A Disabled American Veterans mobile van parked downtown Wednesday, opening its doors to local veterans seeking help or answers to questions.
Paul Theiring, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the 1950s and has lived in Madison since 1967, was one of more than a dozen veterans to visit the van.
Wearing a dark green hat that read “KOREA VETERAN” in yellow lettering, Theiring sat in a chair outside of the van, under its awning, to stay out of the rain.
“We were taught to live through it,” he said of his disabilities. “(The DAV is) insight into something you know nothing about. You can’t learn about the VA (Veterans Affairs) and all that on your own.
“It’s impossible,” he said.
In the mountains on the east coast of Vietnam, Theiring suffered frostbite after experiencing temperatures of 40 degrees below zero and winds in excess of 40 miles an hour, he said. His service left him with bone spurs on his feet.
“Well, I got bone spurs,” he said of his health status. “So does Larry Bird.”
Bird retired in the same year that Theiring first consulted Veterans Affairs – 1992, years after the Vietnam War had ended.
Albert Hughes, a national service officer from the Detroit regional office, said most of the veterans who stopped by the van served during the Vietnam War era.
Hughes, a 22-year veteran of the Air Force, and Penny Johnson, a national service officer from the Indianapolis regional office and Army veteran, were the two national officers, along with 5th District Commander Fred Gaige, in town to assist local veterans.
“DAV is an organization of us, by us, for us,” Johnson said.
Veterans have service officers at their disposal at the county, chapter and department level, along with state, regional and national offices.
“We all work together as a team to get the claims processed for the veterans, and it’s free of charge,” she said.
Hughes said their goal is to assist as many veterans as possible to apply for VA benefits.
Obtaining medical records and educating veterans on the benefits available to them are two of the biggest challenges that stand in the way, Hughes said.
“We help them tremendously,” Hughes said. “The service we provide, we make it easier for them to obtain the benefits for their situation.”
Hughes said he knew he wanted to become a national service officer since the day he learned about the DAV and its mission.
“There’s nothing like it,” he said. “It’s very rewarding. I get up every morning looking forward to coming to work to help another veteran.
“I do it with a lot of pride. I think my calling in life is to give back to other veterans.”