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DAV commander details how local group helps veterans
Newton-Rockdale DAV members
Raising the flag on the memorial flagpole for fellow Newton-Rockdale DAV member Bobby Huggins in 2020 are, from left, Jeff Smith, Joseph May and Morris Draper. (Special | Linda Jones)

COVINGTON, Ga. — “Disabled” can refer to more than physical injuries for membership in the local chapter of Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

In fact, the organization is open to “any man or woman, who was wounded, gassed, injured or disabled in the line of duty during time of war, while in the service of either the military or naval forces of the (U.S.), and who has not been dishonorably discharged or separated from such service, or who may still be in active service in the armed forces ...,” according to information from the organization.

Newton County resident Jeff Smith, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, is commander of Newton-Rockdale Chapter 55 of the DAV. He leads its monthly meetings on the second Saturday of the month at 2 p.m. at a conference room at the Newton County Sheriff’s Office headquarters on Alcovy Road.

Smith said members also meet at the main station of the Covington Fire Department on Pace Street near the Covington Square Wednesdays to offer their experience free of charge to help veterans maneuver through the paperwork needed to apply for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

He said the DAV helps veterans with VA applications because the federal agency’s “information is terrible” and hard for the average veteran to understand.

“Dealing with the VA can be a little difficult,” Smith said.

The local chapter, which boasts 400 members, also offers a variety of free services in an effort to help area disabled veterans.

Its members provide free transportation to veterans needing rides to the VA Hospital in Decatur. In some instances, it will help a veteran with a utility bill, Smith said.

Chapter volunteers even helped renovate an elderly veteran’s bathroom to make it wheelchair accessible, he said.

“It’s a very active chapter,” Smith said.

Its main source of funds is direct donations — which its members currently are seeking during business hours outside the Conyers location of Golden Corral restaurant.

The DAV also provides “a structure through which disabled veterans can express their compassion for their fellow veterans through a variety of volunteer programs.”

Smith said the DAV works to help any “veteran in need” — from those still suffering the after-effects of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam in the 1960s and ‘70s, to those suffering from exposure to toxins from burn pits used for waste disposal at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan 40 years later.

He gave the example of Navy veterans who may have suffered hearing loss from serving on an aircraft carrier’s extremely noisy flight deck during a time when ear protection was not commonly used.

According to Smith, who served a tour in Vietnam in 1968-69, said the organization works with Covington VA Clinic on Eagle Drive to help sick veterans and those trying to avoid sickness by getting vaccinated, he said. DAV members made juice and crackers available to veterans who received the COVID vaccine from the clinic, he said.

Members also work to help some veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a mental health issue veterans can suffer from after experiencing a traumatic event like serving in combat or being assaulted.

Smith is retired from the material handling industry and moved to Georgia in the 1990s. He volunteered for the Navy and served four years, including two years in Vietnam where he developed PTSD.

He said mental health professionals can assist PTSD sufferers in some cases, but talking with other veterans who may also be suffering with it also can help, Smith said.

“Only veterans can understand a veteran’s situation,” he said.

The disorder affects from 11% to 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, about 12% of Gulf War veterans, and 15% of Vietnam veterans, according to statistics from the DAV.

Smith said the local chapter is always seeking new members. For more information, call 678-313-7881 or visit