Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Bayview Cross victory result of American Legion Supreme Court decision

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Citing The American Legion’s “historic victory” during an important Supreme Court ruling last year, the head of the nation’s largest veterans organization welcomed another court decision yesterday as a sign that veterans memorials will now have permanent legal protection.

“Last year, The American Legion easily prevailed by a 7-2 ruling protecting a veterans memorial in Bladensburg, Md.,” said American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford. “We said at the time that the ruling in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association was not simply about one cross. It was about protecting the religious freedom of those wishing to honor and memorialize veterans. Thankfully, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals used our earlier victory to reverse a previous decision that called for the removal of a World War II-era cross at a park in Pensacola. The Bayview cross in Florida will remain in place.

"The American Legion is grateful to our friends and allies in the veterans and legal community who have helped us in this long struggle to protect these precious memorials.”

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Maryland post brings Black History Month to life

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American Legion Randolph Furey Post 170 in Pomonkey, Md., is hosting its third annual Black History Month event this Saturday to educate about the roles African-American servicemembers played in military history and today.

The post opens its doors to the community to share about and honor the first black units across all branches of the U.S., including the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen from World War II. As well as to educate about lesser-known black military units such as the World War I-era Harlem Hellfighters, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion (nicknamed the Triple Nickles, this was an all-black airborne unit of the U.S. Army during World War II) and the Navy's Golden Thirteen (13 African-American enlisted men who became the first African-American commissioned and warrant officers in the U.S. Navy).

Post 170 Adjutant Dyotha Sweat, a Navy veteran, said she didn't learn about the history of the Golden Thirteen until nearly 12 years into her military service. "It was almost like they had never existed," Sweat said according to the Maryland Indepedent. "It's our responsibility to share these stories from our past. Keep sharing this with the young folks. We've got to keep (black history) alive."

The event also educates about African-American women in military history and today, and the post's history.

Post 170 also shares about its own history. Robert M. Johnson, a late member of Post 170, was elected as the Department of Maryland's first African-American commander in July1995. He too became the first African-American to serve as American Legion National vice commander "in which he served with honor representing this department with distinction,” wrote Melvin Smullen, the past department commander.

American Legion Department of Maryland Adjutant Russell Myers Jr. mentioned Post 170 in a letter that honors the department's historically black posts and leaders.

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Maine Legionnaires attacking homelessness issue

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On Feb. 22, the field behind Corey E. Garver American Legion Post 202 in Topsham, Maine, won’t be covered in snow – at least according to the forecast. But for the sixth straight year at this time, the field will be host to several area softball players.

Post 202’s Winter Softball Classic will bring together teams from American Legion posts, churches, traveling teams and elsewhere, all to raise funds for programs that are focused on eliminating veteran homelessness in Maine. Planning for the event begins in September and includes the post's entire American Legion Family.

The event is the brainchild of former Post 202 Commander Nik Hamlin, who helped turn things around in Topsham in 2013 and has since transferred to American Legion Post 158 in Lisbon to be closer to home. He said Maine’s brutal winters tend to slow activities down at the post. Finding an activity to draw in the community, as well as tackling an issue close to Hamlin’s heart, are what led to the idea.

“There’s not much to do (in the winter),” he said. “On the other side of the coin, my father was a veteran. My father committed suicide, and so throughout my life I have tried to (raise) veteran suicide awareness. I thought … ‘how can I attack this problem?’ Homelessness is probably something I can do something about. It’s another tool in the tool box. It’s not the end-all, but it’s in the right direction.”

That prompted the idea of the Winter Classic, with the goal to raise funds for programs in the state that directly deal with veteran homelessness. Initially met with “you’re crazy,” Hamlin said the idea – and then the event – eventually became very popular.

Three teams participated in the first year’s event; so far, seven or eight teams have registered for Saturday’s event, “with the possibility of 15 teams,” Hamlin said. The first event raised $400, while last year’s brought in around $1,500. Each team is paying $200 to participate this year, so Hamlin is expecting to raise even more funds.

Temperatures are expected to top out in the high 30s for this year’s event, while games have been played in deep snow in previous years. The event uses a double-elimination format with six inning games; each batter steps up to the plate with two strikes.

A trophy is presented to the winning team, but neither the cost of the trophy, nor the costs for balls or any other equipment comes from the money raised.

This year’s event will include a special guest in Silhouette Project founder Linda Lajoie, who will throw the ceremonial first pitch. The Silhouette Project consists of 22 life-sized military silhouettes, each bearing the name and picture of a veteran or active-duty military personnel lost to suicide. The Silhouettes are free to any nonprofit organization that offers services to veterans.

The Cub Scouts will sing the national anthem, while representatives from the area Vet Center, and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ suicide-prevention team and OEF-OIF transition team also will be in attendance.

“We’re making it educational, too for our community about everything veteran-related,” Post 202 Commander Nancy Laffin-Gillespie said. “This is probably the biggest thing that we do."

Laffin-Gillespie has been a member of The American Legion for 10 years but transferred to Post 202 around two years ago after Hamlin and the others had turned things around. When she heard about the post hosting a softball tournament in the dead of winter, she thought the idea was “genius. It’s kind of hilarious to think about it. It’s fun. But the point that it comes across with is that people are living out here in the cold, and here we are having fun playing in it. I think it was just a great idea, and I’m glad we’re able to continue it.”

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Hold 'Em for Heroes event helps to end veterans homelessness

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District 2 of the American Legion Department of Kansas is once again providing housing and holistic healing services to homeless veterans in the Kansas City metro area through its fourth annual Hold ‘Em for Heroes fundraiser.

The charity event will be held Saturday, Feb. 22, where 100 percent of proceeds will benefit the local Veterans Community Project (VCP ) and The Battle Within (a free five day retreat), as well as other veterans service organizations. Hold ‘Em for Heroes will consist of a poker tournament, raffle drawings, 50/50 cash raffle, live auction, all you can eat taco bar, a tiny home tour and guest speakers, such as Jeremiah Bull.

The fundraiser was started by Bull, a member of American Legion LeRoy Hill Post 19 in Gardner, Kan., who wanted to do something for his birthday party to benefit area veterans. Teaming up with Sons of The American Legion Squadron 19 member Robert Carver, the pair decided to do a Texas hold ‘em tournament and make a local nonprofit the beneficiary.

In three years, the Hold ‘Em for Heroes fundraiser has raised more than $46,000 for VCP, which builds tiny-communities for homeless veterans.

“People go down range and probably encounter some things that you’d never want to encounter in life," Bull said. "You come back and you fall on hard times, and sometimes people fall through the cracks and end up on the street. We’re trying to be proactive in Kansas City and see what we can do about ending veteran homelessness.”

The Hold ‘Em for Heroes event kicks off at 1 p.m. at VFW Post 6334, 33725 W. 84th Street, De Soto, KS, 66018. For more information, visit

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Thousands of military family members, retirees to receive medical care at off-base facilities

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Thousands of military family members and retirees will soon receive medical care at off-base facilities as the Defense Department implements a new plan to use some of its health care centers to serve troops exclusively.

The move to have roughly 200,000 beneficiaries across 50 military medical facilities – mostly family members and retirees – receive health care at private-sector hospitals is part of a Defense Department effort to save money, Thomas McCaffery, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said Wednesday.

More than 9.5 million active-duty personnel, military retirees and their families use medical services provided at bases throughout the country, according to the Military Health Agency.

Of the 50 facilities designated for some level of restructuring, 37 outpatient clinics now open to all beneficiaries will eventually see primarily active-duty personnel, according to the Defense Department. Bases impacted by the policy change include Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Detrick, Md.

McCaffery said, in most cases, these facilities do not treat enough civilian patients for services to be worthwhile for bases to maintain. Family members of active-duty troops, retirees and their families who receive care now at those facilities will transition over time to Tricare's civilian provider network and could see increases to some out-of-pocket costs such as copays. Tricare is a DoD health and dental insurance provider for military dependents, retirees and service members to seek care in the private sector.

On Wednesday, the Defense Department sent a report to Congress that outlines the basic plan on realigning what service medical treatment facilities will provide. However, department officials had no projection on how much money will be saved from what they expect to be a multiyear transition. There is also no timeline on when civilians will be transitioned out of military hospitals due to the uncertainty of how smoothly their care can be moved to private-sector facilities.

The Defense Department’s report states transitioning patients from military facilities to Tricare’s network will take time, potentially years.

“This expectation will be carefully managed during the transition and, if during implementation, local networks are challenged to absorb demand, the department will revise its implementation plan," the report states.

Increasingly, the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs have been leaning on the private sector for health care. However, the cost of shifting the burden has come as both departments have seen their budgets increased in recent years. Eight months after the VA launched a new program to connect veterans with private-sector doctors, authorized under the Mission Act, the agency still doesn’t know how many appointments have been completed or how much it’s costing taxpayers. Congress has provided about $15 billion for community care in the VA’s latest budget.

Members of The American Legion can receive 50 percent discounts on annual subscriptions to the Stars and Stripes digital platform of exclusive military news, topics of interest to veterans, special features, photos and other content, including the daily e-newspaper, job listings and history. American Legion members can subscribe for $19.99 a year by visiting and using the coupon code LEGIONSTRONG when filling out the online form.

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Did you know?

Military Funeral Honors ceremonies must be scheduled in advance.

The law requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, which includes the folding and presentation of the United States flag and the playing of “taps,” upon the family’s request. This Department of Defense program calls for the funeral director to request military funeral honors on behalf of the veteran’s family.