Mother, Warrior, Advocate
Naomi Mathis was a 23-year-old single mother when she left her job as an administrative assistant and enlisted in the Air Force. She was looking for a career that would provide security for her kids and give her a sense of purpose, which is exactly what she found through service to her country. But after three deployments—two to Kuwait and one to Baghdad—war had taken its toll on her.
Haunted by the sounds of bombs and gunfire, and the grief of losing friend and colleague Staff Sergeant Patrick Griffin Jr. who was killed in a convoy, Mathis found transitioning to civilian life to be a daunting experience; she felt lost outside of her military life.
“I began to feel like I didn’t belong in my own skin,” says Mathis. “I started hearing booms that didn’t exist, seeing tracer rounds that weren’t there. I was very fearful for my children and their safety, but I wasn’t really being very empathetic with them on much of anything. I wasn’t able to connect with them anymore.”
She began looking for a job that was in the government sector. She needed security for her kids and felt that working for the government would provide that. But it wasn’t until Mathis began working as a benefits advocate with DAV that she truly felt she could be a mom again. She realized she could make a profound difference in the lives of her fellow veterans, helping them receive the benefits they’ve earned.
“I love when someone says, ‘You haven’t seen this one before.’ I take the stance of, not only have I seen it, I’ve lived it. Now let’s get you through it. I can help walk you through this mess,’” says Mathis. “It gives me a chance to encourage them too. There’s been many tears shed in my office.”
Through her work with DAV, Mathis helps members who are fresh out of military service as well as veterans who have been out for a while and still need assistance in filing for benefits, and that’s meaningful to her.
“This means the world to me,” says Mathis. “I’m a Puerto Rican combat veteran from New York. Whether it be a World War II veteran that needs an increase in his evaluation for hearing loss, a 40-year-old retiree that worked behind a desk their whole military career, or a 21-year-old Afghanistan War veteran that stepped on a landmine and is missing both of her legs—DAV is us!”
For Mathis, paying it forward to her fellow veterans and their families is what matters.
“There is nothing better than being involved in an organization whose sole function is to make sure that I am able to continue on, to take care of my family and really see that come around full circle,” she said. “To be able to help the widow of the man who was killed on our convoy, and help her understand her benefits. That’s so powerful. That’s what I want people to know, that, with DAV, it works.”