ROGERSVILLE — Several Hawkins County veterans spoke Monday evening in opposition to an attempt by a handful of county commissioners to replace the longtime veterans services officer with a younger veteran.
Among the reasons mentioned by commissioners Monday for wanting to replace 69-year-old Vietnam veteran Danny Breeding were his age, the fact that he ran for county mayor in 2018, and a desire to give a younger veteran an opportunity to do the job.
Following a lengthy, and at times heated discussion, Breeding was approved for a fourth four-year term by a vote of 15-6.
Every four years, the VSO comes up for reappointment by the county commission.
On Monday, however, Commissioner Danny Alvis nominated 32-year-old Heath Lafollette, an Afghanistan veteran, which was seconded by Commissioner Charlie Thacker.
Vets speak in support of Breeding
Tammy Collins, who is a wife and daughter of war veterans, was the first of several people to speak in favor of reappointing Breeding.
“He is very experienced and has done a phenomenal job at fighting for our veterans’ rights and benefits. At a time like this in our country, we must have an experienced person to handle these matters. Mr. Breeding is a go-to person who handles our veterans’ medical benefits, disability payments, burial benefits and assisting the family members of our veterans to ensure our veterans and their affairs are taken care of personally.
“He also sees that our veterans are well-educated as to what our government has promised them. It is not to be taken lightly that anyone can do this job. With the multiple agencies and uncountable forms that need to be completed, Mr. Breeding is an asset to this job.”
“Replacing him would delay and hinder veterans getting the care and the guidance they need,” Holt said. “He has gained the trust of us, and that’s not something easily done these days — not only with the county veterans, but he has a rapport with the regional office in Nashville. That means a lot because he knows the people, he knows how to work with them, and to bring somebody else in new at this point would delay and hinder the care that us veterans need.”
Among the other veterans who spoke was Rogersville American Legion Vice Commander Dennis Elkins, who noted that Breeding was responsible for bringing millions of dollars to Hawkins County for Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.
Lafollette addresses commission
Lafollette told commissioners he spent eight years on active duty in the military, 2.5 of which were in Afghanistan.
“There’s a lot of things, after I got out, that I’ve learned with the VA and stuff like that,” Lafollette said. “I’ve been through the process too, and I would love to help these guys and do the same, exact thing that Danny has been doing. He’s done a fantastic job. That’s obvious by the guys who are here talking about his character and all that stuff.”
He added, “I know I’m a younger man. I’ve also lived life and been out there deployed as well as these men behind me. ... I know I don’t have the experience like some other people, but if I don’t ever get in here and try, I’ll never have the experience.”
Breeding addresses commission
Breeding said that aside from marrying his wife and having children and grandchildren, serving as Hawkins County’s VSO for the past 12 years has been the highlight of his life.
“Some of you may not realize that when I came into office, the veterans’ benefits were $2.4 million back in 2006-07,” Breeding said. “Today I’m pleased to say that 2016 figure was about $28 million. The office has been very proactive, and with the help of (assistant Brandy Smith) we would like to keep that up.”
Lafollette’s supporters speak out
Among the most vocal in favor of replacing Breeding was Commissioner Rick Brewer, who pointed out Breeding’s age, as well as the fact that he ran for county mayor last year.
“I’m a little bit younger than Danny, but I’m getting some age on me, and there’s going to come a time that I’m not able to do anything anymore,” Brewer said. “There’s going to come a time we’re going to have to step down and let somebody else take over the mantle.”
Brewer added, “What would you guys have done if he’d been elected mayor? You’re going to lose him if he got elected for mayor. You’re going to have to put somebody in here sometime down the road that’s going to be able to work for you, and Mr. Lafollette impressed me immensely when he talked to me. I’m not saying he’s going to come in and know everything. You’ve got to give everybody an opportunity to learn the job.
“Mr. Breeding was willing to walk away from his job, or he wouldn’t have ever run to start with.”
Commissioner Hannah Speaks said she supported replacing Breeding with Lafollette because she has been in the latter’s shoes, “trying to break into these roles in this county where it has been the same people for many years.”
Vote falls in Breeding’s favor
Some veterans suggested that it was ridiculous at this time to replace an experienced person who has the unwavering support of the veterans — unless there was a political motivation.
A video of the sometimes heated debate, including a blowup between Brewer and veteran and former Commissioner Frankie Davis can be viewed in the online version of this story.
Breeding was reappointed by a vote of 15-6. The commissioners who supported Lafollette included Brewer, Speaks, Alvis, Thacker, Tom Kern and Syble Vaughan-Trent.