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Veterans Benefits Information

2017 Fall Meetings resolutions available

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During the Fall Meetings in Indianapolis in October, the American Legion National Executive Committee passed a total of 20 resolutions, including Resolution 1, the Reaffirmation for a Strong America. These resolutions are now available to view in the Legion’s Digital Archive; see the full collection here.


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Legion testifies on VA infrastructure, selling of Pershing Hall

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American Legion National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Director Louis Celli testified before Congress on Oct. 12 about two draft bills. These bills include the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Act of 2017 that would require the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to develop criteria to assess and recommend changes to VA medical facilities, and House Resolution (H.R.) 2773 authorizing VA to sell Pershing Hall in Paris, France.

AIR Act of 2017

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe said AIR Act legislation "is bold, transformative and controversial. Veterans, VSOs (veterans service organizations), VA employees and taxpayers alike deserve more from each of us than to recognize how serious the problem before us is and to fail to act now to institute a solution.”

According to Celli’s written testimony, VA currently maintains a complex physical infrastructure of thousands of buildings that deliver coordinated care to more than nine million enrolled veterans. Over the years, many of the buildings that VA uses to deliver this care have been left to deteriorate in favor of fiscal savings.

Celli said a rehabilitative process is what needs to happen today. The VA, VSOs, Congress and the Commission on Care have known that VA needs to discard some of its properties, fix others and rebuild where demand requires it.

“Admittedly, this is a complicated process – one that will require a complete assessment of VA’s health-care delivery services and current physical capabilities,” Celli said. “VA will need to complete a comprehensive health-care market assessment, Veterans Integrated Service Network by Veterans Integrated Service Network , before anyone can offer a responsible assessment or recommendation on the modernization of VA’s assets and infrastructure.”

Celli said comparisons have been made between the proposed Asset and Infrastructure Review process contemplated by this draft legislation, and the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) process that the Department of Defense (DoD) has used to realign and close excess bases.

It is important to note, Celli said, that BRAC was established because DoD had reduced its active duty force from nearly 3.8 million active-duty personnel following Vietnam, to more than 1.3 million in 2000. However, this is not the case with VA.

“The need to restructure is based on the need to refurbish and modernize infrastructure so that VA can provide 21st century medicine to a growing population of veteran patients at a controlled cost, with superior results,” he said.

According to Roe, the AIR Act would also establish an 11-member Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission. This commission would use criteria established by the VA secretary, including recommendations for action, to develop a report containing findings and recommendations for the modernization and realignment of VA medical facilities.

Celli said The American Legion opposes the establishment of a commission to oversee this process. More importantly, there have been issues with leasing health-care facilities over the past several years.

There is no better time than now, Celli said, to address the leasing issue in the AIR Act.

“This legislation will certainly miss the mark if we fail to fix this leasing issue once and for all,” he said. “I cannot stress strongly enough that the Legion will absolutely not support a commission whereby congressionally chartered VSOs, which are the most accurate representation of voices for millions of veterans, are not empowered to have collective veto power over what could turn into a runaway committee.”

For Celli, granting the commissioners unilateral authority to change or amend the VA secretary’s recommendations cannot happen under any circumstances.

“We have seen in the past how appointees have undermined this authority by accepting an appointment on a visionary committee, only to divorce themselves from their organization in favor of their personal opinions and leave the VSO community without a voice in the process,” Celli said. “This is shameful and unacceptable.”

When it comes to demographics, Celli said, The American Legion feels strongly that commission members should be representative of the average VA patient in today’s society, with an understanding of what their needs will be tomorrow.

“The structure of this commission calls for senior-level executives and experts to oversee millions of dollars in health care infrastructure,” Celli said. “If the reward for serving on this commission isn’t about serving veterans and having the honor of reporting to Congress and the president of the United States, then perhaps we should reevaluate the selection process.”

Roe said he appreciates the thoughtful comments from the VSO community and looks forward to incorporating many of their suggestions in the coming days.

“This bill is still a draft and I understand that there are still a number of concerns and questions about it, particularly with regard to the timeline, the composition of the commissioners and the involvement of veterans and advocates,” Roe said. “I intend to also incorporate provisions to its introduction to increase the threshold of minor construction projects and expand enhanced use lease authority.”

Selling of Pershing Hall, in Paris, France

Although many VSOs may not have a strong opinion regarding Pershing Hall in Paris, France, Celli said this property has a very historical and deep personal meaning for The American Legion.

“Nearly 100 years ago, members of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I came together to preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars,” he said. “As the 100th anniversary of our founding approaches, The American Legion is still dedicated to that mission.

“The American Legion fought for the dedication of a memorial building in Paris, France, which is the city where the Legion was formed to recognize the service and sacrifices of members from the American Expeditionary Forces and General of the Armies John J. Pershing. We take our responsibility, to ensure the sacrifices of America’s military are not forgotten, very seriously.”

Simply put, Celli said the Legion has serious concerns with selling Pershing Hall. The building is currently in a 99-year-long lease with a company that renovated it to become a hotel.

Legion representatives in Paris have learned that the intent of the hotel owner is to buy the building using first rights of refusal when the building becomes available for purchase. The owner then wishes to terminate the lease once they have ownership of the building, according to Celli.

“Trying to dump it in a fire sale is a huge mistake not only in the interest of American history, but financially as well,” Celli said. “The market value of the property right now is more than $80 million. However, because of the existing lease, property appraisers will only appraise the property at a tenth of the actual value.”

Celli said The American Legion believes that Pershing Hall should remain in the ownership of the federal government, and therefore, opposes H.R. 2773.

“The preservation of these artifacts and the history it represents is a major concern that we have. The materials deserve to be kept together for the original purpose – to honor and remember general Pershing and those who fought in World War I,” he said. “We feel this legislation is a shortsighted attempt, and quick fix, to a larger issue with VA.

“Ultimately, selling Pershing Hall would mean veterans lose. We look forward to working with Congress to find the best outcome for this historic building.”

Click here to read Celli’s written testimony, including amended language and the Legion’s recommendations for the AIR Act.


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Effective communication starts with a calendar

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When it comes to an effective communications strategy, the first place to start is with a well-organized and detailed calendar. It doesn’t matter if the calendar is digital, on paper, a whiteboard or Post-it. What does matter is how the calendar is used.

 

Why is the calendar so important? Because everything we do has a deadline. Veterans Day is approaching so how are the parade or dinner plans coming? How is the promotion of your posts events for the day coming along? Have you sent out a press release to notify your community?

 

Whether you’re at the post, district or department level, you need to start with a calendar. Grab the free calendar distributed by Emblem Sales, open Microsoft Word and print a calendar template, or download one from the Internet.

Where to begin

Step one: Begin with your meetings at the post, district and department level. Find the date and write the description of the event, time and place. Second, list all known planned events, the time and place that are scheduled. Third, list the important holidays your post, district and department recognize for the year.

Step two: Take each even written on the calendar and count backward and mark 14 days, 30 days, 45 days, 60 days and 90 days out. A suggestion is that you use a different color pen to indicate that an event is coming up. Why so many reminders? It depends on what must happen for the event. If you need to invite the mayor to your Veterans Day dinner than you may want to consider sending the invite 90 days before. It will also depend on what your media strategy for each event calls for that you should have written out when planning.

Because you are thinking about these events further out with your calendar, it creates a successful promotion.

Step three: Using a different color from the other events, write down the dates when your post newsletter article is due, the deadline for submitting stories to your local paper, and the deadlines for everyone you must send a press release to.

While these dates are not connected to your events, as you use different colors on your calendar you will see that based on deadlines of newspapers and such, 14 days may have to be moved to 20 days, depending on where dates fall.

Hang the calendar on the wall and have three months visible so it can serve as a reminder.

Make friends with the calendar

Don’t fear the deadlines, embrace them and never miss another one again. Stay on top of your calendar and you will stay on top of your communications strategy.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Help host the biggest American Legion Veterans Day dinner

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American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan is calling on the Legion Family nationwide to serve up the biggest and best Veterans Day dinner in history by inviting the whole community to join them at the dinner table on Nov. 11.

The 2017 Family First! Veterans Day Dinner is an opportunity to share about The American Legion and to raise awareness about the coming 100th anniversary of the organization.

Promotional materials to help posts, units and squadrons serve up a bigger-than-ever Family First Veterans Day Dinner Nov. 11 are now available at www.legion.org/publications under Media & Communications. They are also available at www.legion.org/nalpa/resources.

Resources include:

A suggested timeline for planning the event, tips on getting local sponsors involved, and a set of message points that can be presented, and localized, at the dinner or to the press.

Sample letters of invitation to local groups to attend and participate in the dinner, a press release, a sample media advisory, a downloadable flyer with fields for posts to provide local information, social media posts (hashtag #LegionFamilyDinner) and a radio PSA.

Even after the Veterans Day Dinner, ideas can be taken from the materials as needed to be used in future events, such as a celebration of the Legion’s birthday in March or a Memorial Day get-together in May.

 


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Ready, aim, fire

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November 2015 seems like forever ago when I sat in a conference room with National American Legion Press Association (NALPA) leadership and staff from The American Legion’s Media and Communications Division in Indianapolis to discuss the future of NALPA.

We started the meeting with the thought that if we could not develop a plan or path then NALPA would cease to exist. The association was struggling with its identity, brand, image and purpose.

I left National Headquarters that day ready for the challenge to make NALPA what it could be – the go-to association for public relation officers and communicators from every level of The American Legion that would provide the tools to train, inspire and grow the image of The American Legion.

With support and resources from the Media and Communications Division, we changed the NALPA newsletter's look, feel, content and purpose of what it should convey to members. And we placed NALPA's website under the Legion's national one (www.legion.org/nalpa) for consistent branding.

NALPA leadership, with the help of Media and Communication Division staff, took front and center stage at the Legion’s annual Washington Conference in 2016. The large NALPA banner and table display was in the path of everyone. We handed out postcards about the social media blast scheduled for that event. We promoted NALPA, we signed up new members, and NALPA was given the opportunity to speak in front of conference attendees to encourage the Legion Family to Tweet, Facebook and talk about the meetings they were about to have in Washington, D.C., using the hashtags presented.

Under the leadership of immediate past NALPA President Dave Wallace and the steadfastness of Executive Director Patrick Rourk over the past year, NALPA’s relationship with the Media and Communication Division is strong and it’s working. This relationship is ready to take aim at the next level.

NALPA is ready to fire on all cylinders, we are ready to take up the challenge to help our fellow Legionnaires and family make better newsletters, make better use of their websites, and make better use of social media. If we deliver more robust newsletters then members will want to renew. If we deliver interesting content then perspective members will learn about who we are, what we do and will want to join. If we make better use of social media then we can reach out to more veterans, their spouses and children to join the Legion Family and take advantage of all the Legion has to offer.

Technology is changing how the world communicates at warp speed. NALPA is well positioned to fire our rockets and keep up to teach the Legion Family how to use that technology.

Watch for it, encourage your fellow communicators to join, follow us and give us the opportunity this year to show you why NALPA matters. You will not be disappointed.


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