A Friend Upon Whom Other Vets May Rely
As a Vietnam veteran and retired Tinker Air Force base toolmaker, Dale Graham could easily have chosen to spend the days enjoying the peace of his rural Washington home, surrounded by his wife, Barbara, their children and nine grandchildren.
Instead, he’s up and working from dawn to dark, seven days a week, on behalf of his fellow brothers and sisters in arms, showing all the determination you’d expect from a former Marine who spent 13 months of his life in the notorious DMZ.
As an accredited veterans’ benefits claim processor, in 2002 he founded the Dale K. Graham Veterans Corner, one of the most successful veterans’ assistance programs in the country. Working at no charge to vets and their dependents, Graham advises them on what types of benefits they’re eligible for, helps them collect all the proper documentation needed to support their claims, ensures that everything is being presented exactly as required, and then acts as their power of attorney moving forward.
Dale Graham Veterans Corner frequently pays the costs for necessary psychological and medical evaluations for those who can’t afford it. Aided by a small army of volunteers, Graham also supervises the other side of the organization, which provides all types of tangible daily living assistance to veterans. This includes everything from food, rent and utilities to transportation to doctors’ appointments, medical equipment and suicide prevention counseling. In all, his group provides approximately $30,000 worth of assistance each month to local veterans. And Graham makes all this happen without charging them a penny.
Graham has a phenomenal record of success, with vets and their families receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in approved benefits each month. Last year, he helped veterans to claim more than $25 million in earned benefits. That’s why it’s no surprise that within the last several years veterans from around the country have begun flying in to seek his expertise.
“I estimate I’m now power of attorney for some 6,000 to 7,000 people, and we’ve helped around 35,000 or so since I started doing this in 2002,” he said. Graham also regularly travels around the country, speaking to groups who are trying to begin similar programs in their own communities. (Anyone wishing information about the organization can visit dalekgrahamveteranscorner.org.)
Graham credits his high level of success to his own personal battle, when he began trying to obtain benefits to treat eye injuries he suffered in combat. “I learned the ropes for myself over 20 years of being turned down,” he said. “I learned how to deal with the system and how to present what they want in the way that they want it.”
Many of the vets he helps also have been denied for years. “I’m mad at ‘em,” Graham says, speaking of the VA. “They were denying people’s claims and denying mine, and the more I messed with it, the more I understood ‘em. By 1995, I had figured them out.”
Raised in the Dibble/Blanchard area, where he graduated from Dibble High School in 1965, Graham tested for all four branches of the service, choosing the Marines simply because “They let me leave the fastest. I was able to ship out the very next day.” His decision to serve, even knowing he would be in harm’s way, isn’t surprising, given that his father was a decorated veteran who fought in World War II. Graham’s younger brothers would go on to enter the military as well, one in the Marines and another in the Air Force. (Wife Barbara also has 10 brothers, all of whom served in the military.)
Reflecting on the return home after his tour of duty, Graham said it was incredibly difficult to be yanked literally from a combat zone back to the United States with no time to psychologically adjust, only to be greeted by the turbulence of the anti-war movement.
“When we came back, we weren’t heroes. People called you ‘baby killer’ and spat on you,’” he said. “It’s the reason I do what I do today, to give the vets a better welcome home than we got.
“I’ve got the best job in town,” he said. “Money-wise, we’re making a big impact in Oklahoma, which is very satisfying. But I tell people it’s a pretty good feeling to go into a Baptist church and see 150 vets sitting there, from WWII to young men and women, who just got back. I just do this because people need help, and I can help ’em.”