FLINT, Michigan — Set back off the road with a large swathe of lawn in front of it, it is easy to miss VFW Post 2777 driving down Belsay Road in Burton. But it is impossible to ignore the services and support the organization provides for veterans in Flint and beyond.
Homelessness among veterans is a major problem all over the country, but it is particularly rampant in Flint and Genesee County. About 12 percent of all homeless people are estimated to be veterans, and agencies in Genesee County have long believed that the percentage is even higher.
Years ago, the VFW post was bustling, with many members aging, but still very active. Today, things are far different. The VFW Post seems nearly empty most of the time. The hall echoes when I call out to alert everyone of my presence there, and lately, the “everyone” turns out to be a noticeably tired and busy Gary Burns.
Burns, Commander of VFW Post 2777, is a 22-year Army Infantry Veteran and holder of both the Purple Heart and the Meritorious Service medals. He has been involved with the Clark Durocher Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2777 for eight years with six of those years being an elected Post Commander For the past several years, he’s been performing the duties of nearly eight people.
VFW Post 2777 is named the Clark Durocher Post. The land and buildings were originally the property of the American Legion. The American Legion, in turn, donated the property and buildings to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Once filled with members, the post now struggles to keep up with its various projects due to lack of attendance.
The post joins other VFW posts around the nation to give veterans a voice in the government. For example, they’ve used their voices in the Burn Pit Bill in which personnel was exposed to burning debris resulting in exposure to toxic materials. Also, the Blue Water Bill which addressed Agent Orange exposure resulting in health effects, including cancer, lung disease, and organ failure.
VFW Post 2777 offers access to career training through an apprenticeship program. The post also assists veterans in accessing resources for transportation, food, housing, and medical and mental health needs They work in Flint and surrounding areas to do blood drives, with the Veterans Administration to ensure veterans are always supported, and with “My Brother’s Keeper” to help homeless veterans find shelter.
Additionally, VFW Post 2777 contributes with other posts to several scholarships for colleges, teachers/instructors, and Scouting organizations.
Volunteers and supporters make a huge difference when it comes to providing veteran services.
However, the many programs that the VFW Post 2777 provides and supports are coming closer every day to being lost to those who need them most and at a time when they are most necessary.
Many veterans are getting older and less active or dying. Younger veterans who are in careers or have families don’t always have time for volunteerism or the income to donate and support programs. Many simply just don’t know about the organization and the role it plays in veterans’ affairs.
“A lot of veterans don’t know they’re eligible,” Burns said. “There are several problems. There’s a stereotype of the VFW membership being a bunch of old men sitting around playing poker, drinking, and reliving their ‘glory days’ in their respective services. This stereotype ignores the fact that these are a group of military supporters. Individuals who have served, and therefore have a special understanding of others’ service and the adjustments that people must face when retiring or stepping away from the military.”
People can also volunteer even if they aren’t veterans.
“When we’re in the military, we rely on the support of our families, friends, neighbors, and communities,” Burns said. “We rely on that support just as much after we’ve moved back into civilian life. Volunteers are crucial to this support.”
Burns cited a need for veteran military personnel in all VFW posts in order to ensure these programs continue to exist.
“They all need to apply,” he said. “If they’re not eligible for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, there are other veteran-supporting foundations that we can refer them to. There is always a place for a veteran and those who support them.”
For more information, visit the VFW Post 2777’s Facebook page or call (810) 743-4138.