A half dozen veterans sat side by side in a hallway, paperwork in hand as they waited to be attended by one of the DAV service officers at the Brevard Veterans Memorial Center.
It’s a Tuesday morning, one of the busiest days for the men and women of Disabled American Veterans Space Coast Chapter 123 as they volunteer to help veterans with benefit and pension claims like other DAV chapters in Melbourne, Titusville, Satellite Beach and Barefoot Bay.
DAVs in Brevard have had to increase the numbers of veterans service officers as their reputation grows as the go-to experts for help with VA claims.
“We’re going to do over 3,000 interviews this year,” said Ed Caron, a retired attorney who served with the Army in Vietnam. “They are coming from Orlando. They are coming from Palm Bay.”
Caron who serves with DAV 123 on Merritt Island, said he believes that more and more veterans are going to DAVs for help with claims rather than going to the VA because they know they won’t be rushed.
“We can spend time with you,” he said.
The DAV J.L. Golighty Chapter 32 in Melbourne, recently added one more service day for a total of four per week. In addition it certified 12 officers to help serve the growing demand for help with claims paperwork.
It’s “the most we’ve ever had in this chapter, and because of this great new number, we have added yet another opening day for service to veterans needing help with VA claims,” said Brian Mitchell, Chapter 32 commander.
DAV 32 is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. They have been at the same location, 2265 N. Harbor City Blvd., for 35 years.
Earle Mason, a senior service officer and past commander at Chapter 32, said the unit started opening one day a week before adding Wednesday. Last year it added Friday and now Saturday for a total of four days a week. He said more and more of the veterans coming in served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re getting many more people in for service,” Mason said. “We noticed a big uptick in people coming in. We get a lot of recommendations.”
Bill Fitzpatrick, a retired Army command sergeant major, said he could not be happier with the service he has received from the DAV on Merritt Island.
“They filed a claim for me last year,” he said. “They decided I now have some additional entitlement. What these guys do is far beyond what I’ve seen elsewhere. The depth of knowledge is what sets them head and shoulders above everyone else.”
Last year the chapter consulted with 3005 veterans, 275 dependents, did 783 survivor interviews for a total of 4,063. This year new service officers, including two women, were added to the 14 they already had.