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Veterans Benefits Information

Legion, SVA discuss ways to improve Post-9/11 GI Bill

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The American Legion, in tandem with Student Veterans of America (SVA), conducted a roundtable meeting May 18 at the Legion’s Washington, D.C., office to discuss how to improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill and better serve the veteran community.

More than 75 representatives from local veteran and military service organizations, as well as government and congressional offices, attended the meeting. John Kamin, assistant director of the Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Division, and SVA Government Affairs Vice President William Hubbard, led the discussion.

“There have been a lot of public disagreements over the past few weeks on how to improve the GI Bill,” Kamin said. “We felt it was important to work with Student Veterans of America to bring all of our veterans organizations together to discuss these challenges as a community.”

Although not every organization has a direct focus on veterans education, Kamin said their attendance sent a very powerful statement that improving the GI Bill is a national priority.

“I think this conversation, having 60-plus people in the room, made it real,” High Ground Veterans Advocacy Executive Director Kristofer Goldsmith said during a separate open press meeting. “This isn’t some Twitter spat – it’s not a hashtag war. We’re representatives of millions of veterans across the country and we all believe that the GI Bill needs to be improved.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website, “The Post-9/11 GI Bill is an education benefit program for individuals who served on active duty after September 10, 2001. For approved programs, this bill provides up to 36 months of education benefits, generally payable for 15 years following one’s release from active duty.” Veterans may be eligible for this VA-administered program if they:

1. Have at least 90 days of aggregate active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001, and are still on active duty;

2. Are an honorably discharged veteran; or

3. Were discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days.”

Aleks Morosky, legislative director for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said he’d like to see a change in the service requirement associated with Purple Heart recipients getting full benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

“(There are) currently about 1,500 post-9/11 Purple Heart recipients who receive less than the full benefit and we’d like to see that fixed,” said Morosky. “We think that if you’ve been wounded on the battlefield, then you’ve met the service requirement. I think we ought to give them the best educational opportunities we can.”

During the roundtable, Hubbard guided a discussion about the modernization of the GI Bill that included assessing priorities and reviewing several draft bills/policy proposals. Each organization was also given a sheet with a list of House resolution bills, asking whether they support, oppose, have a pending decision or no position at all on the bills.

“The purpose of this was to develop an understanding, identify areas where we had a consensus on, and then generally speaking, what we (want to have further discussions about which include) the Purple Heart recipients, the orders issue, the school closures and the Yellow Ribbon (Program),” said Hubbard. “I think the consensus was that we want to do something, 100 percent. I didn’t hear anyone say anything less than that. What that ends up looking like, and to the extent that we are able to address it, I think there’s some conversations still to be had there. The four items that we’re pushing on, every single one of those needed to happen yesterday. That’s the message we’ll be carrying to the Hill.”

For Goldsmith, the roundtable helped to establish a consensus around closing the current GI Bill loopholes. Better serving the veteran community entails changing the dialogue and not settling for the status quo, he said.

“We’re expanding the GI Bill. We’re continuing to move forward. We’re not settling for the status quo … and the plan is to stop doing just that,” said Goldsmith. “These vets can’t wait for Congress to get it done. The consensus that’s coming out of this room today is how are we going to result in a letter with a ton of cosigners, saying these are the priorities and these are what we need. We’re not giving (Congress) a deadline. It just needs to be done as soon as possible.”

Kamin said making sure veterans receive the full GI Bill benefits they deserve is a priority that the Legion and other veteran service organizations will stand behind. “We will not turn our backs on National Guard and reserve servicemembers who have been denied the GI Bill because they were on health care or 12304b deployment orders, or student veterans who have lost their GI Bill attending closed schools,” he said. “Making sure that they receive the full benefits of the GI Bill is more than a common-sense solution; it is a necessity we must ensure.”

 


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Playing patriotism

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Bruce Benson served his nation in World War II, flew as a commercial airplane pilot and owned a furniture store.

But musician is the title he cherishes the most. Music connected him to his wife, Jane, before, during and after their 68-year marriage.

To honor her memory, as well as his fellow military veterans, Benson emerges from his historic home in Webb City, Mo., every night at sunset to sound taps.

“Music was all over our relationship,” said Benson, 92, a member of American Legion Post 322 in Webb City. “She was a dancer. I was a musician. She ran a dance school. I wrote music for her dance school. Our two sons, Van and David, are both musically inclined. We had a little four-piece band and played for some of her recitals.”

In her final days, Jane wrote some notes, one of which inspired Benson’s nightly remembrance. “May our family stay strong in Christian faith, in family love and patriotism,” Jane wrote before she passed in December 2014.

Now, neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will keep Benson from performing his simple ceremony, across the street from the town post office. (However, when lightning crashes his party, Benson stays inside and plays a recording of taps instead.)

Benson is routinely accompanied by Dave Bergland, who served in the Marines. They often play the national anthem before taps during their warmup that lasts around 15 minutes.

“People ask us why we do this,” said Benson, who started his nightly routine more than two years ago. “It’s to commemorate our fallen heroes, other people who are still serving and because of what my wife wrote in her memoirs. My thoughts, as we finish playing taps, go to her presence here and completing what she wrote as one of her last thoughts she put on paper.”

Benson’s ritual attracts a range of onlookers. Kids disembark from their bicycles to salute the flag. Senior citizens pause and reflect.

After he finishes playing, Benson salutes the flag, greets his audience and retreats into his home — a converted theater built in 1937.

The Bensons moved into the home in 1990. Visitors see the building is still filled with beautiful lighting, ornate decorations, and original flooring and woodwork. Benson sees a home filled with memories of love, music and special moments with Jane.

They met at Fort Crowder in the early 1940s when he was in a 60-piece Army band and she was a dancer for the USO.

“I was sitting on the bandstand one night and she came over,” Benson remembered. “She looked up at me and said, ‘Could you play two courses of Southern Fried with a four-bar intro?’ She was so pretty and very sweet. I looked at her and said, ‘Yes, I think we can do that. Let’s talk about it.’ And that was the beginning of our romance,” said Benson, who accepted her invitation to dinner the following Sunday night.

They were married in March 1946 after Benson returned from the war. “She is still deep in my heart,” he says softly. “I have wonderful memories.”

Now, Jane is never far from Benson’s thoughts, whether he is at home or out playing one of his horns. Each Sunday he plays at their church, First Presbyterian of Webb City. He also performs at veterans’ funerals and other events when invited.

Post 322 Commander Donald Wooten said Benton performs at all the post’s ceremonies.

“We love him,” Wooten said. “The horn is his life. There should be more people doing this in our country. But there are few people like him.”

Bergland — a self-described “wingman” to Benson — reveres Benson.

Their friendship began shortly after Bergland heard taps as he drove past Benson’s home. By the time he turned his vehicle around, Benson had moved inside. “I walked up the alley and could not find him,” Bergland recalled. “How could he move that fast? He was an older gentleman.”

Undaunted, Bergland showed up the following night and the two musicians immediately hit it off. Bergland agreed to return the next evening with his horn.

“I told him it would not be an every night thing,” said Bergland, who is 53. “But it has turned out to be an every night thing. He is an amazing man. He is so encouraging. He is patient. His way about him. He is an incredible teacher.”

The two perform together at other events. Last Fourth of July, Benson arranged for them to play at five different ceremonies. “You can’t keep up with him,” Bergland said. “He’s incredible.”

 


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Alabama, Alaska veterans benefit from OCW grants

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The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program has recently made a few grants to benefit veterans receiving care at VA medical centers in Alabama and Alaska.

The Central Alabama VA Health Care System received a $9,000 grant last month that was used to purchase 250 tickets for post-9/11 veterans to attend Military Appreciation Night during a Montgomery Biscuits minor league baseball game at Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium. Besides reserved seating, the veterans received an OCW-branded T-shirt and dinner at the stadium.

The Alaska VA Health Care System received a $10,000 grant on May 3 to purchase needed health and comfort items, clothing, musical instruments and newborn-baby baskets for veterans receiving care in VA facilities located in Anchorage, Juneau, Mat-Su/Wasilla and Fairbanks. The donation was during a System Worth Saving site visit by National Headquarters staff.

OCW grants help aid in the recovery of wounded veterans receiving care at warrior transition units or military hospitals by providing rehabilitation, recreational and comfort items. And 100 percent of donations to the OCW program is spent directly on the veterans; administrative and promotional costs for OCW is paid by The American Legion.

Learn more at www.legion.org/ocw.


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Preparing for your 1st civilian interview

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From Military.com

A job interview is your chance to shine to employers. When you interview with a civilian company you must be able to explain what you know about the company, the open position, and why you're the best for the job and their office. But, employers can spot an unprepared candidate a mile away, and you don't want to let your lack of readiness be your downfall.

If you're unsure of what to research or bring to your first interview, use this list of interview resources the Bureau of Labor Statistics developed to whip you into interview-ready shape.

Before the Interview

  • Learn about the organization. Don't just Google the company; try to look at Better Business Bureau ratings or Yelp reviews that rate your potential employer's customer service record.

  • Review your qualifications for the job. Try to match your skills as close to the requirements as possible. Employers want to know that your skills are a direct fit for the position.

  • Explain how your military experience would relate to the job. Use Military.com's Skills Translator to help you articulate how your MOS can be applied in this civilian job.

  • Prepare for questions. The most common ones are "Why should I hire you?" and "Why do you want this job?"

  • Practice interviewing. Ask a friend a friend or family member to mock interview you.

Refining Your Look

  • Be well groomed. Avoid dousing yourself in cologne or perfumes, and ensure that you're clean shaven and have a fresh hair cut.

  • Dress appropriately. If you can, buy an updated interview suit. Check out our slideshow for how to dress for the interview.

  • Don't smoke before the interview. You don't want to distract the interviewer with the stench of cigarettes.

The Day of the Interview

  • Bring the following items: Social Security card, Government-issued ID (such as a driver's license), at least five copies of your resume, and at three written references.

  • Be Early. Arrive about five minutes early. If you get there too early, say 15 to 30 minutes ahead of schedule, you could seem like you're rushing your interviewer.

  • Learn the name of your interviewer and greet them with a firm (but not bone crushing) hand shake.

  • Be polite. Be as courteous and professional with everyone you meet.

  • Don't use slang. Or worse, don't curse in your interview, even in jest.

  • Maintain eye contact and don't slouch. This doesn't mean that you stare a hole in your interviewer, but maintain eye contact when you're speaking to them, and be sure to sit up straight. It shows self-confidence and professionalism.

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions about the job. Also, ask questions about the company and your potential boss. However, don't ask questions that you know the answers to. For example, don't ask any questions that can be found on the company website.

After the Interview

Send a thank you note. You can send a thank you e-mail or hand-written letter to your interviewer. Be sure to thank them for taking the time to interview you, and reinforce why this is a good fit for you and the potential employer.


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Its Flagstaff Light Aglow Again, a Park Is Ready for Memorial Day

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The Eternal Light Flagstaff in Madison Square Park is being relit, a prelude to a construction project that will give it more prominence.

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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.