Missoula Veteran Dedicates Life to Vet Rights - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Missoula Veteran Dedicates Life to Vet Rights

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MISSOULA -

The Fourth of July is a holiday when we as Americans celebrate our independence and remember what it took for our country to gain the rights and freedoms we value.

Throughout July, ABC FOX MONTANA will share the stories of hometown heroes, who go above and beyond to make a difference in their communities.

Dan Gallagher left his family's farm in Charlo at the age of 18 to join the Army as a combat engineer in the Vietnam War.

It was in the highlands of Vietnam where Gallagher saw the human destruction war can cause -- scenes he said he'll never forget.

"Kids with stumps… where a foot used to be, where they'd stepped on a mine," Gallagher said.

When he returned to the U.S., Gallagher said he and his fellow servicemen were greeted only with hostility from war protesters, who called the soldiers "baby killers."

He explained, "You cannot go and commit yourself to war and to the mindset that goes with fighting a war, come back to polite society and fit in, it just… you can't do it."

Gallagher said the return to civilian life took a toll on his mental health.

"I became withdrawn into myself, there was depression, there was all the problems that go with PTSD," he said.

With the help of a friend who was a prisoner of war in World War II, Gallagher slowly opened back up to society.

"All of a sudden you're talking about things you thought only you suffered from, and you realize others have the same issues," Gallagher said.

Gallagher has since dedicated his life to helping veterans receive the support and services they need to recover after war. Today, he said veterans young and old struggle to obtain the federal benefits they're promised by the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and if they do, it can take years.

"And, I don't know if the American people are aware of that, if they are, they should be outraged," he said.

Gallagher works with American Legion Post 101 and other veterans groups to raise public awareness -- and inspire action -- to help veterans receive the support they deserve. He's also taken part in public service announcements, encouraging veterans to get the help they need if they're suffering from PTSD.

"If you can change, I guess just one life, or help one life, that's pretty damn good in it of itself," Gallagher said.

Gallagher's son, Colin, said, "A lot of people would consider it volunteer, but I think for him it's really about passion."

Gallagher's family members said his efforts become evident when community members approach Gallagher after he speaks at a Veterans' or Memorial Day event.

"More than anything, they want to tell him thank you for dealing with all the issues around it," Colin added.

Colin's younger son, Brian, said, "Walking in the mall, or downtown, people will come up and say thank you, and these are people I've never met and he may not even know."

"He just embraces the community, and he makes everyone feel welcome," said Kiley, one of Gallagher's granddaughters.

Gallagher said his work in Missoula is only a small part of what needs to be done across the country to ensure veterans receive their rights. But, he says he'll continue his efforts, no matter how small the reward.

Last year, Gallagher earned the Jeanette Rankin Peacemaker Award for his efforts to bridge the gap between veterans and peace activists in Missoula.

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