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DECADE OF SERVICE 2010s: Throughout the past five years, DAV Magazine has chronicled decades of our organization's history ahead of DAV's centennial in 2020. In our final installment before next year's centennial celebration, we highlight the important issues and events that affected service members, disabled veterans and their families during the 2010s.

At the turn of this past decade, the United States was in the midst of an economic recession fueled by a nearly 25% spike in federal spending between 2008 and 2010--a timeframe that saw the single largest yearly national deficit to date of $1.4 trillion. This surge necessitated serious fiscal reforms to help rein in government spending and trigger the nation's financial recovery. To do so, the Budget Control Act of 2011 was implemented with the goal of reducing the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion.

However, a special joint congressional committee failed to agree on how exactly to reduce the deficit, which, by way of the new law, triggered automatic across-the-board cuts to domestic and defense programs to the tune of $1 trillion.

Known as sequestration, these reductions came at an enormous cost to the Department of Defense--readiness, training, maintenance, modernization, weapons development and acquisition all suffered--and resulted in force reductions across all branches of the military as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan entered into their second decade.

With hundreds of thousands of service members forced from active duty, a tidal wave of transitioning veterans applying for VA disability and education benefits and seeking civilian employment opportunities enveloped local communities nationwide.

With the influx of veteran job seekers entering the market, DAV established its National Employment Department in 2014 to help ensure veterans and their families get the tools, resources and opportunities they need to competitively enter the job market and secure meaningful employment in their post-service years.

The department immediately set up its job fair program, which grew from 65 events in its first year to 145 in-person and virtual job fairs in 2019. In that time, more than 174,000 attendees received 132,000 job offers, making it one of DAV's most prolific tools in helping transitioning service members find gainful employment.

"Our job fairs consistently make a positive difference in the lives of the veterans DAV serves," said National Employment Director Jeff Hall, who has been at the helm of the department since its inception. "We're connecting them with employers who want to hire them, and it's paying dividends."

DAV also used four years of research in partnership with USAA and Fiserv to launch The Veteran Advantage: DAV Guide to Hiring and Retaining Veterans with Disabilities to assist employers and organizations in recruiting and hiring veterans, and retaining the unique talents they bring to the workplace.

"We hope that hiring managers, business owners and leaders in the business community will learn that the nearly 4 million veterans in our country who have service-connected disabilities are some of the most capable, driven and resilient employees around," said Hall.

Employment isn't the only area in which DAV's efforts experienced significant growth. The initiative was launched to crowdsource volunteer opportunities between veterans, their caregivers and those interested in donating their time.

In 2017, DAV expanded its partnership with the VA to present the National Disabled Veterans TEE (Train, Expose, Experience) Tournament, which offers access to rehabilitative golf and other sporting opportunities each year for hundreds of injured veterans near Iowa City, Iowa. Like the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, the partnership provides opportunities for visually impaired and other deserving veterans to overcome their disabilities through adaptive sports.

DAV's National Membership Department continues to be a voice for all generations of veterans, and has leveraged new technology over the past decade to make joining DAV easier and faster, particularly among the post-9/11 generation.

Additionally, DAV's national outreach efforts through new public service announcements have yielded unprecedented success, totaling a value of more than $400 million in the past 10 years, and support from new and long-time corporate partners has generated $7 million since 2010, providing diversified streams of revenue to support the charity's mission, and enhance and expand critical programs for veterans and their families. Further, the organization began hosting DAV 5K events and continues to raise awareness and funds by giving the public the opportunity to give back. In 2014, the opening of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington, D.C., marked the completion of a 17-year journey to ensure the sacrifices made by our nation's disabled veterans are never forgotten.

In view of the U.S. Capitol, the memorial pays tribute to the nation's 4 million living disabled veterans, as well as their caretakers and the millions of deceased disabled veterans. In granite slabs, glass panels and a single flame atop a solemn reflecting pool, the memorial tells the story of veterans from every conflict and from every branch of service who have borne the brunt of battle and lived to carry the visible--and invisible--wounds of war.

DAV also continued the fight on Capitol Hill throughout the decade to preserve and protect veterans' benefits--with our service department helping veterans and their family members receive more than $20 billion in earned benefits in 2018. From the Veterans Choice Act to its replacement, the VA MISSION Act, DAV supported legislation aimed at improving veterans' access to health care and strengthening the VA health care system in the wake of the 2014 VA waitlist scandal.

In addition, DAV published two women veterans reports, in 2014 and 2018 respectively, offering dozens of key policy recommendations covering a broad range of issues affecting women veterans throughout their lifetime, including primary and gender-specific health care, mental health and readjustment services, and disability and employment benefits. The reports focus on the challenges women encounter transitioning from military to civilian life and have helped usher in numerous policy and legislative changes to improve programs and services for women veterans.

"With major reforms underway to modernize VA's health care and benefits processing systems, it is imperative that Congress and VA focus on fully addressing the unique needs of the more than half-million women veterans using VA services," said National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. "DAV will continue to lead the fight for America's women veterans."

"For nearly a century, our organization has fought for those who fought for us," said National Adjutant Marc Burgess, who was appointed to his post in 2013. "In recent years, our victories in appeals modernization, expanding caregiver benefits for pre-9/11 veterans and securing benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange have shown our members and the veteran community why we are the nation's premier veteran service organization. With this dedication to America's heroes and their families, I have no doubt that DAV will continue to provide a lifetime of service to the men and women who served, for the next 100 years and beyond."

By M. Todd Hunter
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Author:Hunter, M. Todd
Publication:DAV Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2019
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