services for veterans and their families and friends. In July 2021, Hooker sprang into action when a widow visiting her husband’s grave collapsed and stopped breathing. Thanks to his quick efforts in performing CPR until the paramedics arrived, the widow regained consciousness and was stabilized.

“Mr. Hooker ensures an honorable and respectable burial of each veteran laid to rest,” said Parsetich. “His service has enabled thousands to pay their last respects to a deceased veteran who sacrificed for this country.

“DAV is proud to recognize such admirable individuals who have dedicated their lives to serving veterans,” said Parsetich. “They represent the best the VA has to offer, and I know veterans and their loved ones everywhere are thankful for their service.”

Photos and media of the event may be made available upon request.


About DAV
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 members, was founded in 1920 and chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1932.