By Nathaniel Bott
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporter
According to the Michigan Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, there are approximately 4,900 veterans of foreign wars currently residing in Clinton County. In fact, the veteran population is dwindling, as projections will drop below 4,000 veterans in the next 10 years.
Arguably the most important community program for veterans, despite their downturn in numbers, upon their return to the United States are VFW, or Veterans of Foreign Wars, posts. They are establishments that allow veterans to get together and share their common experiences.
“They do a lot of things as far as events, different veteran type of events, like things for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, all types of community activities,” Joe DiGiovanni, a certified Veterans Service Officer for the American Legion said. “It’s a camaraderie is what it is, veterans talking to veterans and they talk veteran stuff. They do all kinds of activities, whether it’s going to football games or baseball games and they do it as a group and they also invite families, spouses, children, and members of the community.”
DiGiovanni works at VFW posts across state of Michigan, currently with Clinton County once a week and the National Guard Family Support Center in Lansing three days a week. Another activist for VFW posts and their importance is Andrew Cosgrove, the director and chapter advisor of the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs for Lansing Community College.
According to Cosgrove, these VFW posts offer much more than just a friendship, including access to rehabilitation and therapy resources and help for veterans attempting to gain benefits and compensation.
“VFW Posts are extremely important,” Cosgrove said. “They offer services to veterans along with friendship after you leave the military. They can be utilized as social environments but also as service environments when it comes to veteran affairs, like housing benefits, disabilities, and health care.”
Another major factor is the age of these VFW members. Cosgrove believes the age demographics of these posts are a concern, and with the veteran population already decreasing, Cosgrove believes the younger generation of veterans need to be more active.
“The populations of these posts are growing older, I don’t think there are as many younger veterans that are getting involved with the VFW and American Legion,” Cosgrove said. “Age is an issue, and I think it is the older generation that is more prone to joining these organizations.”
One place age hasn’t played a factor is at the VFW post in DeWitt. Members remain active in the community, and it is why they are sponsored by numerous local businesses. One of those businesses is Priority Auto Body, and owner Randy Joy has been a supporter of the VFW post for a long time.
“Well we like to give back to the local community, and the veterans are a large part, especially with all the stuff happening overseas,” Joy said. “We’ve got a couple of customers, old-timers who are members down there that we do things for.”
According to DiGiovanni, veterans who return from combat often have a difficult time readjusting to society and inserting themselves back into the community. That is why VFW posts offer numerous programs for veterans to help ease the transition.
“A lot of veterans go through it, but a lot of them don’t, probably about 50 percent of them use it,” DiGiovanni said. “They come in for compensation for PTSD or injuries that happened to them in the service, whether it’s combat or noncombat injuries.”
Both VFW posts in Clinton County, Post 671 in DeWitt and Post 4113 in St. Johns remain staples in the community. Cosgrove believes that these veterans offer different experiences for local residents to learn from, and the events they host bring out large turnouts.
“The posts definitely serve as community outreach; veterans attend community events, organize community events, and provide information to community members about what they experienced and continue to experience after leaving the military,” Cosgrove said. “These posts have a major social aspect, and it gives the veterans a place to go to be around men and women who share the same experiences and have someone to talk to.”