‘Labor of love,’ vet visits 48 states

Published 10:26 pm Monday, November 28, 2011

Lisa Groves is driving across the country to raise awareness for U.S. veterans. Pictured, from left, are American Legion First Vice Commander Jimmy Beck, Lisa Groves and American Legion Commander Ron Weinmann.

Many U.S. military veterans can tell stories of enduring danger and persecution in the name of serving their country, and for Army veteran Lisa Groves that struggle continues every day as she criss-crosses the country raising awareness for veterans and the issues they continue to face here at home.

Groves is no stranger to the fight to improve services for veterans. After establishing an American Legion post in her hometown of Institute, W.Va., Groves served as the country’s first African American and female commander. In 2009 her efforts were recognized when she received the prestigious Jefferson Award honoring volunteerism in America.

Groves’ latest project for improving awareness of the struggles facing U.S. veterans involves a privately funded trip to all 48 continental states, making stops wherever she sees a veteran in need. So far, Groves said she has been able to advocate for veterans in a variety of tough situations, and has met with some surprising resistance to her efforts.

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“It’s been a struggle,” Groves said. “The city government, the state government, the federal government sometimes turns a blind eye, so maybe they will take notice if somebody goes into these 48 states and gets all of the issues the veterans are facing out there.”

Groves said, in spite of the opposition, she has also been greeted with loving gestures and assistance from complete strangers.
In Oregon, her travel trailer, a 1960s model concessions booth converted into a space to aid veterans, was vandalized to the point it was no longer usable. Before she left the state, Groves said a woman sympathetic to her plight donated a trailer to her free of cost.

In California Groves paused to spend time with a veteran dying of AIDS, a disease he contracted while in the service. Groves said he was receiving only 20 percent disability to aid in financing his medical treatment.

The initial schedule for Groves’ trip, which began Sept. 2 of this year, had a completion date of Dec. 2, but personal hardships, including a break to be with her mother while she was hospitalized with a heart condition and her brother while he underwent surgery, have also delayed her plans. Groves said she is now back on track and plans to finish her tour on Dec. 10 on the steps of the White House in Washington, D.C.

Groves said the initial idea for her journey came from simply wanting to do more to help her fellow veterans.

“It made me sad to see so many veterans falling through the cracks and forgotten,” she said. “I decided to take a stand and do this labor of love of driving 48 USA states for veterans’ awareness.”

Groves has now been to 40 states and paused Monday in Atmore on her way to Mississippi. She said she has a special place in her heart for the community. Her daughter, Trishcelle, who is also a veteran, has lived in Atmore for several years. Groves said in March of this year she was completely taken in by Atmore’s American Legion and VFW posts during a trip to Atmore to visit her Trishcelle, who was preparing to donate a kidney to her ailing stepmother.

American Legion Post 90 Commander Ren Weinmann said Groves’ work to help struggling veterans is what the American Legion and VFW are all about.

“I am very proud of her,” Weinmann said. “I thank God for veterans like her and I wish we had more of them. That’s what the legion’s for. To help other veterans and their families. That’s what we do.”

Groves said organizations like Atmore’s American Legion and VFW posts have made her trip easier to bear.

“They just completely took me in last time I was here,” Groves said. “And that’s important. On this trip I’ve had to sleep in my car and I’ve showered at rest stops.”

As her journey nears completion, Groves said she will continue her efforts to further the cause of supporting veterans. After finishing her trip she plans to begin work on a book about the experience.

Groves’ 48-state tour will come to an end Saturday, Dec. 10, on Pennsylvania Avenue, where she plans to peacefully display a banner listing the many issues facing America’s veterans.