By Brian Buckwalter
More than 2,200 DAV and Auxiliary members and guests gathered at the 2022 DAV and Auxiliary National Convention, held Aug. 6–9 in Orlando, Florida.
The atmosphere was full of positive energy, since the Honoring our PACT Act had cleared its final congressional hurdle earlier in the week leading up to the convention. (The act was signed into law Aug. 10.)
DAV was responsible for bringing the issue of burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan to the public’s attention in 2008 and created the forerunner to the Burn Pit Registry. For decades, DAV members have been crucial players in advocating for comprehensive legislation to address the effects of exposures on service members. The legislation was a landmark achievement for the entire veteran community, according to then-National Commander Andy Marshall.
“The focus may have been on Congress the past few weeks, but the work was really done by each of you, so thank you,” said Marshall during his report.
The PACT Act and what it will mean for veterans was a common thread throughout the event.
President Joe Biden addressed the convention crowd via recorded video. He praised DAV and its members for being “tireless champions” for veterans exposed to toxins and for continued involvement in volunteering, claims processing and the legislative process.
“As commander in chief,” said Biden, “I know that our one truly sacred obligation as a nation is to properly prepare and equip those we send into harm’s way and care for them and their families when they return home. That obligation never ends. I’m grateful to all the work the DAV does to advocate for our veterans with disabilities and provide for their needs.”
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, spoke to attendees live via Zoom and praised the actions of DAV and Auxiliary members.
“DAV’s work in getting this legislation passed—and so much legislation before it—has been remarkable,” Stewart said, highlighting members’ use of the DAV Commanders Action Network to contact their representatives. “Unfortunately, sometimes the United States government doesn’t hear you until you yell so loudly that you can’t be ignored. And you all yelled so loud that they couldn’t help but hear you.”
Marshall also took the time to recognize DAV members’ contributions in all areas of the organization.
“My greatest privilege and honor has been the opportunity to meet so many of you who make our mission happen where you live,” said Marshall. “You have inspired me and taught me a great deal about DAV and life in general.”
On the convention’s final day, delegates unanimously elected Joe Parsetich, a past state commander and member of Chapter 2 in Great Falls, Montana, to succeed Marshall as DAV’s national commander. Parsetich, an Air Force veteran of Vietnam, joined DAV in 2009 and immediately began taking on leadership roles in the organization.
“I want to thank all of you for the opportunity to serve alongside you in the important mission that we share,” said Parsetich. “But foremost, I want you to understand how humbled I am by this opportunity and how hard I will work to honor your service and contribute to the good fight we wage for justice.”
He promised to build off the work done under Marshall’s leadership.
“We honor the sacrifices of our bravest when we give of our time and talents to improve the lives of our brothers and sisters and their survivors,” Parsetich said during his acceptance speech. “We must continue to seize the moments where we can make a difference. We must be a source of hope when all else seems lost.”
In addition to Parsetich’s election, delegates elected other DAV national officers: Senior Vice Commander Nancy Espinosa, 1st Junior Vice Commander Dan Contreras, 2nd Junior Vice Commander Coleman Nee, 3rd Junior Vice Commander John Donovan, 4th Junior Vice Commander Cynthia Madison, Judge Advocate Michael Dobmeier and Chaplain Debra Varner.
The DAV Auxiliary elected Darlene Spence as its new national commander. The theme for her term is “Committed All the Way: Serving Our Veterans and Their Families.”
“We owe it to those who gave so much for us,” Spence said. “The needs for our service programs and advocacy are urgent.”
Other Auxiliary leaders elected are Senior Vice Commander AnnMarie Hurley, 1st Junior Vice Commander Christopher Easley, 2nd Junior Vice Commander Melissa Pierce, 3rd Junior Vice Commander Terry Grabowski, 4th Junior Vice Commander Kathleen Wenthe, Judge Advocate Paula Raymond and Chaplain Aura-Lee Nicodemus.
DAV also awarded several people during the convention for their efforts in serving veterans, including top DAV Scholarship winner Evan Osgood and Disabled American Veteran of the Year Adam Alexander.
Alexander suffered extensive damage to his right frontal lobe and lost his right eye from an enemy sniper’s bullet in Afghanistan in 2011. Undeterred, he now devotes his time to educating fellow veterans through a local TV program called “The Outpost” that he hosts with his former superior officer and fellow DAV life member Mike Hert.
Alexander, a member of Chapter 17 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, also regularly visits schools to educate students about the sacrifices made by service members.
A new addition to this year’s convention schedule was the My Journey Workshop for Women Veterans. Separate from the Women Veterans Seminar, this workshop encouraged conversations so participants could learn from each other.
Associate National Legislative Director Naomi Mathis said the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Experience Office created the workshop to encourage women veterans to build a network and community in order to work through common issues from their time in service.
On the convention’s last day, VA Secretary Denis McDonough spoke to all attendees. He opened his remarks by paying tribute to Garry Augustine, who died in March. Augustine was a 50-year member of DAV and former executive director of DAV’s National Service and Legislative Headquarters. McDonough pledged to do what he could to carry on Augustine’s work.
He then highlighted DAV’s volunteering and advocacy accomplishments over the past year.
“Bottom line: DAV is simply awesome,” said McDonough.
McDonough next laid out the VA’s priorities of maximizing access to health care for veterans, ending veteran homelessness, ensuring all veterans feel welcome and safe at the VA, and preventing veteran suicide.
He also highlighted how the PACT Act will affect future care and benefits for millions of veterans, and he called on DAV to help spread the word to veterans to apply immediately for benefits related to the new law.
“Because we want every veteran—every single one—to get the care they need and the benefits they deserve,” said McDonough. “And we won’t rest until they do.”
Another noteworthy report came from Art Wilson, president of the DAV National Service Foundation. Wilson announced that he was stepping down from his role after the convention. He had served in DAV’s ranks for 56 years, most notably as its national adjutant and CEO from 1994 to 2013. He pledged to continue being an active member and thanked his wife and others for their support.
The event wasn’t just about the work, though. Throughout the convention, attendees had many opportunities for breaks. Highlights included Root Beer Floats from sponsor A&W Restaurants on Saturday and rides around the hotel property in one of Ford Motor Co.’s Model Ts.
TriWest Healthcare Alliance treated attendees to Fun Night on Monday. For the first time in several years, DAV welcomed back to the stage convention favorite Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band for an evening of music that included covers of popular songs from several decades. Before ending the night with Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.,” Sinise shared his thanks to DAV and its members for being a major catalyst in starting his involvement with veterans and their families.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with our 100th convention,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “It represented perfectly DAV’s commitment to more victories for veterans and the vibrancy of our organization. Our members came out in force to receive information and training on how they can best support our nation’s veterans and their families. Additionally, their national leadership votes and the resolutions they brought to the floor put DAV and the Auxiliary in a position to continue to be the most effective organization serving veterans in the country.”
As soon as the gavel fell to end the convention, DAV demonstrated its effectiveness and commitment. Newly elected National Commander Parsetich left Orlando with a small delegation of DAV members to go to the White House to witness President Biden signing the Honoring our PACT Act into law on Aug. 10.
The 101st national convention is scheduled for Aug. 5–8, 2023, at Harrah’s Atlantic City in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
For speeches, reports and other information from the 2022 DAV National Convention, visit dav.org/events/2022-national-convention. View all of DAV’s convention videos on the DAV YouTube Channel at youtube.com/disabledamericanveterans.
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