Rossville resident Larry Hester is no longer enrolled in the military, but he still fights for his comrades.
This year to date, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3679 service officer has diligently enrolled 43 veterans in Department of Veterans Affairs benefits ranging from $160 up to $2,900 per month. The allotment assists veterans in need of medical or psychiatric care.
"We have 700,000-plus veterans in Georgia," said Hester, who served in the U.S. Marines for four years. "Our biggest problem is most of these veterans never go to the VA. The local veterans need to get enrolled in [VA] benefits. I can enroll them through paperwork."
He said for the service-connected veteran, 30 percent or more get free medicine and free medical care.
"I'm a volunteer and the VA's worst enemy," said Hester, adding that he has been volunteering to enroll veterans since 2003. "We help a lot of veterans and widows of veterans."
He said the VA hospitals provide much better care than veterans received 40 years ago. He said doctors from Emory and Vanderbilt hospitals treat patients in Georgia and Tennessee. An outpatient clinic in Brainerd also assists veterans.
"Every veteran is entitled to enroll in the VA and every veteran should, whether they need medical care or not," said Hester. "If all 700,000 veterans enrolled in the VA system in Georgia a lot more money would come into Georgia to treat veterans."
He personally enrolled in VA benefits in 1972. Since he is a service-connected veteran who was wounded, he receives 100 percent of the available benefits, or $2,900 per month. As a sergeant in the 2nd Battalion 9th Marines serving 11 months and 20 days in Vietnam, Hester was shot in the rear end while shielding his corpsman.
Hester is a member of the VFW, Purple Heart Service Foundation, American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, which all go to Washington, D.C., before Congress to fight for veterans to continue to keep their benefits.
"We don't have many young veterans in the VFW," said Hester, adding that he wishes more would become members. "We are family-friendly. We don't serve alcohol at our VFW Post. We do cookouts the third Saturday of the month in Murfreesboro to feed veterans at the VA hospital. That's why we have bingo here, to fund projects like that."
He said veterans should be recognized because they fought for the freedom that people hold dear today.
"When veterans come in here to enroll in VA benefits, I get satisfaction knowing I helped a veteran," said Hester. "I'm here at Post 3679 every Thursday. I need a copy of a veteran's DD-214. For veterans' widows seeking assistance, I need a marriage certificate, DD-214 and a death certificate. Widows get a monthly compensation too if approved."
He said the main thing he wants veterans to know is they don't have to spend Social Security checks on medical bills. The VA provides medical care for veterans. He said Post 3679 builds wheelchair ramps for veterans in need of those as well.
He said once veterans enroll in VA benefits they can also receive an ID card that entitles them to 10 percent off at local participating stores and restaurants.