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Veterans Benefits Information

Legion hosts events for job seeking veterans

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The American Legion’s Veterans Employment & Education Commission hosted various events supporting veterans’ employment at The American Legion’s 98th national convention in Cincinnati.

Retired U.S. Navy Career Counselor and Military Relations Project Manager for Lockheed Martin David Wallace presented information to local business representatives about how to effectively recruit veterans and military spouses and why it benefits their organization. Wallace, who is also the Department of Virginia’s Veterans Employment & Education chairman, highlighted the ease and importance for companies to create a military branding strategy.

“There are so many resources out there already; don’t recreate the wheel,” Wallace said. He also stressed the importance of establishing an on-boarding program that pairs up a new employee with a fellow veteran to help them understand the company and culture.

The Legion also partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes to host a veterans job fair and networking luncheon for Legionnaires and veterans in the Cincinnati area on Aug. 30. The job fair hosted approximately 60 employers and 135 job seeking veterans, spouses, active duty and reserve servicemembers.

Ryen Macababbad, an Army veteran and program manager for Microsoft, shared her experience as a homeless, combat veteran to completing a Microsoft information technology training program. She said her success and hard work directly correlated to her military service, and she emphasized the benefits for companies to hire veterans.

“I understand what mission accomplishment is, and I will do whatever work is necessary to get there,” Macababbad said.

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Legacy Run tops $1 million for 3rd straight year

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The American Legion Riders have done it again.

For the third straight year The American Legion Legacy Run has raised more than $1 million in scholarship money for the children of fallen military personnel and disabled veterans.

The 11th annual charity motorcycle ride, sponsored by USAA, raised $1,155,363 for The American Legion Legacy Fund. The Legacy Fund provides college money for the children of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, as well as the children of post-9/11 veterans with a VA disability rating of 50-percent or higher.

“Words can’t describe how proud I am,” said Bob Sussan, chairman of The American Legion Riders Advisory Committee and chief road captain for the Legacy Run. “It’s hard work, but these are the fruits of our labor. It’s because of the dedication to the kids.”

Nearly 300 Legion Riders and their passengers left Indianapolis on Aug. 21 and traveled 1,300 miles through seven states in five days – traveling through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia before ending up outside of Cincinnati. More than $555,000 was raised before or along the ride, while another $600,000 was donated Aug. 30 on the floor of The American Legion National Convention in Cincinnati.

The Minnesota American Legion donated $148,367 in Cincinnati, while the Missouri American Legion contributed $90,834. Additional donations came from the Florida American Legion ($72,480), the South Carolina American Legion ($53,400) and the Wisconsin American Legion ($48,000).

Gold Star father Dan McLaughlin took part in the Legacy Run for the second straight year. Sussan said having McLaughlin with the Riders makes the five days even more special. “He sees why we ride, and I think it blows him away,” Sussan said. “He witnesses the esprit-de-corps, dedication and commitment to the kids. Those things are what make this worthwhile to all of us.”

In 11 years, the Legacy Run has raised more than $7 million for the scholarship program.

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'I appreciate you very much'

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Larry Gatlin never served in the U.S. military. Because of that, he’s spent a good portion of this life trying to pay back the men and women who have.

Gatlin, who received a standing ovation as master of ceremonies during Tuesday’s opening day of The American Legion National Convention in Cincinnati, has been a fixture on the country music scene for more than 60 years – both as a solo artist and with his brothers.

The son of a of U.S. Marine Corps veteran, he’s also traveled all over the world with the USO to perform for U.S. servicemembers. He often wears a Marine jacket he had made that is similar to what his father wore. He wears it to honor his dad, veterans and the military. Gatlin said that during a trip to Washington, D.C., years ago, he asked a friend if it was disrespectful to wear such a jacket.

“While I had not served in the military I had tried, in my own way, to serve all over the known world (and country) with the USO (and) with the United States Air Force Band,” Gatlin said. “And it was then that my friend, Gen. Colin Powell, told me, ‘Cpl. Gatlin, I order you to wear that jacket whenever you think it’s appropriate.’”

Gatlin said he was No. 296 in the draft lottery during the Vietnam War. “I was not drafted,” he said. “I did not have to go. Some of you did.”

Gatlin then asked the Vietnam veterans in the convention hall to stand up. “Let me and these other great Americans welcome you home,” he said. “I appreciate you very much.”

Mixing between light moments and seriousness, Gatlin joked that, “My father is not a former Marine or an ex-Marine. My father is just an 89-year-old Marine currently not on active duty.”

He also told the story of how his father was on a boat with 1,500 other Marines headed to Japan when the two atomic bombs were dropped, forcing a Japanese surrender. “I can say with some certainty that if President Truman hadn’t (been brave enough) to do what needed to be done – what had to be done – some of you would not be here today.

“There are hundreds of thousands of other Americans, and hundreds of thousands of good Japanese citizens – now some of our best allies – who wouldn’t be alive today, either.”

Gatlin, who became a member of Sons of The American Legion Squadron 82 in Tennessee on Tuesday, also praised the Legion’s Youth Champions, who he met onstage prior to his presentation. “These kids … are some of the most impressive people I’ve ever seen or met,” he said. “If we had about 1,000 of them, we could fix everything that’s wrong in the whole world today.”

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Timeless values, new directions inspire post-9/11 Legionnaires

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C. Michael Fairman, co-founder of Summit for Soldiers, referenced the preamble to The American Legion Constitution in his group’s presentation to the 98th National Convention of the nation’s largest wartime veterans organization Tuesday in Cincinnati. The line he quoted: “to consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.”

In doing so, the retired Navy corpsman connected the dots between the World War I founders of The American Legion and post-9/11 generation of veterans with whom he served in the Global War on Terrorism.

Fairman and six other Summit for Soldiers veterans took The American Legion emblem to the highest mountain in the world last spring. On Tuesday, they brought the emblem patch worn by Fairman on the summit of Mount Everest on May 19 to American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett and presented it to him on behalf of the “silently fallen” – veterans who have suffered mental injuries and taken their own lives – as well as those who are working through difficult transitions.

“That part of the preamble is very important – the comradeship that for us began with two people, grew to four people, then eight, then 10, 12 and 20 and so on,” Fairman said after speaking to thousands of veterans and their families at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati. “Our climbing is not the magic bullet here. It’s the comradeship. It’s the taking care of one another.”

Summit for Soldiers is a nonprofit organization, supported by The American Legion Department of Ohio, that provides outdoor experiences for veterans who may be struggling with the shift to civilian life, including those who deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and other service-connected mental conditions. Based in Columbus, Ohio, the group conducts “adven-therapy” – opportunities to network through outdoor activities that range from bicycle rides to trail hikes to mountaineering expeditions.

A group of Summit for Soldiers members trekked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal as Fairman was making his summit climb in May. Along the way, they distributed tents and other supplies in villages that had been devastated by two natural disasters – a major earthquake and a deadly ice flow – in the previous two years. The Summit for Soldiers group providing supplies wore black polo shirts bearing the Legion emblem throughout the relief effort.

That experience was so moving for Operation Enduring Freedom Army veteran Anna Pelino that she is going back immediately for a three-month tour to volunteer in Nepal’s remote schools. “Going with Summit for Soldiers opened my eyes to all the good that can be done and how possible it is,” said Pelino, who struggled with the transition to civilian life after serving in psychological operations in Afghanistan and is finding relief through service among her fellow veterans. “If you do something you love and help people at the same time, how could you be happier?”

Joining Fairman and Pelino onstage were Summit for Soldiers members Richard Amaroso, Allen Diamond, Steve Downey, Andrew Oakes and Dietrich Stallsworth. All are members of The American Legion and have found synergy by connecting the two groups.

Says Fairman: “Why re-invent the wheel when we already have an establishment (in The American Legion) that has a wealth of resources? What we want to do is interject a little different concept to reach the post -9/11 generation.”

“I think The American Legion is heading in the right direction and attracting younger people, doing things that don’t fit the stereotypes and breaking into new areas,” Pelino said.

Amaroso, an Army infantry veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, got involved with Summit for Soldiers after hitting the depths of his post-service life. “I was coming out of VA,” he explained. “I was in there for 10 weeks, inpatient PTSD and substance abuse program, and one of the patients there linked me up with them. It just kind of spouted from there.”

He went on a 12-day adven-therapy trip to Colorado with Summit for Soldiers and then decided to move from his hometown of Cleveland to Columbus in order to be closer to his new network of friends. Camaraderie through a devotion to mutual helpfulness proved to be the best medicine. “I don’t think words can describe it,” Amaroso said. “In Cleveland, I have great friends there, but no military friends. When you talk to somebody who has been there, seen the same things, done the same things, a lot of times you don’t even need words. They understand, and that’s enough.”

Former combat medic Steve Downey, inaugural commander of American Legion Post 808 in Akron, Ohio – which has grown to become one of the biggest campus posts in the country – said connections with young veterans can effect positive change as the nation’s largest veterans organization draws nearer to its centennial. “The Legion is at a precipice where it needs to go one direction or another and, without appealing to younger OEF/OIF veterans, you can see where that leads,” he said. “With Summit for Soldiers and other organizations like the University of Akron post, it really sets the Legion up for long-term growth, identifying what veterans now want. We don’t need to come home from a deployment and go grab a beer. We can communicate on Facebook about what we want – whether it’s PTSD therapy, or guys who just want to graduate school and go get a job. Those are latent deficiencies for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that The American Legion can fulfill.”

The purposes of The American Legion, he added, have not changed since the preamble to its constitution was crafted in 1919. “The core values that drive the mission statement for The American Legion will never change,” Downey said. “But the execution and strategy of that moral code have to change.”

Fairman said the group was delighted to present the national commander with the emblem they took into the Himalayas. More importantly, he added, the convention and appearance in the September American Legion Magazine allowed them to reach more veterans who may need help.

“To have an audience like that, to get our message out and hopefully be an encouragement to other people, it’s really paying off,” Fairman said. “We’re getting calls from other places – people who want to join our activities and to bring our activities to them.”

To learn more about Summit for Soldiers, the group’s website can be found at and its Facebook page is at

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Fifth Third Bank donates $10k to Legion

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For the fifth straight year, Fifth Third Bank made a $10,000 donation to The American Legion during the national convention. Greg D. Carmichael, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bancorp, presented National Commander Dale Barnett with a check for the Legion’s National Emergency Fund.

“I am personally proud to be associated with The American Legion,” Carmichael said. “I would like to thank all of the men and women, both active duty and veterans, who protect our great nation and allow us to enjoy the freedoms we have today. Thank you very much.”

Barnett thanked Carmichael for the donation. “As you know, we have a strong partnership with Fifth Third,” he said. “We thank you for your very generous donation. We thank you for the support that you give us each and every year.”

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