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Disabled American Veterans seminar brings benefit information to Fond du Lac

American Legion in Fond du Lac
Posted at 4:44 PM, Nov 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-30 17:44:28-05

FOND DU LAC (NBC 26) — For veterans in smaller communities, access to care can be difficult. Vets in Fond du Lac have to drive about an hour to the nearest VA.

On Wednesday, the nonprofit DAV, or Disabled American Veterans, came to Fond du Lac to help vets in the area learn more about how to access resources — no matter where they live.

Navy veteran Tom Lechner said he suffers from conditions that could be due to the chemical Agent Orange, which he said was exposed to during his time in Vietnam.

“It happened at 18,19 years old and then as you get older, things get worse and everything else,” Lechner said. “And I've got skin cancer in four areas and diabetes.”

He says since leaving the Navy, he’s had trouble accessing resources.

“We didn't ask to go to Vietnam. We didn't ask to be on a ship. We didn't ask to be in combat or non-combat and stuff like this. They say ‘hey, this is where our government needs you,'” Lechner said. “And we always thought the government would have our backs, but it's not always the case.”

While he says he is physically capable of driving an hour to a VA, not all vets are.

“If you don’t have any spouse, or you don't have any kids, or they're working everything else, how do you get to Madison? How do you get to Milwaukee? Or Green Bay?” Lechner said.

Joseph Fuenger, the Assistant Supervisor for the DAV’s National Service Office in Milwaukee, hosted a seminar to help vets in Fond du Lac learn more about what resources are available.

“Specifically in this area, for, like, transportation purposes, it might be a little more difficult for elderly veterans to get to and from maybe, medical appointments,” Fuenger said. “One of the things that DAV does is we have a transportation network run by volunteers. So they drive veterans to and from medical appointments at the VA.”

He said it can be extremely important for veterans to be aware of their benefits.

“It's life-changing, you know?” Fuenger said.

He said these seminars are important because the process can also be confusing for some veterans.

“A lot of veterans, maybe, aren't necessarily aware of the exact process of getting their disability benefits and they just believe that they're going to be there forever,” Fuenger said. “But it's actually like an evidence-based process.”

Army veteran Cliff Van Beek said he’s been able to access benefits since leaving the military, and now volunteers to help other veterans do the same.

“That's why I came up here today, just to learn a little bit more so I could help other people,” Van Beek said.

The VA said it is planning on opening a facility in Fond du Lac in the next two to three years, which Van Beek said will be helpful.

“Although the DAV helps a lot with transporting people, when you're transporting 50, 60, 80 miles it gets to be a little more difficult,” Van Beek said. “I think if they can bring those assets here, and make it available for the veterans, I think it'd be a big boon.”

Fuenger said the DAV currently conducts about six of these seminars a year in Wisconsin but can do more if needed. Any local American Legion or VFW can request one. More information on DAV can be found on their website.

Meet Margaret Cahill: NBC 26's reporter in Fond du Lac!

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Margaret Cahill

1:39 PM, Jul 22, 2022
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