A group of veterans works year-round to give back to their community and now, they need the community to step up for them.
Curtis R. Millner, Sr., adjutant with American Legion Homer Dillard Post #78, said recent flooding washed out portions of the post home’s parking lot. It is not an uncommon occurrence and has happened at least on four other occasions over the past several years.
The flooding situation along Jordan Creek (between Carver Road and Creekside Drive in the Fieldale community “has been a problem for years and doesn’t seem correctable,” Millner said.
“The only feasible solution seems to be for us to pave the parking lot. Therein lies the problem” he said. “We don’t have the money since we are a small, tax-exempt, veterans’ organization.”
Although he was unable to quickly find the correspondence, Millner said “We have attempted to apply for a grant from the Harvest Foundation but were turned down because we are a 501(c) 19 organization, and our membership is restricted to veterans only.”
While the foundation “does not comment publicly on its grant decisions unless it’s announcing a grant or funding to benefit the Martinsville-Henry County community,” Latala Payne Hodges, director of communications, said it “does everything possible to abide by IRS (Internal Revenue Services) rules because” doing otherwise would hinder its ability to make grants.
Additionally, “Harvest does everything possible to mitigate conflict of interest among its staff and board of directors, although that can be difficult in a close-knit community,” Hodges said. “It’s common practice for applicants to work directly with staff so trustees and/or members of the board of directors are able to make the best decisions to benefit the communities they serve.”
“This is an IRS rule,” Millner said. “We feel that if this is true, then the rule needs to be changed since it is discriminatory against veterans,” what veterans have done in the past and are presently doing.
The designation mirrors those of “fraternities, sororities, and stuff like that. Whoever wrote this up or figured this out, evidently don’t understand what we do as an American Legion organization,” he added.
The American Legion was organized in 1919 in Paris, France, at the end of WWII. It is the world’s largest veteran organization, Millner said. The local Homer Dillard Post was organized in 1931.
Currently, the post has 182 members, “but we have been up to a high of 241,” Millner said. “Since we’re not involved in war, membership has fallen off. The average age of our members is 70. Young guys don’t see a need until they start having health issues later in life and realize it’s possibly connected to” their military service.
The post was founded on 4 Pillars: Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation; National Security; Americanism, and Children & Youth, Millner said. “Each of these pillars encompasses a variety of programs that benefit our nation’s veterans, its service members, their families, the youth of America, and ordinary citizens.
“Our Number 1 obligation is to take care of our own, and the second is we realize the youth are our future, so we do extensive work with the youth,” he said.
Specifically, post members work to provide a decent and honorable burial for veterans. Millner estimated post members account for 70 percent of the Martinsville Henry County Honor Guard members.
“We feel that the last thing you can do for a veteran is give them a proper burial,” Millner said, and the post members participate in 250 burials a year, whether playing “Taps,” presenting the 21-Gun Salute, or both.
Members also provide in church/chapel funeral services for members and pallbearers, if requested; assist veterans with transportation to medical appointments & the VA clinics/hospitals; provide flag etiquette classes to area elementary schools, with 10 this year; provide flag retirement ceremonies, (in conjunction with the JROTC); and send area students to Boys State, Girls State, and the Junior Law Cadet Program.
“We provide scholarships for local area high school students, we conduct four Fish Fry events annually to raise funds to support our programs and as a way of giving back to our community,” Millner said, and added the post also conducts an annual Veterans Day Banquet, and it supports the Henry County Schools Army JROTC Program.
In fact, Millner said he believes “the contributions that our organization is making to the community and youth more than qualify us for a grant.”
He said the group has received several estimates for the paving work, and $45,000 is the lowest estimate so far.
“We have appealed to the Harvest Board with no response, and” as well as to now former Del. Les Adams, and 9th District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffin “with no response. We have also solicited an attorney but have not heard back,” Millner said.
“We know that there are other grants available, but it requires us finding and hiring a grant writer,” another cost the post cannot afford, Millner said. “We wanted to appeal to the public for help in this situation.”
Ideally, the organization would be eligible for help from an individual or a local entity, Millner said.
“We have grant money available locally, so we shouldn’t have to go through all this to get somebody to give us a grant,” he said. “The rules need to be changed to allow us the same access as every other organization in Martinsville and Henry County.”