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Veterans Benefits Information

Commander's fundraising goal still attainable

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While Rachel’s husband was deployed for the second time, her only form of transportation for their three young children broke down. After making the costly repairs to the vehicle, little money was left at the end of the month to pay for household expenses. The American Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) program was there to support Rachel and her children, and honor her husband’s service by paying for their mortgage, electricity and gas bill.

Rachel is one of thousands of eligible military spouses, servicemembers and veterans with children who have benefited from the Legion’s TFA program. Since January, TFA has provided more than $238,000 in cash grants that have helped 158 families with 336 minor children maintain basic needs such as shelter, utilities, clothing, food and medical care. And since its inception 92 years ago, TFA has awarded more than $15 million in cash grants to aid veterans and their minor children.

American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt’s fundraising project is to raise $1 million for TFA during his tenure as national commander, which comes to a close in August during the organization’s 99th National Convention in Reno, Nev.

American Legion service officers are also part of Schmidt’s fundraising project, and his goal is to raise another $1 million for service officer training. Today, nearly 3,000 American Legion service officers help more than 700,000 veterans and their families file disability claims and apply for VA benefits and other forms of assistance, free of charge.

“Both programs depend on charitable contributions to offer the free assistance. That’s why I have made service officer training and TFA the focus of my fundraising project,” Schmidt said.

To support either of these great programs – TFA and service officer training – visit www.legion.org/donate and select “Commander’s Fund.” Then, under the "Program Designation" tab, select "Commander's Charity Fund."

Or send a check to American Legion Charities (put “Commander’s Fund” on the memo line) and mail it to The American Legion, 5745 Lee Road, Indianapolis, IN 46216. The fund has 501(c)(3) status and all money raised goes directly to the programs.


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Support National Poppy Day on social media

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This year The American Legion Family has called upon Congress to designate May 26, 2017, as National Poppy Day to expand awareness and provide support everywhere for all who have served and sacrificed in the U.S. armed forces. NALPA members are encouraged to help spread the message by wearing poppies and sharing on social media who they are wearing the poppy for.

When posting National Poppy Day support to social media, please use the hastags #PoppyDay and #LegionFamily.

Click here to see samples of National Poppy Day social media postings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Legion Family to mark Memorial Day

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From traditional ceremonies to new initiatives, The American Legion and Legion Family members across the country will spend the long weekend marking Memorial Day with events that honor the fallen.

The American Legion will once again have a float in the IPL 500 Festival Parade on Saturday, May 27, in the Legion’s National Headquarters city of Indianapolis. The Legion’s float traditionally includes Legion Family members walking alongside, and wounded warriors riding on the float. This year’s float will center on World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, including a reconstruction of one of his planes.

On Friday, May 26, members of the Department of Illinois will volunteer at the fourth annual Chicago Veterans: Ruck March. More than 1,500 veterans, their families and military supporters are expected to participate in the event, which raises awareness for PTSD and veteran suicide. Participants will wear a 20-pound ruck sack and walk 20 miles through the streets of Chicago to represent the number of veteran suicides daily, and to honor and remember servicemembers lost at home and on the battlefield. Legionnaires will have a tent at the lunch stop to pass out bananas, water and poppies in honor of that day’s National Poppy Day, as well as have a service officer on hand to answer questions and information on Legion membership and other available veteran resources.

Tell The American Legion how your post commemorates Memorial Day, by posting a description and photos to the Legiontown blog.

And make sure that war memorials or monuments (to any conflict) in your area are included in the Legion’s Veterans Memorial Identification Project. If they aren’t, it’s easy to add them.


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Legion Baseball, Boys State alumni capture effects of PTSD on film

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War and the effects it has on troops returning home is captured in the award-winning film “Battle Scars,” a drama and thriller produced by two American Legion program alumni. The film won the Founder’s Choice Award at the 2015 GI Film Festival and will be available July 14 for Legion posts to screen.

“Battle Scars” is about a young Marine who is suffering from both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other wounds unseen after returning home from Afghanistan, and is trying to forget what happened during his service overseas but his father, also a veteran, won’t let him. He in turn crosses paths with a woman “who leads him into a violent world every bit as dangerous and isolating as the brutality that (he) so desperately left behind in Afghanistan.”

Danny Buday, writer and director of “Battle Scars” and a California Boys State alum, and associate producer Lane Carlson, who played American Legion Baseball for Post 491 in Bayport, Minn., spoke with The American Legion about the inspiration for the film and how their participation in Legion programs impacted their support for America’s military heroes.

The American Legion: Who or what inspired this film?

Buday: I’ve seen a few documentaries about the ongoing war in Afghanistan while on the film festival circuit with my feature “5 Star Day,” and I found myself most fascinated with the sections of the documentaries that focused on the soldiers trying to adjust once they came back home from their various tours of duty. Soon after, I read an article about a recent increase in certain types of IED blast wounds and the idea for “Battle Scars” was born.

The struggle and tenacity displayed by our injured soldiers was the main inspiration for this film. Our goal was to create a film that soldiers suffering from PTSD would find both entertaining and relatable. This film is dedicated to every servicemember suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Why is this film so important to you?

Buday: On average, 22 servicemembers a day die from suicide. That number shook all of our team members and was one of the initial catalysts that led us to decide to focus on a story about PTSD and, more specifically, how both a soldier and their family deal with the physical and psychological effects of trying to acclimate back home after a long tour of duty overseas. For me, I felt it was important to try and share a story that other soldiers might be able to relate to and find common ground with.

Carlson: For me, this film is an opportunity to really bring home some hard facts of what continues to happen to our soldiers each day. The war continues on for many soldiers returning home. This film hit home as I have friends that have served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. My intention is to not only entertain and raise awareness for PTSD, but also offer out alternative healing modalities and organizations to help those dealing with PTSD.

Can you share what your experience with Boys State and Legion Baseball was like?

Buday: Boys State was an amazing experience and served as my introduction into the world of local, state and national politics while also providing a hands-on approach to mock government. My time during Boys State taught me valuable life lessons about how to work as a team toward a common goal and the value of the electoral process.

Carlson: I have fond memories of our coaches and team gathering at the Bayport Legion recreational area following our baseball games, eating pizza and sharing stories. We were always greeted with smiles and words of encouragement from Post 491.

Did your participation in Legion youth programs impact your appreciation for veterans?

Buday: My exposure to Boys State as well as my involvement in the Civil Air Patrol definitely played a role in my support for veterans and my desire to create a film that would resonate with veterans.

Carlson: I’ve always had the utmost respect for those men and women who’ve given their lives to help protect and serve. My exposure to the American Legion Baseball program definitely played a role in my support for veterans. I feel this film allows me the opportunity to give back to The American Legion.

What do you want viewers to take away from watching the film?

Buday: I hope audiences take away a better awareness and sense of compassion for the silent, psychological traumas that affect our soldiers. People see the external injuries of soldiers and most of them instantly feel an overwhelming sense of compassion, yet thousands of soldiers are coming home with PTSD each year and we can’t seem to find a way to focus the spotlight and attention on the tremendous amount of internal and unseen pain and suffering these brave men and women are coming back home with.

Carlson: It illuminates the physical and psychological injuries our soldiers face on a daily basis. Our main character has an injury that we want the public to talk about. It’s important for us to continue the conversation about PTSD and the alarming rate of suicides our soldiers are facing each day. It’s up to all of us to come together and help our brothers and sisters who have served this great country. We have the opportunity to transform, inspire and unite around those suffering from PTSD.

View a trailer of "Battle Scars" here. American Legion posts that wish to screen the film can contact Lane Carlson at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . The 94-minute film is not rated but does contain strong language and scenes of nudity.


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Legion testifies on veterans health, benefits legislation

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The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing May 17 in Washington, D.C., to seek testimonies from local veterans service organizations (VSOs) on more than a dozen draft bills that focus on critical issues affecting veterans and their families.

The bills focus on several hot-button issues that range from improving military and veteran caregiver services, to establishing more accountability and whistleblower protection for Department of Veterans Affairs employees. American Legion National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Director Louis Celli testified on the Legion’s behalf.

“Access to veterans health care, ensuring our veterans are able to receive the benefits they have earned, equity in services across the spectrum of veterans who faithfully served in defense of this nation, regardless of conflict, and accountability and transparency are some of the very foundational pillars that The American Legion continues to build on,” Celli said as he addressed the committee members. “Transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of leadership and good governance.”

When it comes to good governance, Celli said the Legion wants to ensure that Congress provides the VA with tools that are functional, enforceable and allow the agency to act in a manner that promotes good order, discipline and esprit de corps. Poorly crafted legislative language that fails legal and constitutional standards only serves to ruin morale and create a system of indecision, as well as a lack of surety, he said.

“The American Legion fully supports holding bad actors accountable for their actions, and criminals should be prosecuted as soon as possible,” said Celli. “(We) support giving (VA Secretary David Shulkin) any and all tools necessary to lead his agency as needed, but also want to ensure that congressional language doesn’t cause unintended consequences we have struggled with in the past.”

To ensure there is accountability at all levels within VA and that the process is transparent, Celli said the Legion supports any legislation – to include the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 – that increases the authority given to the VA secretary to remove unscrupulous employees who are found to have engaged in wrongdoing. “Despite multiple verified cases of gross misconduct for multiple employees, the VA secretary had little authority to hold employees accountable, and many veterans subsequently lost faith in the system,” he said. “Egregious behavior would not be affected by this provision as it would surpass the already established evidentiary threshold of a preponderance of evidence.”

In addition to increased accountability, Celli said the Legion also believes in providing VA department whistleblowers with a means to solve problems at the lowest level possible, while offering them protection from reprisals and genuine protection for those who reprise against them.

The Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act would not only establish a new system that employees could use to report retaliation claims, but also require supervisors to report all retaliation claims to facility directors, eliminating the possibility for facility leaders to claim plausible deniability of such assertions, according to Celli.

“We do not want to encourage an atmosphere that reduces the burden of managers to collect appropriate documentation,” Celli said in his written testimony. “This is why The American Legion vociferously urged Congress to provide the secretary much-needed authorities so that he may take action to improve moral, incentivize desired behavior, deter misconduct and eliminate corrupt or uncaring employees.”

As the largest VSO in the United States with a myriad of programs supporting veterans, Celli said the Legion will not waiver in its support to ensure all veterans are treated equally under law. “It is imperative that Senate Bill 591 (Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act of 2017) not only pass but that benefits be expanded to all pre-9/11 veterans,” he said.

According to Celli, the struggle to care for veterans who are wounded takes a terrible toll on families. Perhaps the biggest is protracted frustration over how the current caregiver program operates, he said.

When the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 was passed and signed into law, Celli said this landmark legislation provided a comprehensive package of caregiver benefits including:

● Training to help ensure patient safety;

● Cash stipends to partially compensate for caregiver time and effort;

● Caregiver health coverage if they have none; and

● Guaranteed periods of respite to protect against burnout.

The package, however, is not available to most family members who are primary caregivers to severely ill and injured veterans. “Congress opened the program only to caregivers of veterans severely injured, either physically or mentally, in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001,” said Celli. “It is not open to families of severely disabled veterans injured before 9/11, nor is it open to post-9/11 veterans who have severe service-connected illnesses rather than injuries.”

For Celli, a veteran is a veteran. He said all veterans should receive the same level of benefits for equal service – the Legion has long advocated for expanding program eligibility and ending the obvious inequity it created.

“We have long supported our veteran caregivers by providing accredited representation, advice and education. We created a new Caregiver Coordinator position in our Washington (headquarters) office. We participated in the numerous roundtables conducted during the present review of the program,” he said. “The American Legion is also rolling out a comprehensive caregiver program to our departments and recently passed Resolution No. 24, the Caregiver Program.”

Celli said the burden of ensuring support for these caregivers does not, and should not, fall on the VA alone. The Legion is optimistic that providing expanded support services and stipends to caregivers of veterans, to all eras, is not only possible but also feasible.

“Together, with The American Legion Auxiliary, (the Legion is) building a comprehensive program that is sustainable and replicable, and will be included in the department and post activities and programs through our network of more than 15,000 posts, (Auxiliary units) and (Sons of The American Legion) detachments across the U.S. and abroad,” said Celli.

In terms of reforming the rights and processes related to veterans appeals, Celli said the Legion is proud to support the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. “This effort will streamline and modernize a program that desperately needs it, while preserving and expanding veterans protections,” he said. “And in the long run, the increased efficiency will save money while providing benefits faster and more efficiently.”

Furthermore, Celli said the Legion believes that benefits and services provided to women veterans should be improved, especially because this growing demographic has consistently been overlooked by the VA for decades.

Although VA has made improvements in women’s health care, many challenges remain. The Deborah Sampson Act, S. 681, would help rectify many issues women veterans face by:

1. Enhancing services that empower women veterans to support each other.

2. Establishing a partnership between VA and at least one community entity to provide legal services to women veterans.

3. Making adjustments to care that VA can provide newborns.

4. Addressing significant barriers that women veterans face when seeking care.

5. Requiring VA to collect and analyze data for every program that serves veterans, including the Transition Assistance Program, by gender and minority status, and require that VA publishes data as long as it does not undermine the anonymity of a veteran.

Celli said The American Legion recommends a change to the bill, which is a separate track to address specific needs of women veterans attending the Transition Assistance Program. "Additionally, (the Legion) request that the Department of Defense transfer contact information of all transitioning women veterans to VA and the Department of Labor. This would provide an opportunity for the VA, DoL and VSOs to follow up with women veterans after separation to offer additional support, programs and services.”

Celli said American Legion Resolution No. 147 calls on the Legion to work with Congress and VA to ensure that the needs of current and future women veteran populations are met. It also calls on VA to provide full comprehensive health services for women veterans department-wide. “Our 2013 report on Women Veterans Healthcare addresses all of the vital components of the Deborah Sampson Act, as well as Senate bill 804 (Women Veterans Access to Quality Care Act),” said Celli. “(That is) why we strongly urge this Congress and the VA to immediately address these issues.”

Read the Legion’s position on other draft bills here.


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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.