40 years later, DAV Chapter 47 still serving veterans

Photo by Ron Newberry
John Callahan, left, and Steve DeAvilla, service officers with DAV Chapter 47 in Oak Harbor, hold the original charter that was started in Coupeville in May of 1975. The group is celebrating its 40-year anniversary.

The work space for Steve DeAvilla and other volunteers dedicated to helping disabled veterans in Oak Harbor is a tiny office with wood paneling and a window that doesn’t open.

It can get simmering during the summer months and chilly during the winter but nobody’s complaining.

DeAvilla, commander of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 47, is grateful to be able to use the space, which is located at the rear of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7392 on Goldie Road.

The office and an adjoining room that is used for support staff has been home to Whidbey Island’s DAV chapter since last July.

“It’s not for our comfort. It’s to serve the veterans,” DeAvilla said. “Larger, smaller, as long as we’re doing what we need to do help the veterans, so be it.”

Helping disabled veterans is the backbone of the DAV, a national veterans advocacy and assistance group that dates back to 1920.

Whidbey Island’s Chapter 47 has been around since 24 members established the group in Coupeville on May 16, 1975.

Forty years later, DAV Chapter 47 is still fulfilling its mission, assisting disabled veterans and their dependents with paperwork, transportation and other free services.

Five days a week, a van departs Oak Harbor at 6 a.m. bound for the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Seattle.

The roundtrip ride is free for the veterans as are the other services provided by DAV volunteers.

One of the most common needs is receiving help to obtain VA and other government services.

“At the end of the day, it feels good when you help veterans fill out their paperwork because it’s very frustrating,” said John Callahan, a DAV service officer and retired Navy master chief. “Everyone knows about the VA administration and their paperwork.”

DeAvilla, a veteran of both Vietnam and the Gulf War, found himself in similar need following his retirement from the Navy after 20 years in 1991.

He was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and various physical ailments, which hindered his transition to the civilian workforce. Out of answers, he went to DAV Chapter 47 and was guided through the sea of paperwork.

He ultimately received additional benefits after the VA rated him “100 percent unemployable.”

He’s felt indebted to the DAV ever since and has been involved with Chapter 47 since 1994. He is one of four volunteer service officers assisting veterans.

“They were such a great help for me in my life that I decided I would give back,” DeAvilla said.

The group is looking for more volunteers, including van drivers.

Through work study, college students help in the office by answering phone calls, scheduling van rides and other tasks.

In 2014, service officers at DAV Chapter 47 helped 563 veterans with 1,730 hours of service. The roundtrip van service was used by 738 riders.

The longtime home of Whidbey’s DAV chapter was the Seaplane Base at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station until  last year when the group could no longer remain there rent free.

The VFW opened its doors to the DAV, which is able to pay a share of utilities and other minimal costs.

To reach DAV Chapter 47, call 360-682-2945.