Saying they’d rather not lose the war over one battle, the Gainesville chapter of the Disabled American Veterans has decided to pay some $10,250 to the state chapter of the DAV.
The decision seemingly ends a monthslong struggle that jeopardized the group’s charter, but chapter commander Sam Smith said they aren’t done standing up for their beliefs.
“Regardless of the outcome of this vote this evening, this issue will not go away,” Smith said.
Local members of the group met Thursday night in the Army Reserve Training Center, debating for an hour whether they should back down.
Already in the last six months, the group had voted six times to keep 90 percent of the money.
The state chapter had demanded 50 percent of the proceeds from a two-week fundraiser last November at local Golden Corral restaurants. Locals believe they were only required to give the state chapter 10 percent of the $20,500 they collected.
According to an official with the national organization, the two-week fundraiser is a nationwide event. State chapters have discretion when choosing what percentage of proceeds from that fundraiser must be shared with the state organization.
During any other fundraiser, local chapters are required to share only 10 percent.
Ed Hartman, the inspector general for the national organization of Disabled American Veterans, said the Gainesville chapter is one of 1,500 that refused to pay what its state chapter required.
For its refusal, the group has been suspended from activity since December. If it didn’t change its tune by the end of the month, it was certain to lose its charter.
And that was the factor that most members feared. Losing their charter seemed to mean losing their voice and their ability to help veterans.
“For your voice to be heard, you’ve got to be off suspension,” said Glenn Martin, a Vietnam veteran from Marietta who is the senior vice commander of the state organization.
Martin was the only attendee from the state organization at Thursday’s meeting.
But he said he spoke from his heart — not on the behalf of the state — when he offered the locals a “whether you like it or not” scenario.
And after he spoke, another Vietnam veteran, James Gilmer, from the local chapter, stood and said the rogue chapter’s strategy for fighting the establishment would leave it powerless in its efforts to help veterans.
He said the group would have to fight for change from within the system, perhaps encouraging others to support it at the state convention of Disabled American Veterans this summer.
“We’re going to have to stay in order so we can go to the state convention,” where, by some chance, the group might convince other local organizations to support it, Gilmer said.
The group’s chaplain, too, called for a concession.
“We drew a line in the sand, we took a position. ...” said Bryan Bordelon. “We’re at the point of the battle where it looks bad. We have one decision, and that’s to save this charter.”
Bordelon said it was the only move that would allow the group to continue serving veterans.
“We miss the big picture if we fail to keep this chapter going,” he said.
Bordelon seconded Gilmer’s motion to send the state a check for half the November proceeds.
While nearly all voted to send the check to the state chapter, there were a few holdouts. One was Danny Harris.
He stood in the back of the room, and talked about the time and the effort that the local members expended on the 14-day fundraiser, what he said was the clear language of the organization’s constitution and fairness.
“It’s not fair,” he said.
Harris was one of three who held on to the previous battle strategy. He worried that if the group did keep its charter for the convention, its voices still might not be heard.
But another veteran from Marietta said there were plenty of other chapters that were in the same boat.
And no one seemed ready to concede completely.
“We know damn well that they’re wrong,” said George Finch, a World War II veteran and an officer in the local chapter.
But a court battle against the national organization could keep the group in limbo for months, Finch said, and the group wouldn’t be able to help veterans in the meantime.
“Let’s not lose the war, because of one battle,” he said.