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Vets group offers a cultural identity

NABVETS helps blacks and all veterans navigate VA claims

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In America, the needs of veterans - particularly disabled veterans - and their dependents are covered 100 percent by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  True or false?  False - according to Lloyd Burrows and Harvey Brooks of the National Association for Black Veterans, Inc. (aka NABVETS).

"That is a myth ... . People think if you're a veteran," Burrows said, "the Department of Veterans will take care of all your needs and those of your dependents.

"However, the Department of Veterans Affairs is only for veterans," he explained. "That's the way it began and the way it is." A membership service organization, NABVETS helps veterans file their claims and weed through the bureaucratic process, according to Brooks. "We help clear roadblocks," he said.

NABVETS is a VA certified national veterans' service organization dedicated to helping veterans but particularly blacks and members of other minority groups including women. Burrows is the state commander and Brooks the regional director.

"We deal with all veterans; we fight for all veterans," said Brooks, 65, who is a Vietnam War veteran and served nine years in the Air Force.

"It doesn't matter; if you're a veteran, we will service you," said Burrows, who served in the Army for 23 years. "We will do whatever we can to make sure you get the proper treatment as well as available help from the VA."

NABVETS is an organization that offers a cultural identity, according to Brooks. "If someone looks like you, someone comes from your background, somebody understands where you came from - they feel it's a lot easier to talk to these people that are representing them," he explained. "Unlike someone they don't have a real connection to."

Minority groups need special attention, according to Burrows, because they are not 100 percent equal in the military. "We understand that people of color are basically not treated quite the same," he said. "We have to make sure things are done on an even keel.

"We do whatever we can to make sure veterans get the proper treatment," he added.

NABVETS' emphasis is on younger veterans who are on active duty as well as those recently separated. Its mission is "creating positive lifestyles for veterans, their families and the community."

Brooks said the organization also focuses on homeless veterans and is currently attempting to get the requirements for receiving benefits through the VA changed as one must come to an office and file a claim in person.

"We need to help homeless vets and come to them," he said. "The paradigm needs to change."

Since 2000, NABVETS has helped veterans in this state get $8 million in aid, according to Brooks.

The organization lobbies for veterans as well encouraging veteran friendly legislation, according to Burrows. A current priority, he said, is to reduce property taxes for 100 percent disabled veterans. 

NABVETS Tacoma, located at 5515 Steilacoom Blvd. in Lakewood, formed in 2003 and has about 135 members, Brooks said. The Tacoma chapter is just one of five in Washington.

NABVETS started nearly four decades ago as Interested Veterans of the Central City by seven veterans returning to Milwaukee, Wis. To this day it takes seven people to start a NABVETS chapter, according to Burrows. Currently, there are 32 chapters in America. The organization's goal is to have a state department and command council in every state and every city with a population of 250,000 or more, according to Brooks.

For more information about the NABVETS organization, visit To reach the Tacoma chapter, call (253) 582-0895.

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