Veterans used to come to the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) in Socorro for food, assistance, and camaraderie, but now when they get there all they find are locked doors and the lights – off.

The reason: The National DAV organization has shuttered the local chapter because of the “actions and behaviors of the chapter.” The local chapter was required to submit annual financial reports. However, the national chapter noted Socorro’s DAV liquor earnings did not contribute to the DAV programs in the community.

Its closure, many believe, is harmful to the local community and veterans who depended upon DAV’s generosity. The DAV is a nonprofit charitable organization for veterans that is not affiliated with the U.S. government.

Former DAV Commander and honor guard member Gordy Hicks said the impact had rippled through the community.

“We’ve been here more than 50 years serving local veterans and the community,” said Hicks. “It’s not only hurting veterans but Socorro County as well.”

The DAV handles many veterans’ funerals in the area, and Hicks said the state is telling them those must come to a halt.

“It hurts veterans, especially the families when a person passes away, and we’re not able to give them honors,” Hicks said.

State DAV Adjutant Maurice Portillo said since July he had been hoping changes could be made to make the local chapter viable.

If the local DAV wanted to remain open, Portillo said they would have had to meet annual requirements. However, he noted at one of the last local DAV meetings the local membership decided not to continue with its charter.

With the revoking of Socorro’s charter, the building and its property will be sold. According to an email written by Inspector General Ed Hartman of the National DAV and obtained by the Chieftain it states: Since the chapter surrendered its charter, everything will default to the ownership of the Department of New Mexico DAV. The purchase price for the building will need to be approved by the National DAV chapter.

The loss of DAV services will be taxing on the community, according to Hicks.

Portillo said last week, the state DAV still is committed to providing services for veterans in the community. “We’re hoping to establish another program for miliary rites. Right now, we don’t have the ability to offer military rites,” he said.

“We are still 100 percent committed to veterans in the community,” Portillo said. “DAV is a critical part to any community in the state. We worked with them since August, but it was unsuccessful.”

DAV’s community presense

With the DAV shutting its doors, many in the community wonder what will happen to the many good deeds and work the local organization contributed to the community.

In the last five decades, the local chapter has been giving homeless veterans a hand-up. “We’ve tried to give them all the help we could from personal hygiene products to getting them in touch with folks at state agencies,” said Hicks, noting that’s not possible now with the local chapter locked out of its building.

The DAV has made its presence in the community known over the years and will be missed not only by the public but also by the veterans who rely on its services.

Besides providing much-needed van rides to the Raymond Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque for veterans, the DAV has promoted visits from the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services, providing assistance and information for vets. Certified officers would help veterans fill out their VA paperwork for VA claims and other services, including transportation.

Additionally, Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances at Isidro Baca Park have relied on the DAV’s contribution to providing its Color Guard, complete with a solemn bagpipe procession at the beginning of ceremonies. A rifle salute to fallen veterans presented by the Color Guard has been a tradition at the closing of the ceremonies.

Following the Isidro Park ceremonies, all community members have customarily been invited to the DAV chapter on Fifth Street for a free-of-charge hamburger/brat cookout.

As an integral part of the community, the DAV chapter, the DAV auxiliary, and its volunteers have treated area residents to Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. The meals – turkey for Thanksgiving and ham for Christmas were free of charge.

This past November, the DAV stopped hosting the popular event – the Community Thanksgiving Dinner. In the past, the organization has served more than 250 meals to community residents who were alone during the holiday. Its goal was to ignite a connection with community members and veterans.

Sad for her father

Lorraine Archuleta was saddened to learn of the DAV closing. Her father, Joe C. Montoya, was honored by having the local DAV building named after him. Montoya was a World War II veteran and was a recipient of the Purple Heart.

“My dad’s whole heart was into the local DAV,” said Archuleta. “He was totally red, white and blue. When the DAV opened my dad, mom and my siblings were so proud. He was very humbled by the honor … it meant a lot to him.”

As one of nine children, Archuleta said when the DAV decided to build the building her father was there helping any way he could. “I just felt a great sadness wash over me when I heard the DAV was closing. I kept thinking of my dad and mom, who was a member of the Auxiliary and the amount of work they put into the organization to keep it alive.”

And just like her mother, Archuleta also was an active member of the DAV auxiliary who assisted the local chapter with its holiday dinners, fish frys and enchilada dinners.
“I enjoyed serving the annual Thanksgiving Day dinner,” she said. “When dad was alive he’d sit down and talk with all the vets who came to eat. He was in his glory.”
For Archuleta to see that tradition continue was heart-warming. “We had the best turn outs for dinner. Some people left tips…and others did not.”
Like her father, Archuleta noted it was all about serving the community and the local veterans.

Veterans Not Forgotten

Despite the closure of the local DAV, the local Forget Me Not Center serving veterans is fulfilling some services.

“We actually have already picked up and have exceeded any of their services. First off the DAV in the state of New Mexico has not offered training for veteran service officers VSO. We’ve already trained two of them, and they’re awaiting VA training. So we’ve actually already surpassed what the DAV was offering. We’ve got a van that the city donated and we’ve already made two trips a week up to the VA hospital for veterans. So we’re providing transportation that is at our own cost,” said Daun Medaris.

Other areas where the local center is helping is the Socorro Kids Fishing Derby.
On April 6, Medaris said the new organization is picking up the Socorro fishing derby by feeding the kids 300 Kids we fed last year.

“So, we’re already picking up all the community services they have done,” he said.
In addition they’ve spoken with Shorty Vaiza, who was the head of the DAV honor guard.
“They were going to DAV Honor Guard in Albuquerque take over, which doesn’t help our veterans here, right,” said Medaris. “So I’m already working with a lady from the Army National Guard in Clovis, New Mexico. That’s going to send me all the information we need to have our very own honor guard through the Veterans Center.”

Medaris also said they are working with the Veterans Administration directly rather than the DAV.

“The DAV, for example, their Veterans Service Officers were not certified through the VA, they could fill out paperwork, but then they’d have to send it to the VA. So they were like a middleman, right? We’ve actually got direct contact and direct training with the Veterans Administration, so we’ve actually been able to eliminate the middleman. When I was commander of the DAV, I told them flat out if you only cared about the bar, I’m not your guy,” he said.

The state DAV, he said, just didn’t provide services to the veteran.
“We get to provide the services with the DAV was falling short of the DAV as a whole, don’t get me wrong. National DAV, I really liked the organization. It just so happens that our state organization is really really lacking. That’s why we did what we did,” he said. “Every service that they could have done, we can do better, because we’re working directly hand in hand with the Veterans Administration.”

Publisher’s Note: Columnist John Larson and Editor Jessica Carranza Pino contributed to this story.