Marine Veteran celebrates pride in service, love and VA health care

Gay Marine Corps Veteran Dave Mapp remembers the day he was told he had 18 months to live after being diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Nine years later, he’s in remission and living proof that anything is possible with a positive attitude… and great health care through VA.

Mapp was a guest during Bay Pines VA’s Pride Month observance, where he spoke about his experiences as a Veteran and as a patient with VA. Although Mapp admits his experiences are not everyone else’s, he’s adamant that “LGBTQ+ Veterans and their dependents are welcome and fully supported by the Bay Pines VA. My husband and I are examples.” 

Pictured above, Tony Buchter (left) and his husband, Marine Corps Veteran Dave Mapp, say the care they have received from VA is second to none, and they value the welcoming, inclusive, safe environment they experience across Bay Pines VA.

“I grew to be optimistic about life and its possibilities.”

“My positivity is the result of a built-in resiliency I gained through being raised in a very tough, nasty world in a very nasty time. As an African American-raised Roman Catholic in a mixed-race family in New York City, I dealt with a lot. I learned to be tough but I also grew to be optimistic about life and its possibilities,” Mapp said.

Unlike his father, who served in the Army band while stationed in Europe, Mapp’s Marine Corps experience was spent stateside supporting the Corps as a supply warehouse worker in the 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, N.C., from 1975-1977.

Although Mapp took pride in the work he was doing to support his fellow Marines, he was struggling personally.

“I came from a world where men who were romantically involved with men were of the lowest class. I was not happy dating women while living a double life of secretly dating men. My emotions led me to feelings of depression and lack of self-worth, in addition to worrying about what others would think of me and what life had in store for me moving forward,” he said. “While I don’t speak on behalf of all gay black men, my coming out experience as an African American was deeply challenging. Racial issues, family dynamics, social expectations, and the hatred and bias facing African Americans daily all made my coming out experience more difficult, painful and deeply challenging to grow, liberate myself and find my freedom on my own terms.”

As he’d always done, Mapp turned to positivity

Mapp earned a Master of Arts in career development from John F. Kennedy University in California and another Master of Arts in psychology with a focus on marriage and family therapy from Chapman University. His pursuit of education allowed him to provide vocational rehabilitation counseling services and program management to Veterans, homeless people, immigrants, prisoners, women on welfare with dependent children and other diverse populations.

“The most rewarding part of the work was witnessing any improvement in the quality of life for others and in helping to save lives from threats of suicide and harm to others,” he said.

In November 2016, Mapp’s positivity sparked the start of his happiest moment… on a coffee date. “Tony and I hit it off from the start, and 18 months later we got married. Tony is the love of my life. He makes me laugh and he is my safe place to land,” he said.

Mapp added that he often gets nervous when he goes back for his remission check-ups, but that he’s able to walk hand-in-hand with Tony who keeps him on track.

“I never had any expectation that gay marriage would be legal. The legalization of gay marriage has helped me to feel greater self-worth, pride and elation that my relationship matters. While receiving care at Bay Pines VA, I have experienced the enormous benefits of dedicated staff and a loving husband who is allowed to be an active and legal part of my health care decisions.”

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