Yarbrough remembered for his dedication to veterans’ issues

Yarbrough remembered for his dedication to veterans’ issues
Tony Yarbrough, left, former chairman of the United Veterans Legislative Council, raises a point at the 2022 symposia in March as chairman Andy LePeilbet looks on. Steve Ranson / Nevada News Group

Longtime Navy vet noted for his work with the VFW and UVLC

By Steve Ranson / Nevada News Group

YERINGTON — For thousands of Nevada’s men and women who have served in the military, Anthony “Tony” Yarbrough has been synonymous with veteran causes for decades.

A Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War, Yarbrough remained active in the military community, whether he was assisting the local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter in his hometown of Yerington or appearing in front of the state Legislature as a representative of the United Veterans Legislative Council.

Those who knew and worked with Yarbrough, though, will miss his never-ending dedication to veteran causes. The 73-year-old Yarbrough died unexpectedly on May 29, yet no cause has been given for his death. A military service will be conducted at sea for Yarbrough.

As a U.S. Navy chief petty officer, Yarbrough served in the Navy for 10 years and the Ready Reserve as a Machinery Repairman 1st Class for six years. Yarborough had also deployed to Japan, the Philippines and parts of Europe. At the time of his death, Yarbrough was the Nevada State Adjutant for the VFW and prior to that position, he was the Nevada State Commander from 2019-2020.

Tony Yarbrough, former chairman of the United Veterans Legislative Council, makes a point on veterans’ issues at the 2022 symposia held in Reno in March. Steve Ranson / Nevada News Group

Fred Wagar, the recently appointed director of the Nevada Department of Veteran Services, said Yarbrough was a deeply caring veteran who wanted to ensure veterans and current military personnel and their dependents received the benefits to which they were entitled. 

Yarbrough had spent at least a decade with the ULVC with his last assignment as UVLC secretary, vice chairman and recordkeeper. He was chairman from January 2018 through September 2019 while his service as vice chairman dates back to June 2015. 

“Tony’s contributions were extensive through the Veterans of Foreign Wars as a past department commander and through his contributions with the local VFW posts,” Wagar said.  “As president and later as legislative chair of the United Veterans Legislative Council, Tony provided great leadership and often single handedly, he would track numerous legislative bills that would ultimately affect veterans, military personnel as well as their dependents. He established a program that tracked important pieces of legislation and notified advocates of hearings by the legislature.”

Current ULVC chairman Andy LePeilbet, a U.S. Army veteran who also served in Vietnam, provided an effective tandem with Yarbrough during the state’s legislative sessions that are held in even years for 120 days. Yarbrough and LePeilbet worked together on issues for veterans as well as for active-duty and Nevada National Guard military personnel. LePeilbet said he and Yarbrough would talk about Bill Draft Requests (BDR) and bills at any time or day during the week.

“He was the heart and soul of the United Veterans Legislative Council,” LePeilbet said.

As recently as March of this year, LePeilbet and Yarbrough solicited input from veterans at a symposia in late March to prioritize issues for the 2023 Legislature. Because of his experience with the process, LePeilbet said his cohort maintained the ULVC’s communication and records on bills and BDRs during the previous years.

“Tony was extremely insightful and knowledgeable about individual legislators and all the processes involved with getting a bill through the Nevada Legislature,” LePeilbet added. “Tony’s passing is and will continue to be an enormous loss for all our veterans and active military in Nevada. It is going to be an incredibly difficult hole to fill. He was a master of his craft.”

Fellow veteran Gil Hernandez of Elko said Yarbrough became chairman of the UVLC in 2018 for almost two years. Hernandez said the UVLC had many bills passed because of Yarbrough’s knowledge and leadership. While they were in Carson City, Hernandez said Yarbrough spent hours in hearings and also encouraged other vets to attend special meetings.

Tony Yarbrough, left, and Andy LePeilbet, center, current chairman of the United Veterans Legislative Council, listen to a concern from a fellow veteran. Steve Ranson / Nevada News Group

Hernandez said Yarbrough made changes during his state VFW chairmanship on the way members communicated. 

“We started to use computers more and had a better way of doing things,” Hernandez said. “He brought on Don Pettyjohn as webmaster, programs director and public relations chair, and he moved the VFW forward. Tony would call me to see what I thought about something he wanted to work on when he became the VFW State Adjutant. He was great at organizing and going paperless by storing all information in files on the computer.” 

Kat Miller, who retired in April as NDVS director, had also worked with Yarbrough for 10 years on issues affecting the military community. She said during that time, approximately 100 bills benefitting veterans were signed into law, and Yarbrough supported the passage of many of these bills. Miller said the approved bills improved the veterans’ quality of life or enabled them to access needed services. 

During her years of working with Yarbrough, Miller said he was a man of great integrity and one of the hardest working individuals she has met.

“He was the kind of person who would drop everything to help you when you needed a hand with no questions asked,” Miller said. “Like many, many others, I miss him tremendously; he was one of a kind. God broke the mold when he made Tony.”

Likewise, Terri Hendry, communications officer for NDVS, said Yarbrough was her “go-to” person for background on veterans and the issues facing them. A journalist for most of her career, she said Yarbrough had knowledge on the Legislature’s inner workings more than most seasoned political reporters. 

“His lobbying passion through the UVLC greatly benefitted Nevada’s military members, veterans and their families,” she said.

Hendry said Yarbrough emerged as a driving force behind the ULVC in addition to his lobbying efforts.  Through the Veterans Legislative Symposia that’s conducted in Reno and Las Vegas every other year, Hendry said veterans’ concerns were recognized and noted. 

In the symposia, Hendry said the UVLC gather suggestions and then prioritize the issues based on input from both the Las Vegas and Reno sessions.

Through the symposia/summit process, veterans spoke to lawmakers with one, clear voice. It was an extremely effective process,” Hendry said. “In 2019, the UVLC’s symposia/summit process received the national Abraham Lincoln Pillars of Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.” 

Hendry said she will miss Yarbrough’s quiet, reserved demeanor. 

“He was deeply passionate about serving his fellow veterans and their families,” Hendry said. “He was hard working, sincere, trustworthy and extremely intelligent.”

Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall presents a certificate to Tony Yarbrough, chairman of the United Veterans Legislative Council, Julyís Veteran Supporter of the Month. From left are David Granish, Marshall, Yarbrough and Tom Spencer. Steve Ranson / LVN

Navy veteran Donald Stockton said Yarbrough used his expertise to build connections to make Nevada an exceptionally welcoming place for veterans. Stockton is a program specialist for the VA Sierra Nevada Healthcare System.

“He always had an amazing temperament that helped all of the efforts of the UVLC to move forward because he could show legislators the real need within their initiatives without divisive rhetoric or brow beating to make positive changes occur,” Stockton pointed out.

What made Yarbrough effective, said Stockton, were his leadership abilities, positive attitude, kindness and warmth.

Jerome Washington, who has been active with the VFW, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans Affairs, said Yarbrough was the reason many bills have passed for veterans. Washington said Yarbrough spent countless hours addressing the needs and rights for veterans and families. For Washington, Yarbrough served as a mentor and catalyst for the Army veteran to become involved with the issues.

“I became more involved with the veterans organizations, and Tony encouraged me to step and enter into leadership roles within the community,” Washington said. “I was timid and felt I didn’t possess the knowledge to serve in a leadership capacity, but Tony was there to lead, guide, and encourage me every step of the way. I could call on Tony for his wisdom, and he was always there to provide sound guidance.”

Yarbrough’s patience and tutelage continued to inspire Washington over the years by teaching him how to advocate for veterans and to lobby for veterans’ rights. According to Washington, Yarbrough showed him how to reach veterans and assist them with accessing their benefits.

“He taught me that I had a voice and that every veteran mattered and every veteran counted,” Washington said.