Disaster Aid Helps Veteran Families
By Thom Wilborn
Louisville, Ky., National Service Officers Jody Strachan, right, and Timothy Duke, left, present a disaster aid voucher to disabled veteran Thomas Coder and his wife, whose home in the background was destroyed when a tornado struck West Liberty, Ky.
George Heeger faced disaster by flying “Old Glory” over his wrecked home. Caroline Snyder wept in gratitude for the compassion and support shown by DAV when she lost everything. They were among the victims of late February and early March tornadoes. They also found DAV ready to offer a helping hand and relief.
Heeger and his wife ran for the safety of their basement in their Morning View, Ky., home as an early March tornado swept through. “It was noisy, but it didn’t last very long,” he said. “I don’t think it lasted more than 30 seconds, and then it was quiet.”
At first, they believed the damage was slight, but then they saw the sky was above them. “We lost the barn, the house, the equipment shed and the garage,” he said. “Just everything is gone. We’ve got to tear down what’s left of the house and rebuild.”
Hundreds of miles away in Harveyville, Kan., Snyder was frozen with fear by the howling wind, the shaking of her home and the lights flickering out. “We heard the wind roar,” Snyder said. “I’ll never forget it. It was pulling at the door and the walls shook.
“My daughter scooped up her kids and ran to the bathtub,” she said. “I was frozen in place with fear when my daughter yelled to get in the bathtub.” They clung to safety as their home was ripped apart around them. “After it was over, the roof had collapsed above us,” said Snyder. “We stayed in the bathtub until a neighbor found us and took us in.”
Heeger, Snyder and their families were among the lucky ones when 277 tornadoes struck across the Midwest, killing 57 people and causing at least $2.3 billion in damage. Kentucky suffered the worst with 22 deaths in the West Liberty area. The tornado there was on the ground for 86 miles with a peak wind speed of 165 mph and grew to a mile wide.
“Even though the area was devastated, DAV was there immediately after the storm extending our disaster aid,” said National Voluntary Services Director Ron Minter. He was among the first in the area with other DAV National Headquarters staff who helped provide disaster aid, clean up debris and remove tree limbs from property. “Our staff gave assistance to ill and injured veterans who were still stunned from the powerful storm’s effects,” Minter said.
“Whenever disaster strikes our veterans, DAV is among the first to help,” said National Adjutant Arthur H. Wilson. “Our mission means service at a time of great economic and emotional loss.“March 2, 2012, is a day that will be remembered by those of us who work at DAV National Headquarters,” said National Headquarters Executive Director Marc Burgess. “As with all disasters, opportunities arise for people and organizations to help neighbors in need, many of whom were disabled veterans.”
“DAV has been unbelievably helpful,” said Heeger after he received a disaster assistance voucher to help pay for food, clothing, housing and other items his family immediately needed. “They’re doing anything they can to help us. The DAV people coming here have no idea how much we do appreciate it.”
“We found a flag in a tree,” he said. “My son-in-law got it, cut my flag pole off so we could use it and hung it up. It’s out there just waving in the breeze because we’re in good shape.”
Snyder wept when Wichita National Service Office Supervisor George Jaso gave her a disaster aid voucher to cover her family’s immediate needs. “I started crying that DAV was giving so generously to us,” she said. “Even thinking about it now, I start crying.”
Snyder’s husband, Paul, a Navy veteran, died in 2011, leaving her struggling to support herself, her daughter and two grandchildren after the loss of his disability compensation.
“I am just in awe that DAV would offer all that help,” said Snyder. In addition, Jaso was instrumental in obtaining her late husband’s last VA disability check, which had been mistakenly returned to the government. “I would never have gotten that,” she said. “He helped me so much.”
“I asked the VA to expedite the month-of-death check for her late husband, which she received in early March,” said Jaso. “We are also looking into death benefits that could be available to her.”
Louisville, Ky., National Service Officers Jody Strachan and Timothy Duke, who led the disaster aid effort in West Liberty, Ky., provided DAV assistance to 22 veteran families in the stricken town, making a lasting impression on its citizens. “I will never forget what I saw and what DAV did as an organization,” said Strachan. “The camaraderie was high there, although the people faced real hard times.”
DAV National Service Officers also visited disaster areas in Michigan, Ohio, Texas and Missouri following the storms, but nowhere was the aid needed more than in Kentucky.
“I want to thank the many DAV employees and other volunteers who gave generously and anonymously by donating much-needed items to relief centers,” said Burgess. “Their kindness will forever be remembered by those individuals affected by the storms.
“The compassion displayed by our employees is just one of the things that make DAV unique and special.”