Albert J. Brown Jr. knows firsthand the healing power of fellowship.
After the former airborne infantryman retired from the Army, a representative from The American Legion in 1991 helped start the process to get him approved for 100-percent disability with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Vietnam veteran had claims related to Agent Orange, post-traumatic stress disorder and a knee replacement he needed because of a grenade injury.
“I struggled through the process at first, but eventually got myself together,” Brown, 66, said Thursday during a three-day service campaign being held at American Legion Post 178 in south Augusta. “My job now is to help veterans.”
Dozens of veterans attended the event for the same level of support Brown received more than 20 years ago.
National and state teams from The American Legion were available to discuss veteran’s benefits, community service opportunities and local posts they could join near their homes.
The session will continue through Saturday as part of a five-year plan by The American Legion to increase enrollment and improve the level of service its 12 Georgia districts provide members in the years leading up to its 100th anniversary in 2019.
Lynne Rollins, commander of The American Legion’s Georgia Department, said 11 districts have held kick-off events to support the plan and that 2,705 letters were sent to Augusta members informing them of the community event, which includes an Open House for all area veterans with claims or questions on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m.
“We are trying to do a more community-based approach that’s a lot more efficient in helping our members,” she said. “By doing this, we’re keeping members’ dues at the local level, instead of sending into national funds.”
Records show the Legion has 42,749 traditional members statewide enrolled in posts and 3,276 members enrolled online or by mail who have not been assigned a specific post.
The organization, which spearheaded the original GI Bill, has been advocating reform of the veteran’s health care system and is the largest provider to the state’s blood supply. In Augusta, it donated music equipment to wounded warriors at Fort Gordon on Thursday.
“A lot of veterans live in outlying areas and some are pretty private about their service careers,” said Pat Garrett, commander of Carter Burdell Hagler Post 178 on Richmond Hill Road. “We want to give them an advocate who can help (them) feel more comfortable so they can seek assistance when they need it.”
Brown has held Legion memberships in Indiana and Pennsylvania, and signed up for another in Augusta Thursday.
After serving 26 ½ years in the Army and another 20 as a vocational and rehabilitation specialist with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Brown said having someone who can relate to him is a valuable tool.
“Having someone there for you, who you can always pick up the phone and call to talk to is a huge help,” he said.