Larry Hester has a personal mission to improve benefits for veterans. He works at that task one veteran at a time.
Each Thursday, unless it's a holiday, he sets up a table and chair at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3679 in Rossville just to answer questions.
And wherever Hester goes, he asks the people he meets if they have a veteran connection.
"My big mouth is a lot of it," he said. "Every time I see a veteran I ask them if they're enrolled in the [Veterans Administration system]."
The Vietnam War veteran wants to help fellow veterans, but he's got another motive -- increasing how seriously those in Washington, D.C., treat veterans benefits.
"You know how the bean counters are in Washington," he said. "If there's 25 million veterans and only 5 million enrolled, that's all they'll budget for."
Hester refers to the VA enrollment requirement, which he advocates all veterans do and update annually, whether or not they have a disability.
Since 2002, he's helped veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan file paperwork with the VA. He said he's no longer surprised at how little the vets know about their benefits.
Doyle Mashburn, 60, filed with the VA a few years ago with Hester's help. He had dealt with his Vietnam-related disability long before he filed.
"Every veteran should be enrolled in the VA," he said.
Two words described how much information Mashburn said he received about VA benefits after he left the Army in 1973 -- absolutely none.
Veterans with service-connected disabilities may be eligible for medical care and compensation. Living relatives may be entitled to funeral costs for a deceased veteran. Unemployed veterans may be eligible for job training programs.
Hester discusses the veteran's service and shares the appropriate paperwork, helping the veteran find out what documents are needed to file a claim.
Soon he'll finish training that will allow him to file claims by computer for veterans.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...