Matt Hopper

Matt Hopper, a military man like his father, served in the U.S. Marines during a time period that left him ineligible for membership in the American Legion. The Chillicothe, Missouri, man looks forward to formation of the Livingston County Veterans Association.

The calendar, along with the federal tax code, played a joke on Matt Hopper.

His service in the U.S. Marines began on Aug. 1, 1984. The membership eligibility for the American Legion, for wartime involvement in Grenada and Lebanon, ended on July 31, 1984.

But for that one day, the Chillicothe veteran could have belonged to the Legion, an organization that suits his inclination to continue serving beyond his military days.

“It was just neatly in a gap,” Hopper said. “As a veteran, you always want to belong and go back to that brotherhood. I could come and sit in the meetings, but I couldn’t be a part of it.”

The inequity of this, the badgering quirk of the 501(c)(19) tax status, does not sit well with some veterans, including those with full membership in groups governed by these strictures.

How do you fight such a thing? In Chillicothe, they found a way.

Keep in mind that the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations in this city have long had a close bond. A fire robbed the VFW of its building several decades ago, making it a tenant at the Vernon R. Glick Legion Post 25 on Washington Avenue.

They’ve worked together, too, in creating and maintaining the Veterans’ Memorial at the county courthouse, in addition to combining on honor guards at local ceremonies and staffing a food booth at the Chillicothe Chautauqua in the Park.

In larger fashion, they’ve teamed to undertake a new organization known as the Livingston County Veterans Association and raise funds, $1 million-plus, for a new building a few blocks to the south.

The group, formed under the more inclusive 501(c)(3) nonprofit guidelines, has adopted a shorthand name: LICOVA.

“Livingston County Veterans Association, that’s a mouthful,” said Larry Warren, a retired Air Force colonel and treasurer of the LICOVA board of directors.

Warren said local veterans have been pondering a way to replace the Legion post for about 10 or 15 years. “Utility costs are growing ever higher because it’s an old building,” he said.

Army veteran George Laprade, a Massachusetts native, came to the city in 1978 and liked it so much that he never left. He concedes, though, “The building has served well, but it’s outdated. … It’s time to move on.”

A modest structure would have sufficed, Warren said, but the sights got set higher when Main Street Chillicothe, a community improvement and economic development partnership, offered its encouragement.

A grant came to the veterans for an architectural plan. The fund drive operated quietly at first and just recently went to the broader public.

“It’s taken a while. Things don’t just happen overnight,” Benny Simpson, recent commander of the Roy L. Burkett VFW Post 858, said, noting that the current organizations would remain intact.

Each has a range of service endeavors, from Legion baseball and Boys and Girls State to the VFW’s Voice of Democracy. Both groups distribute scholarships.

“We’ll still be the American Legion and VFW, but it will include those guys that can’t be part of either one of them,” Simpson said.

This latter reason holds special meaning for those involved in LICOVA.

“We want to open it up to these guys. I’ve always felt that veterans are veterans,” Laprade said of those excluded from the organizations.

“They said, we’ll do what my country asks me, and I’ll do my job to the best of my ability. They were willing to go everywhere, and for years, they couldn’t belong to anywhere.”

Order ruled their military lives. Now, veterans in Chillicothe have become conversant with nuances of the tax code. Regular group meetings have been supplemented with get-togethers with accountants and lawyers.

They see it as worth the effort, setting things right with all comrades and leaving behind something for the community and future veterans.

Ken Newton can be reached at ken.newton@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.