Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

The American Legion blasts NFL for disrespect

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The leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization characterized professional athletes and other Americans who fail to show respect for the national anthem as “misguided and ungrateful.”

American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan lamented the politicization of what used to be a display of unity at NFL games and other sporting events throughout the country.

“The American Legion is one of the original architects of the U.S. Flag Code,” said Rohan, a U.S Army veteran. “That code was produced by 69 patriotic, fraternal, civic and military organizations in 1923. It included members of all political parties, big labor, industry and minorities. The code calls on all present to stand at attention while the anthem is played. It wasn’t political when it was written, and it shouldn’t be political today.

"Having a right to do something does not make it the right thing to do. We salute Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, who stood alone respecting the flag as his teammates stayed in their locker room.  There are many ways to protest, but the national anthem should be our moment to stand together as one UNITED States of America.”

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Legislative process emphasized at Boys State Conference

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While the outside experiences at American Legion Boys Nation — visits to the National Mall, Arlington National Cemetery, Capitol Hill and the White House among them — end up as treasured memories for the young men attending the program, it’s the legislative process they participate in that stands most important.

At last weekend’s annual Boys State Directors Conference in Indianapolis, state program officials were encouraged to ensure that their delegates are prepared for that process.

“You would be surprised at the number of bills or resolutions that we see that aren’t federal issues at all,” said Tim Aboudara Sr., legislative administrative assistant at Boys Nation.

In that role, Aboudara sees the proposed legislation each senator submits before Boys Nation each July. He suggested part of the vetting process for state programs, in selecting their two Boys Nation representatives, be to ask the candidates what type of legislation or resolution they would want to introduce.

He also noted a question that they use at California Boys State, where Aboudara is chief counselor, about an amendment on flag burning.

“What we’re really looking for, it doesn’t matter what their opinion is (whether for or against), it’s how well they articulate and stand by their position,” he said.

Past National Commander Dale Barnett, Boys Nation director of activities, reiterated Aboudara’s point when talking about the importance of the legislative process.

“Make sure that you spend some time with these young men before they go to Boys Nation so they know what they’re doing,” Barnett said. He emphasized 10 points on the importance of participating in the process at Boys Nation, among them viability, or how well the Boys Nation senators have researched their legislation; consensus building; and vision, pointing out that a few years before the Legion itself took a stance on medical marijuana, senators at Boys Nation had already introduced legislation on the issue.

“We may see pieces of legislation that we don’t agree with, but that doesn’t matter,” Aboudara said. “It’s the young men’s program. … They haven’t figured out the polarization. They debated with civility, they don’t always agree, they attempt to reach compromise. It’s a lesson that everyone in Washington should hopefully learn. More important for all of us, that’s where our hope is in the next few generations.”

This was the 82nd annual American Legion Boys State Directors Conference, a chance for officials from the 49 Boys State programs to meet and discuss best practices for the program. In addition to informational presentations from Boys Nation staff and Boys State programs, a breakout session Saturday morning split the programs up by size to allow for discussion of ideas on brand awareness, training and education, media and communications and membership awareness.

The event also included recognition of retiring Americanism Division Deputy Director Mike Buss, who received a photo collage depicting the division’s four youth programs — Boys State, Junior Shooting Sports, National Oratorical Contest and American Legion Baseball — as well as his duties in flag education.

Buss was also presented with four small pillars representing the Legion’s four pillars, by the Mountaineer Boys State program from West Virginia, but he insisted those be used again, as they were this year, at the Boys Nation program.

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JSSP chairmen learn keys to a successful fundraiser

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Ida Jewel made it her goal to raise money for The American Legion Department of Indiana’s Junior Shooting Sports Program scholarship, so she collaborated with US Coin Boards to conduct a gun raffle. Jewel, the department’s JSSP chairman and chief range officer for the Legion’s national air rifle championship, gave raffle booklets to all 11 district chairmen to distribute to posts. Tickets were sold at $5 apiece and $2,500 was raised for the scholarship.

“You represent The American Legion – a very powerful brand, a very respected brand,” said Sons of The American Legion member Patrick Myers with US Coin Boards to attendees of the Legion’s Junior Shooting Sports Conference in Indianapolis on Sept. 16. “To raise money effectively people have to trust you. They have to trust what you’re doing, they have to trust who you are and they have to believe in you. When people trust your cause, they will donate to you.”

Myers, who resides in Camp Hill, Pa., but is a member of Squadron 500 in Indianapolis, has been developing fundraising games, raffles and programs for more than seven years with US Coin Boards, which works primarily with nonprofits such as The American Legion.

A few keys to an effective and successful fundraising campaign that Myers shared were to:

  • Brand the fundraising campaign with the Legion emblem and Legion youth program logo for people to trust what your selling.

  • Identify the fundraising need, amount to raise and timeline. Jewel set a fundraising goal of $2,500 and a timeline of six months for the raffle and said she sold out of tickets way before the drawing was held in July at the Department of Indiana’s convention.

  • Have financial accountability of all tickets sold and money raised.

  • Set a goal and make it realistic and attainable.

And the No. 1 reason a fundraiser fails? “Because people are afraid to ask for money," Myers said. "But if you have a prize, just know your audience, make sure it’s something of value, and it’s something they actually want to have.”

Oftentimes Legion departments or posts will team up with other organizations for a cause, and Myers said when that happens it’s important to do so with another trusted brand to make the fundraiser effective. For example, the Department of Indiana is starting a Youth Cadet Law Enforcement Program, and is currently conducting a raffle to support its efforts and collaborating with the Indiana Sheriffs' Youth Ranch. Posts throughout the state received raffle booklets that featured the Legion emblem, the departments law cadet program logo, and the Indiana Sheriffs' Youth Ranch logo. Each booklet distributed contained 10 tickets for $10 apiece.

Myers said that post-level support for fundraising efforts is vital as there are many costs associated with starting and maintaining a Legion program, like Shooting Sports.

“Who can’t sell 10 tickets at $10 apiece? Can you get the support of 50 Legion posts? That’s $5,000 you can raise,” Myers said. “Your boots on the ground are your active Legion members. You can get your members to support a good cause as long as you deliver that message, and you give them something that’s easy to sell.”

One last piece to fundraising that Myers shared was the top-down approach -- leaders need to build a support team.

“If you don’t have a team supporting you, you’re going to fail and you’re going to be out selling,” he said. “The stronger your organization is underneath you, the more powerful you are at raising money.”



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Medical professionals, veteran advocates convene for medical cannabis forum

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Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis Inc., in cooperation with the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, hosted a forum Sept. 13 to convene with health care professionals and former servicemembers to discuss what medical cannabis could look like for veterans. More than 25 guests attended the forum, held inside the Gold Room of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard Medical School graduate and advocate for marijuana regulation and product development, was one of the first panelists to speak. Over the last 15 years, Tishler said he’s treated numerous veterans who have been harmed by substances like alcohol, medications and opioids.

“One of the things we need to understand is that pain is the number one complaint across America,” he said. “It’s the number one complaint that patients report back to us that we’re not doing a good job taking care of.”

When it comes to treating pain, Tishler said the problem is people simply don’t have a lot of choices. Opioids, for example, aren’t super effective for treating chronic illnesses.

“What we know is that roughly 68,000 veterans are primarily dependent upon opioids,” he said. “Thirty-five percent of veterans misuse, in some fashion or another, the opioids that they’ve been given.”

Tishler said medical cannabis, when combined with the use of opioids, is a safer alternative for treating chronic illness. Studies have shown that cannabis is not only more effective, but also lessens one’s chances of dying.

“The other thing that we need to recognize is that mental illness and PTSD interacts bi-directionally with chronic pain and opioid misuse,” Tishler said. “What this means is that opioid use and chronic pain influence mental health, and mental health worsens people’s pain and abuse of opioids.”

According to Tishler, studies have shown that cannabis use is not associated with increases in violent behavior or change in socioeconomic health costs. In addition, states with medical cannabis laws have nearly seen a 25 percent reduction in overdoses from opioid use; 23 percent reduction in hospitalizations related to opioid abuse; and 13 percent reduction in hospitalizations related to complications of opioid medication use. 

“If you treat somebody with cannabis as well as opioids, you end up needing only about 20 percent of opioid which reduces their risk of death. So, using these together is an effective combination,” Tishler said. “We see about a 7 to 9 percent dependence rate and people get very concerned about that. But let’s also remember that means 91 to 93 percent of people don’t have any issue at all. For comparison, we need to look at (benzodiazepines), like ativan and valium – that dependence rate is 18 percent. The opioid rate is up to 25 percent making cannabis, again, look pretty good.” 

 A research paper presented in 2013 at an international drug policy symposium in Auckland, New Zealand, backs Tishler’s thoughts on reduced dependency and concluded that nine out of 10 regular cannabis users do not become dependent on the drug. The paper specifically noted that, “the lifetime risk of developing dependence among those who have ever used cannabis was estimated at 9 percent in the United States in the early 1990s as against 32 percent for nicotine, 23 percent for heroin, 17 percent for cocaine, 15 percent for alcohol and 11 percent for stimulants.”

Over the past few years, many veterans have come forward to tell The American Legion leadership that access to cannabis has improved their quality of life. The American Legion has been advocating for research into alternative treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, and passed Resolution 28 during its 99th National Convention last month in Reno, Nev. The resolution calls for permitting VA medical providers to openly discuss with veterans the use of marijuana for medical purposes, as well as recommend it where legal.

Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access Executive Director Michael Krawitz, an Air Force veteran, mentioned that he made an amazing discovery about cannabis in the mid-1990s after years of suffering long term and chronic pain.

“It was on a trip abroad that I was first prescribed cannabis as an adjunct to my pain treatment,” Krawitz wrote for the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics in 2015. “I found that, with cannabis, I was able to use an amount of opiates small enough to reduce side effects while allowing me to function better than I did when taking the higher dose.”

Dr. Ziva Cooper, an associate professor of clinical neurobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, studies the direct effects of cannabis and cannabinoids in volunteers. She said people who use medical cannabis are not doing so to have fun or get high, rather they use it because they want symptom relief.

“Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) is defined as the continued use of cannabis despite clinically significant distress or impairment,” she said. “The prevalence of lifetime diagnosis of CUD is 6.3 percent, and 1-in-3 heavy cannabis users.”

Cooper suggested that the more people smoke cannabis, the more likely they are to develop CUD. But this is an important part of discussion of the utility of medical cannabis, and the importance of future research on how to harness its therapeutic effects while diminishing its adverse effects, she said.

“We found moderate evidence for an association between PTSD symptom severity and Cannabis Use Disorder, but it is important to note that we could not come to a conclusion regarding the direction of this effect,” Cooper said. “Based on self-report and survey data, PTSD is one of the primary reason people seek out medical cannabis and, importantly, people report that it provides symptom relief, suggesting that people are using cannabis and benefiting.

“Though we have yet to establish the therapeutic efficiency of cannabis or cannabinoids for PTSD, preclinical findings are very encouraging, pointing to the protective effects both THC, the primary psychoactive component of cannabis, and CBD, another non-intoxicating component of cannabis in (our testing).”

Furthermore, Cooper said there are enormous gaps in the knowledge. Because of this, there is also a desperate need for high quality studies to determine how the strong preclinical studies extend to a clinical population.

“We are in the midst of significant changes, people are utilizing cannabis-based products for medicine in over half of the United States,” she said. “It is our duty to address this significant public health issue and embark on rigorous study of both the therapeutic and adverse effects of cannabis and cannabinoids. It is only with these studies that the medical community, public health officials and leaders of our nation will be able to provide sound, data-driven information regarding how to approach the use of cannabis based products as medicine.”

Jeff Staker, founder of Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis who organized the forum, addressed the concerns of veteran deaths due to overdoses and suicide since 9/11.

“We’ve got 22 veterans passing away every day and taking their own lives,” he said. “We shouldn’t deter from cannabis being a medicine like it’s supposed to be and can be. We don’t have a choice but to fight. That’s the way I look at this campaign. I treat it just like a military operation – if we don’t do nothing, more guys are going to die.”

Dr. Darryl Hudson, Canadian cannabis plant scientist and research project consultant, has studied the effects of different cannabis varieties for PTSD, which has lead to breeding new varieties designed specifically to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD.

“There is not a single country out there that actually supports the use of medical cannabis for veterans. But we’re changing that paradigm and we’re changing it drastically as we see results,” he said. “We’ve had six suicides in our program. Out of thousands of patients, all six were without cannabis medication at the time. Cannabis is the most effective drug on the planet that we’ve ever identified for treating PTSD.”

For Marine Corps veteran Ryan Miller, co-founder of Operation Educating Veterans About Cannabis, medical cannabis is a great alternative for veterans. He said it is not only less threatening to one’s health, but also alleviates symptoms associated with combat PTSD and can be a great resource for helping veterans find jobs in the cannabis industry. 

“Even though cannabis is the best treatment, it is not a cure for PTSD,” Hudson added. “The government spends billions on drugs the first two years that a veteran comes home. If they spend even a fraction of that growing quality medicine for these guys, it would save lives. It would save money.”

Cooper said it is abundantly clear that veterans nationwide are turning to cannabis for help as 41 percent of them use it for medical purposes.

“That is over two times the rate of cannabis users in the general population,” she said. “It is critical that we understand the therapeutic potential of cannabis, cannabis-based products and cannabinoids in this population.”


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Protecting your identity after the Equifax data breach

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If you were one of the many servicemembers and their families affected by the recent Equifax data breach, it is time for you to secure your identity. Thankfully, active-duty servicemembers and veterans have special tools at their disposal from the Consumer Financal Protectoin Bureau, like active duty alerts or a security freeze, to reduce the risk of identity theft.

Here is everything you need to know about the Equifax data breach:

1. The personal information of a reported 143 million people has been stolen, including many servicemembers.

2. Criminals with stolen information may attempt to use credit cards or open new accounts in your name. It can be hard to notice if you are a victim of identity theft until you review your reports or statements and see charges you didn’t make, or are contacted by a debt collector about a debt that you don’t recognize.

3. You should closely monitor your financial statements and credit reports. If you see anything out of the ordinary, no matter how small, you should take action immediately. To do so, you can:

• Review your free credit reports for signs of fraud or identity theft.

• Sign up for an active duty alert on your credit report.

• Consider placing a security freeze on your credit.

• Review any free credit monitoring services offered by the company affected by the data breach. Read the fine print, but never give your credit card information for a "free" product.

4. If you're run into problems taking these actions, you can submit a complaint to the CFPB online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372).

5. For help handling financial challenges at every step of your military career check out the CFPB’s

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Did you know?

The issuance or replacement of military service medals, awards and decorations must be requested in writing.

Requests should be submitted in writing to the appropriate military service branch division of the NPRC. Standard form (SF 180), available through the VA, is recommended to submit your request. Generally, there is no charge for medal or award replacements. For more information, or for the mailing address of the military branch office to submit your request to, call 1-86-NARA-NARA (1-866-272-6272) or visit the NPRC website at