The Disabled American Veterans chapter in Waco is the oldest in Texas, but attendance at regular meetings has declined to the point it may cease to exist.

Often, fewer than five people show up to discuss the chapter’s business, a member of Waco’s Disabled American Veterans Chapter 3 told the Tribune-Herald. Lacking a quorum, action on the most basic of agenda items is forbidden. Even the sending of flowers or participating in ceremonies becomes impossible.

“This chapter was established in 1927, and it would be a shame to lose its charter,” local chapter adjunct and treasurer Tom Parker said by phone from a veterans related conference in Corpus Christi. “We’re trying to get people interested in coming back, working with us in looking for projects to help disabled veterans, which is what DAV is all about.”

Parker said the chapter has more than 1,200 members, and any member in good standing is eligible to vote at meetings, which take place monthly. He said at least seven people must attend to conduct business.

The chapter’s future could hinge on what happens at a special meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at New Road Church of Christ, 3100 S. New Road.

Parker, 74, said he will be there. He lives near Lorena, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1968 to 1979, and himself is a disabled veteran. He also serves on state and national Disabled American Veterans committees.

Chapter commander Wayne Lee, of Whitney, will preside at the meeting.

“We have members all over the United States, but the majority are right here in McLennan County or in adjoining counties. I mailed out 700 postcards,” Parker said of his efforts to stress the importance of Tuesday’s gathering.

He said out-of-state members may have spent their military service years in Texas, joined the local chapter, then moved away for a host of reasons.

“But they chose to leave their membership here,” he said. “Some may have not had their disability rated by the VA, but did establish a disability claim. Some are 100% disabled. They tell me they can’t get here because they can’t get out of bed. Their situations run the gamut.”

Parker said losing a Waco-based chapter could mean losing local autonomy, reducing or eliminating local input on how fundraising money is spent. He said if Chapter 3 is dissolved, members could become at-large members or could have their influence diluted by being merged with another chapter. The closest other chapter is in the Bell County city of Nolanville, part of the Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood Metropolitan Statistical Area.

“Money raised here stays here,” Parker said.

Fundraising efforts generate $4,000 to $5,000 annually, sometimes more, though numbers fluctuate, he said. The organization helps clients with transportation, may chip in to pay utility bills, build wheelchair ramps or mow lawns.

On a more official level, Disabled American Veterans can assist veterans in securing benefits.

“DAV is a nonprofit charity that provides a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families, helping more than 1 million veterans in positive, life-changing ways each year,” its website states. “Annually, the organization provides more than 600,000 rides to veterans attending medical appointments and assists veterans with well over 200,000 benefit claims. In 2018, DAV helped veterans receive more than $20 billion in earned benefits. DAV’s services are offered at no cost to all generations of veterans, their families and survivors.”

The organization formed in the wake of World War I has almost 1,300 chapters and more than 1 million members and will turn 100 years old this year. It is marking the anniversary with a series called History: Wars and Scars, which chronicles its beginning and evolution.

The first chapter is titled Pencils on Street Corners and discusses challenges faced by returning veterans, who fought in “rat-filled disease-ridden trenches” while exposed to poison gas and raging artillery battles previously unseen on the battlefield. They returned home missing limbs and suffering blindness, deafness or mental illness, and without a societal safety net, the publication states. They often were reduced to standing in food lines or panhandling on the street.

“It was a national disgrace,” the introduction reads. “The government had sent a generation off to fight a war, but somehow the politicians failed to foresee that many would come home wounded and sick. Yet the day came when World War I came to an end — November 11, 1918, and the nation gasped as the disabled came home.”

The organization, initially called Disabled American Veterans of the World War, was formed in September 1920 and received a federal charter from Congress in 1932.

The local Disabled American Veterans chapter is headquartered at 701 Clay Ave., at the Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office. That is where veterans, disabled and otherwise, can go for assistance in pursuing benefits.

Should Chapter 3 be forced to disband, “I will still be here, but the fraternal side of the organization will not be here,” member Ryan Burgos said.

The Iraq War Veteran is an assistant supervisor at the VA Regional Office. He said he receives hundreds of phone calls and emails from veterans around the country during the course of carrying out his responsibilities.

“I just moved here at the end of July, but I’ve been to every chapter meeting,” Burgos said.

He also said attendance has become sparse, often falling short of a quorum.

“Essentially, if the chapter falls apart, it won’t be able to push for things, new laws, benefits,” he said. “The DAV has a voice on Capitol Hill, but it all starts with the local chapters.”

Asked if the local chapter can be saved, Burgos said it would take a commitment to show up in numbers sufficient to form a quorum.

“Without that, we’re not going to be able to sustain this chapter,” he said.

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