|Vietnam Veterans of America|
BY GREGORY McNAMEE
Over the course of the long COVID pandemic, many VVA chapters slowed to a crawl by isolation, social distancing, and lack of safe venues in which to meet and do good works. That’s not been the case with VVA 1048 in Daytona Beach, Florida. With 268 veterans and 52 associate members, it’s the second-largest chapter in the state. Says Bob Adkins, the chapter’s hard-charging president: “I’m always on the lookout for things for us to do, because I like for us to stay busy.”
Stay busy they do. One of the projects Adkins has coordinated is the chapter’s adoption of a nearby veterans’ cemetery. A couple of dozen chapter members keep the two-acre Ormond Beach Oakridge Cemetery watered, policed up, and landscaped, meeting every few weeks to give the grounds a good going-over. The cemetery serves as a place of commemoration and gathering for chapter members, who also participate in the Missing in America Project as pallbearers and flower bearers for veterans whose remains have gone unclaimed. So far, Adkins recounts, the chapter has been involved in 25 ceremonies honoring those forgotten warriors.
Another project involves a facility for homeless veterans, a former family shelter that was converted two years ago and christened Barracks of Hope. Funded by a grant from the VA, the shelter houses twenty veterans who may stay there up to two years while receiving services for substance abuse, post-traumatic stress, and other health issues. The residents of Barracks of Hope have received special attention from VVA 1048, including supply drives that have delivered five pickup-loads of food and sundries to the now-sheltered veterans.
During the first year of the COVID crisis, Adkins relates, the chapter organized many other food drives to help children who otherwise might have been fed breakfast and lunch at school but, because of school closures, were going hungry. These food drives, Adkins says, delivered 10,000 pounds of food that “we figured the children weren’t getting at home.”
Other drives benefited the Emory L. Bennett State Veterans’ Nursing Home, a facility with 120 beds. During the pandemic, many residents fell ill with the disease, and no one within the home was allowed outside contact. The chapter undertook missions such as a contact-free pizza party, delivering pies from a local pizzeria that, when offered payment, refused and donated the food. A separate “snack drive” brought two truckloads of goodies to the VA home last Easter. The grateful administrator told Adkins that was the largest contribution of snacks ever delivered there.
Such outreach work speaks to one part of the chapter’s mission statement, which is to “seek full access to quality health care for veterans” while advocating for veterans so that they receive the full range of services that the VA charter mandates. This is especially important, Adkins notes, in a state such as Florida, home to more than half a million Vietnam War veterans—about one in every three members of the total veteran population. Thanks to advocacy on the part of VVA 1048 and other organizations, there has been an increase in disability claims for PTSD, exposure to Agent Orange, and other health concerns.
Projects and Programs
VVA 1048 engages in other projects and programs as well. Each year, the chapter coordinates a Vietnam War Veterans Day program with a local VFW. At a local high school, chapter members identified outstanding members of the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps and presented the top cadet with a check for $100. A yard sale helped the chapter raise funds while helping members get rid of unwanted items. And at monthly chapter meetings, which are always well attended, Adkins frequently invites guest speakers, among them a local attorney who specializes in estate planning and a retired Air Force colonel who is an expert in cybersecurity.
Adkins served during the Tet Offensive as an E-5 with the First Cavalry Division. He returned to his native Ohio and worked in automotive sales for the next 40 years. “I came to Florida to retire in 2009. I was at a concert on the beach, and I saw a gentleman with a First Cav hat. He told me about VVA, and I joined up,” Adkins says. “When I did, I found what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
He threw himself into volunteer work, particularly recruitment, organizing a couple dozen members to seek out veterans, particularly through activities associated with Veterans Day, when local restaurants serve free meals to veterans. Adkins and his membership committee visit those restaurants and pitch VVA to those who until then were unaware of the organization and its local activities. In November 2020 that recruitment effort netted seven new members. Couple that active recruiting with a sense of mission and purpose that keeps the membership motivated, and it’s small wonder that the chapter has grown so steadily over the years.
“I believe in keeping the chapter busy,” says Adkins. “And it’s important that we keep our associate members, mostly spouses, busy and involved, too.” He adds that chapter members keep careful track of their time as recipients of the President’s Volunteer Service Award. “Last year, during COVID, I had 17 members turn in 8,866 hours. As the president of the chapter, I turned in about 900 hours—so that means in my retirement, I worked full-time half of the year.”
“Busy,” then, would seem to be an understatement. It’s time put to good use, and because of all that effort on the part of its membership and leadership alike, VVA 1048 is thriving.
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