Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

American Legion national commander remembers Rep. Cummings

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The head of the nation’s largest veterans service organization extended condolences over today’s passing of Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

“We are saddened to learn of the passing of this distinguished leader in Congress,” said American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford. “He was a lifelong passionate champion of civil rights. He strived every day to make his country a better place, and his voice will continue to resonate in congressional halls for decades to come. He will be missed by many.”

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$247,500 awarded to American Legion Boys, Girls State participants

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More than 4,660 rising high school seniors who participated in a 2019 American Legion Boys State and Auxiliary Girls State program applied for the Samsung American Legion Scholarship to receive up to $10,000 for higher education. The 98 scholarship recipients were selected by The American Legion's Committee on Youth Education Oct. 14 during the Legion's Fall Meetings in Indianapolis.

The Samsung American Legion Scholarship awarded 10 national scholars with $10,000, 10 runners-up with $5,000, and 78 department finalists each will receive $1,250 for undergraduate study.

The 10 national scholars are: Sadie DeShon and Mason Whitaker of Arizona; Cambri Driskell and Chandler Quaile of Georgia; Ethan Roos of Indiana; Andrew Kirdahy of Massachusetts; Caitlin Murphy of Nebraska; Vada Kirsch of New York; Henry Heiberger of South Dakota; and Nathan Wolf of Wisconsin.

The 10 runners-up are: Brandon Chapko of California; Jacob James of Iowa; Ethan Sage of Idaho; William Bradley of Maine; Emma Hughes of Massachusetts; Samuel Fullbright of Montana; Grant DeBruin of Ohio; Michael Brown of Tennessee; and Maximilian Safranek of Texas.

The recipients earned the award based on several criteria, including participation in American Legion Boys State or Auxiliary Girls State and being a direct descendant of a wartime veteran eligible for American Legion membership. To see membership eligibility following the signing of the LEGION Act into law, click here. There were 156 applicants who earned an extra bonus point for being a member of or related to someone in the American Legion Family.

The Samsung American Legion Scholarship is available for high school juniors who participate in the current session of Boys State or Girls State and are direct descendants (or legally adopted children) of wartime veterans eligible for American Legion membership. The Samsung scholarship supports undergraduate studies (e.g., room and board, tuition and books), and each applicant is selected according to his or her involvement in school and community activities, academic record and financial need.

For more information about the scholarship, visit

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American Legion's Child Welfare foundation awards over $811,000 in grants

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The American Legion's Child Welfare Foundation has awarded $811,282 in grants to 19 nonprofits. These grants, determined during the annual meeting of the CWF board of directors in Indianapolis on Oct. 13, have been awarded to support youth-serving projects that seek to enhance the lives of children by addressing their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. Since the foundation made its first three grants in 1955, nearly $16 million has been awarded to assist the needs of children.

CWF grants are made possible thanks to donations from members of the American Legion Family and other donors.

The following is a list of the CWF grants awarded for 2020.

Adoption Exchange Association of Linthicum, Md., was awarded $18,947 for its project, “Every Child Deserves a Family.” This grant will provide a website to share useful information with other agencies to facilitate adoptions.

American Legion Auxiliary of Indianapolis was awarded $1,843 for its project, “American Legion Auxiliary Juniors Indivisible Project.” This project will purchase The American Legion's “Indivisible: The Story of Our Flag” bookazine to teach junior members about the American flag.

American Legion Auxiliary of Indianapolis was awarded $120,500 for its project, “American Legion Auxiliary National Youth Programs Scholarships.” This grant will provide academic scholarships in the following areas: Girls Nation, Children of Warriors National Presidents Scholarship, Spirit of Youth Scholarship and Honorary National Junior Scholarship.

Childhood Leukemia Foundation of Brick, N.J., was awarded $29,700 for its project, “Hope Binder.” This project will offer 12 sections of templates and resources to help families begin to feel a degree of control over their circumstances.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation of Pittsburgh was awarded $30,000 for its project, “Teach for the Starz(l); Online Resources for Child Liver Transplant Patients and their Families.” This project will create an online portal of resources for children and their families who have received a liver transplant.

Cornelia De Lange Syndrome Foundation of Avon, Conn., was awarded $21,258 for its project, “Parent Resources and Handbook for Children with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome.” This grant will fund the updating, printing and distribution of their handbook.

CureSearch for Children’s Cancer of Bethesda, Md., was awarded $33,000 for its project, “Supporting American Families Facing a Pediatric Cancer Diagnosis.” This grant will fund the creation of a CancerCare mobile app which will allow parents to track the treatment plans, medications and appointments for their children. It will also provide an Ella Barbie doll to help children better understand hair loss.

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Chicago was awarded $25,000 for its project, “Mental Health Education and Wellness Tools for Children and Youth.” This project will create an online database of tools and resources for children and youth who suffer from mood disorders and promoting this awareness during the national marketing campaign.

Gratitude Initiative of Red Oak, Texas, was awarded $10,500 for its project, “Gratitude Initiative Promotional Materials for US Army IMCOM.” This project will create and produce a webinar to help children of Army families prepare for the transition into college.

Lifeline Pilots of Peoria, Ill., was awarded $25,000 for its project, “No Cost Air Transportation for Medically Fragile Kids." This project will fund air transportation for children who are receiving treatment outside their local area.

Marc Apodace Jr. Childrens Glioma Cancer Foundation of Thornton, Colo., was awarded $8,540 for its project, “Educational IPad Program.” This project will fund IPads and the software for children who have been diagnosed with cancer and lost the ability to communicate with family and their doctors.

National Braille Press of Boston was awarded $19,725 for its project, “ReadBooks!” This grant will fund resource books for parents with visually impaired children to introduce their children to Braille as an effective method of reading and writing and help encourage parents to learn Braille to help their children. It will also provide a Braille book for the visually impaired child.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children of Alexandria, Va., was awarded $12,839 for its project, “Reconnecting with Your Child: Building Relationships after Suspected Sexual Exploitation.” This grant will fund the production and distribution of information on how to reconnect with someone who has suffered sexual exploitation.

National Hemophilia Foundation of New York was awarded $19,200 for its project, “Navigating life with a Rare Bleeding Disorder.” This project will create both a kid friendly and parent guide to help them understand their diagnosis while explaining what comes next.

Patient Airlift Services of Farmingdale, N.Y., was awarded $46,190 for its project, “PALS Outreach for Children’s Health and Welfare.” This grant will fund the printing and distribution of materials to increase awareness of their services to families of children in need of treatment outside their local area, while also recruiting new pilots.

Seedlings Braille Books for Children of Livonia, Mich., was awarded $5,000 for its project, “Braille Books for Blind Children Ages 6 and Older.” This grant will provide Braille books to those children who are visually impaired over the age of 6.

Songs of Love of Forest Hills, N.Y., was awarded $25,000 for its project, “Songs of Love Outreach Project.” This grant will fund the printing and distribution of profile forms and song request forms that will help create personalized songs for seriously ill children up to the age of 21 with no charge to them. This grant will also update and maintain the website, which provides detailed information on how to request a song.

Sportsman Alliance Foundation of Columbus, Ohio, was awarded $20,000 for its project, “Heritage Hunting and Fishing Project.” This grant will expose 5,000 youth to hands on training and real life outdoor experience in hunting and fishing, while teaching them safety and wildlife conservation. This grant will also create online educational videos.

Talk about Curing Autism of Irvine, Calif., was awarded $21,540 for its project, “Autism Journey Guides and Educational Materials.” This grant will print and distributed 4,000 copies of their recently updated “Autism Journey Guide” and educational information to families who have recently been diagnosed with autism.

The American Legion National Headquarters of Indianapolis was awarded $54,500 for its project, “2020 American Legion National Youth Programs Scholarships.” This grant will provide academic scholarships to the following youth programs: Boys Nation, Junior Shooting Sports, Legion Baseball and Eagle Scout of the Year.

The American Legion National Headquarters of Indianapolis was awarded $75,000 for its project, “The American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance Program.” This grant will provide temporary financial assistance to children of veterans in need of shelter, food, utilities and clothing in 2020.

The American Legion National Headquarters of Indianapolis was awarded $188,000 for its project, “The American Legion National Oratorical Contest.” This grant will provide scholarships for youth competing in the 2020 American Legion National Oratorical Contest.

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The Ritchie Valens-American Legion connection

E-mail Print PDF reported this week that the state’s House of Representatives approved a bill to rename the Pacoima Post Office in honor of rock ‘n’ roll legend Ritchie Valens. But also noted in the article is where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member got his start: American Legion Post 176 in San Fernando, Calif.

According to various online sources, Valens was part of a band, the Silhouettes, that developed a big following in San Fernando and, particularly, the neighborhood of Pacoima. During a packed concert at Post 176 in 1958, the band was taped by a part-time talent scout working for Bob Keene (also known as bob Keane), who owned Keen Records. Upon hearing the tape, Keane became interested in Valens and eventually signed him to Keene’s newly formed Del-Fi Records.

Valens went on to fame for songs such as “Donna” and “La Bamba” before dying tragically in a plane crash in late January 1959 that also took the lives of Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson, better known as "The Big Bopper.”

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Post 493 packs them in for New Jersey COTA fundraiser

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It’s about a two-hour drive from Fair Lawn, N.J., to American Legion Post 493 in Little Egg Harbor Township, N.J., a ride that might have most 9-year-olds squirming with boredom.

But for Gavin Scimeca, the ride down “is the most calming and relaxing, enjoyable thing that I can ever think of.”

His father, Tony, explains, “On the way down, we always talk about how fortunate we are to have an event like this and what it does for us and how much it helps us. … We get to say how grateful we are for everyone and everything.”

The event is the annual Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) fundraiser at Post 493. The post hosted its ninth annual COTA event on Oct. 13.

The Scimecas have come every year; Gavin was four months old when they attended the first one.

“He’s missed two of them for health issues, but either my wife or myself still showed up. So we’ve been here nine years strong, and thankfully Gavin is doing amazing,” Tony Scimeca said.

Gavin was born with autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease (ARPKD) and is waiting for kidney and liver transplants. The disease causes cysts to grow in the kidney and liver and causes problems in other organs, including blood vessels in the brain and heart.

COTA, which provides financial assistance to families of children who need organ transplants, told the Scimecas when the initial fundraiser was scheduled at Post 493. Lenny Hart, a Post 493 member and the New Jersey state representative for COTA, has organized the event each year.

Hart is a big reason for the Scimecas to come back each year — “It just shows how much he loves me and I love him,” Gavin said — but so is the community.

“Everything that we do on a daily basis is our challenge, and it’s our struggle, and there’s many nights when we’re up at three or four o’clock in the morning and we’re dealing with things that few people can truly understand,” Tony Scimeca said. “Sometimes you wonder if you’re alone. Sometimes you wonder if you’re the only one going through this, if somebody even realizes what you’re going through. And then when we come to an event like this, when people who really have no affiliation with the cause whatsoever, come together, they show their support, not just financially but emotionally, that’s what matters.

“Every time we come here, we meet someone new, someone else has a story to share, someone else wants to hear our story, which is pretty amazing, and it just shows us that we’re a part of a family. Not only with the other transplant people that we’ve met who have become one of our family as well, but with everyone that comes out here and spends an afternoon and shows us some of the support that just helps us get through the other 364 days.”

COTA families, Legion Family members and others from the state filled the yard of Post 493 for the event, which included a petting zoo, performances by several local bands, a bouncy house, a bake sale, a silent auction, and awards for best costumes and pumpkin painting.

“It’s a great activity because it’s near Halloween, so the kids are dressing up for the costume party, but they’re also getting a chance to have fun just like a kid should have,” said COTA President and CEO Rick Lofgren. “That’s our goal with COTA is to make sure that our transplant families have the opportunity for their kids to live a normal and healthy life.”

One of those COTA kids, 12-year-old Kayleigh Petersen, surprised Hart with a hug. Like Gavin, she was also one of the kids at the first Post 493 fundraiser. Petersen received a liver transplant at 22 months and is now a goalie in ice hockey as well as a dancer.

“We try to come every year,” said Petersen, who said she liked seeing Hart each year as well as the military items on display at the post. She appreciates the event because “it helps support awareness (and raises money) so all the other kids can get better like me.”

“We hope they continue to have this beautiful day,” said Petersen’s mother, Mary.

Hart was prompted to start the fundraiser after his daughter’s death in a car accident in 1995, after which her organs were donated. He’s proud of the fact that the Department of New Jersey has been the top fundraising department nationwide for COTA for the last two years.

“We’ve got 45 kids in New Jersey right now looking for kidney, heart transplants, bone marrow. All the money we raise goes directly to the parents’ account,” Hart said.

Other posts in New Jersey have also hosted fundraisers; Hightstown Post 148 is holding a second annual pig roast to raise money for COTA on Oct. 26.

“Ideally, that’s what you want to do, you want to expose COTA to the community,” said Post 148 Commander Doug Herrin, who was one of several leaders of other Legion posts to donate money at Post 493’s fundraiser. Donations were also presented from local businesses during the event; those announced totaled approximately $7,000.

“I think one of the neatest things about working with the American Legion Family is that not only have these men and women served our country, but they’ve come back and continued to serve,” said Lofgren, whose father-in-law was a charter member of a post in Manitou Beach, Mich. “I’ve seen firsthand how events like this make an impact on our kids’ lives. We have a post that’s working with us in Indiana and their post and the Detachment of Indiana raised $65,000 last year for Hoosier kids. In Ohio, there was a post commander who raised a tremendous amount of money; all the money stayed with kids in Ohio. And so we see a lot of effort that goes on, but Legion members are continuing to give whether it was when they were in the service, since they’ve been deployed, and back home again. So this is a wonderful example of how families are impacted directly by American Legion members across the country.”

Hart and Post 493 Commander Andy Jackson both expressed their appreciation to the volunteers and others that turned out for the event.

“Without everybody coming and being involved, this event wouldn’t be what it is today,” Jackson said.

Since 1988, the American Legion Family nationwide has raised more than $1.4 million for COTA, all of which has gone to help COTA kids directly with their transplant costs.

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Did you know?

A veteran’s family must request a United States flag.

A flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag may be provided per veteran. Upon the request of the family, an “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 21-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices.