Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Five tips for protecting your skin from the sun

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Summer is upon us and with so many sun-filled fun activities to look forward to, don’t let safety take a backseat. During times of extreme weather, your skin can be at risk of suffering the most damage. Skin protection, especially during the summer, is crucial to ensuring overall health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in just 15 minutes. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers in the U.S. The most preventable cause of skin cancer is overexposure to UV light, either from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds and sunlamps. Be aware that indoor and outdoor tanning can be extremely harmful and should be done in a cautious and mindful manner.

You have many options for protecting your skin while outdoors in the sun. Follow these tips this summer to help protect yourself and your family:

  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher - Put on broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF15 on all parts of exposed skin before you go outside. This is a good practice even on slightly cloudy or cool days. And remember, sunscreen wears off. You may need to reapply sunscreen if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours, and after you swim or sweat excessively.
  • Wear clothing to cover your skin - When possible, wear a T-shirt or beach cover-up, in addition to sunscreen. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and skirts provide protection from UV rays.
  • Use shade - Reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree, or other shelter when the sun’s rays are strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. But don’t rely on the shade alone. You still need to remember to use protective measures, like sunscreen and protective clothing, when you’re outside.
  • Wear a hat to provide upper body shade - Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses - Protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes by wearing sunglasses. Sunglasses that wrap around work best because they block UV rays.

Anyone can develop skin cancer. However, a person’s skin pigment indicates how likely they are to sustain injury from UV rays. If you notice changes in your skin, such as a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in the appearance of a mole, talk to your doctor. TRICARE covers skin cancer exams for people who are at a higher risk for developing skin cancer. This includes individuals with a family or personal history of skin cancer, increased occupational or recreational exposure to sunlight, or clinical evidence of precursor lesions.

Stay tuned for more summer safety tips from TRICARE. To learn more about sun safety, visit the CDC or American Cancer Society websites.

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Avoiding complacency key to summer fire safety

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FORT RUCKER, Ala. — Barbeques, fireworks and camping are all big parts of summer, but if people aren't careful, a weekend of fun can turn into a disaster with lasting consequences.

That's why officials are urging people to take fire safety seriously by taking the proper precautions when taking part in some of their favorite summertime activities, said Jeremy Evett, Fort Rucker fire chief.

When it comes to fire safety, whether it is for camping or cooking, people need to be cognizant of a multitude of factors, said Evett.

"There are several things that come into play in the summer – both on duty and off duty. A lot of people get active during summer time with vacations and traveling, and one thing people need to look at while vacationing are their camp fires," said the fire chief. "They need to take into consideration the dry conditions and windy conditions when building a fire, and they should make sure they are extinguishing them properly and protecting themselves properly so that they don't have embers that could potentially start a wild fire."

Additionally, when starting fires, people should not use items like gasoline or kerosene, which can cause flare ups and result in serious injuries.

"No one is immune to that," Evett said, as he recounted a story of one of his own personnel who relearned the lesson the hard way. "(He) was lighting some grass on his property to burn off, using a mixture of gasoline and diesel fuel and was too close when it lit, and it flashed and burned his face and hands. He was taken to a burn unit and has fortunately made an incredible recovery, but he relearned a valuable lesson that day."

Another big summertime activity, especially with Independence Day coming up, is the lighting of fireworks, and although many see fireworks as a fun activity, Evett said people need to remember that they are essential miniature explosives.

"People need to make sure that they're following all of the manufacturer's safety requirements and recommendations," he said. "They shouldn't be standing too close, and parents need to keep an eye on their children and make sure they are operating them safety. Also, people should make sure to never hold them in their hands when launching them – just follow the directions."

Evett said that people need to make sure they aren't lighting fireworks in areas where there is a lot of dry grass or brush that could potentially catch fire, and have extinguishing materials on standby.

Summer is also well known as barbecue season, and if people aren't cautious, a fun family outing could turn potentially disastrous.

"When people are barbecuing, issues can arise when they are doing something as simple as firing up the grill," said Evett. "When using a propane grill, people need to be careful when lighting the grill because if the gas builds up then the flames can flash up unexpectedly.

'For those using charcoal grills, many like to use lighter fluid to get the flames going, but sometimes overuse of lighter fluid can cause flames to flash up, as well, so people need to be careful of that," he continued, adding that squirting lighter fluid on open flames should be avoided as the flame has the potential to travel up the stream and ignite the canister.

People should make sure they aren't grilling too close to a residence, and take the proper precautions when disposing of the charcoal after grilling.

Although many of these summertime activities can be relaxing, Evett said that people should never drop their guard when it comes to fire safety.

"One of the biggest culprits when it comes to fire hazards is complacency," said the fire chief. "They think 'I've done it a hundred times and never had an issue,' but you cannot get complacent – you have to keep an eye on things."

Additionally, with the dry weather that summer often brings, if people are smoking, they should make sure to dispose of cigarettes properly, he added. A lit cigarette tossed into dry brush or even a trash can has the potential to start a fire.

Disclaimer: Re-published content may have been edited for length and clarity. Read original post.

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GI Bill exhibit headed to George. H.W. Bush Library

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The American Legion’s Department of Texas celebrates the Post 9/11 GI Bill’s 10th Anniversary June 23 through Aug. 16 by welcoming a multi-media exhibit honoring the organization’s most impactful legislative accomplishment at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.

The display documents the story of the “greatest legislation,” which The American Legion originally drafted and pushed to passage in 1943 and 1944. It features illustrated panels, video kiosks and artifacts that show the dramatic story of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the massive effects it had on U.S. society and the ongoing effort to continue improving it for new generations, through to the passage last August of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 – the “Forever GI Bill.”

The exhibit has been touring the country since its debut in June 2017 at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. It has also been presented at the 10th Student Veterans of America National Convention in San Antonio, Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in Los Angeles, the Montana Military Museum in Helena, Mont., and the Iowa Gold Star Museum at Camp Dodge, Iowa.

Originally drafted by American Legion Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery in the winter of 1943, the GI Bill transformed the U.S. economy in the second half of the 20th century. Often characterized as America’s most significant social legislation of the last 100 years, it is credited for averting economic disaster after World War II, educating millions, making college and home ownership a reasonable expectation for average Americans, leading to the all-volunteer military and advancing civil rights.

Following its presentation in Texas, the “Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill” exhibit will move to Minneapolis for the 100th American Legion National Convention.

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Pittsburgh-area Legion post proudly displays patriotism

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In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, residents of Murrysville, Pa., kept asking city officials, “Where are our flags?”

City officials turned to Bob McKenna, who in 1991 started the regular patriotic displays of hundreds of American flags down Route 22 in the community 20 miles east of Pittsburgh.

“This community is great,” said McKenna, a member of American Legion Post 711 in Murrysville. “We had to get 16 people together and we ended up putting up the flags on that Friday — the Day of Prayer. That was a great day.”

On the morning of Flag Day this year, McKenna once again led a delegation of Legionnaires, a half-dozen Boy Scout Venture crews and other volunteers to set up the three-mile display of American pride. One group started at the western boundary of Murrysville, setting up the 3-foot by 5-foot flags along one side of the highway. A second group started three miles down the road, placing flags on that side.

In roughly 75 minutes, all 340 flags were in place alongside the heavily traveled road.

“This event means pride in America to me,” said Post 711 Commander Frank Persia, who drove one of the vehicles this year but has walked and placed the flags previously. “I feel pride when I do it. The more people who see the display, the more patriotic I think it is. It’s a great cause.”

McKenna started “Flags over Murrysville” as a member of Kiwanis, but four years ago he transitioned it to a project for his American Legion post. He needed volunteers so he reached out to all those who had offered their assistance over the years. His goal was to get 80 volunteers who could take turns to handle the eight to 10 annual flag displays.

Post 711 members jumped at the opportunity. “The Legionnaires were 100 percent behind it; they wanted to make sure that the project didn’t die,” Persia said. “As soon as Bob said that he needed support, they were all in.”

In addition to Legionnaires, community members and others rallied to maintain the popular display.

“It’s the American flag — these men and women all fought for it,” McKenna said. “It’s a perfect fit — a better fit than Kiwanis — for The American Legion. It’s been a good thing. It’s a patriotic thing to do.”

Local businesses, community members and others sponsor flags for $25. The proceeds, about $7,000 each year, fund programs and projects for the Legion post.

Since the project began, it has grown. In 2000, the Route 22 highway expanded and so did the number of spots for flags. McKenna and his team increased the number of flags from 260 to 340.

McKenna’s 28-year project has led to at least 75,000 flags being displayed in his community. The community shows its support each time the flags are positioned. Commuters honk their horns and wave in appreciation.

“After 9/11 when we put up the flags, it was the peak moment of my life,” McKenna said. “That day, it just hit everybody. And everybody — trucks, cars, tractor-trailers, everything — blared on their horns. I never heard anything like it. It was so loud, like a New York City street. It just fired everybody up.”

The tragedy of 9/11 inspired Pam Toto to volunteer to set up the flags, which she has done dozens of times over the past decade.

“I have always admired the efforts to put up the flags to honor our country on significant days,” said Toto, who has lived in Murrysville since 1995. “But my catalyst for volunteering was after the World Trade Center attacks. A childhood friend of mine, Larry Senko, unfortunately passed away in the World Trade Center. I saw this as a way to pay tribute to him, in context of a larger representation of our country and the sacrifices that people make for our freedoms.”

As she walked the route and placed scores of flags, it gave Toto time to reflect.

“Our lives are so busy we tend to forget things,” she said. “This gives me a pause button and an opportunity to think about a friend who I grew up with and — more importantly — to think about the implications of that day, and other days, and how those actions affect all of our lives.”

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Telling “War Stories”

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Al Zdon is a big fan of The American Legion and its history. The 22-year Legionnaire – and communications director for the Department of Minnesota – is also serving as chairman of the department’s centennial committee, and holds a position on the national 100th Anniversary Observance Committee.

But he is also a fan of individuals, and their histories. To that end, he has composed three volumes of “War Stories: Accounts of Minnesotans Who Defended Their Nation.” The stories are taken from features he wrote for the department newspaper. Taken between them, the volumes have raised thousands of dollars for both Legion youth programs and a state World War II memorial.

Zdon spoke with The American Legion about the process, and why holding on to history is so important.

How long have you been active in department initiatives/offices/etc.?

I was the editor of the Hibbing, Minn., Daily Tribune for 20 years. I was hired in 1996 by the Minnesota American Legion to be the communications director and department newspaper editor.

Where did the idea for these books come from?

When I took over the Minnesota Legionnaire, I knew I had a problem. I had been receiving the newspaper for several years, and it kind of made a beeline from my mailbox to the circular file. If I wasn’t reading it – and I love newspapers – I knew it needed some improvements.

So I did all the usual stuff like redesign it, add more news, and make it more valuable for the veterans who read it. One of the changes was to start writing feature stories, often two or three tabloid pages long, about Minnesota veterans who had served in the wars. It took a long time, but the stories started to catch on with the readership. When they announced they were going to build a World War II memorial in Minnesota, someone suggested to me that we collect a bunch of the stories, put them in a book and sell the book to raise money for the memorial. It worked, and we raised about $70,000 for the memorial. That book is now in its fourth printing. Not big printings, but we keep running out of them.

How long does it take to put one together?

You’d think that with all the stories already written, it would be a breeze to just collect them into a book. I’ve learned otherwise. I hire two proofreaders just to untangle my brilliant prose, and also a professional designer and an artist to do the cover and the interior of the book. I desktop-publish the whole thing to save money. It will take me more than two years to do a book once the process is started.

How did you collect the stories? Who did you look for?

I do stories on all the wars, but I’ve always concentrated on the World War II guys and gals because I could see that they would not be with us much longer, and once those stories are gone they’re gone. The idea was to preserve as many stories in a permanent form as possible. I’ve done about 200 stories over the years.

How much has been raised so far? Where is the money going to?

As I said, about $70,000 for the World War II memorial here at the Minnesota Capitol. About $16,000 has been raised by the second book for Legion youth programs. We’re still trying to pay for the third book, but once we achieve that the proceeds will also go to Baseball, Boys State, Girls State, Legionville Camp and the Oratorical Contest.

Are there more volumes to come?

I call it a trilogy, because I’m pretty sure this will be the last book. There are other projects I’d like to work on while I’m still on this side of the grass. But I also hope to put all the stories on our website for permanent access. The cloud is probably the real permanent storage place now.

How do you see this as connecting to the Legion’s centennial?

It has no real connection with the centennial, except as a reminder of the rich history our veterans have provided us.

What has been the response?

People seem to like the books. It’s been my goal to let the veterans tell their own stories as much as possible. I can provide a framework, but I want their voice to come through as much as possible. I’ve found that many veterans are great storytellers, and they have a terrific sense of humor.

What do you see as the best way to get service experiences recorded so that they’re not lost to history?

I always encourage veterans to write or record their own experiences. The veterans I’ve known who have done this have enjoyed the experience, and their families will always have this important piece of history. Strangely enough, my dad would never talk about his experiences, nor would he let me tape him. So I know more about the 200 people I’ve interviewed than I do about my dad. It’s very sad, and I think that’s the story in many families. We have to preserve these stories when we have the chance.

What do you think is most important about this project?

As I said, when I started it was mainly a plan to increase readership of the newspaper. I figured veterans would like to read about veterans. But as time went by, and the books started coming out, the project took on a life of its own. I’ve been a newspaperman for over 50 years, if you count my high school writing, and I’ve done everything from interview presidents to write a lengthy report about the death camps in Poland. But I consider these stories as the most important project of my professional life.

The three “War Stories” volumes can be ordered at

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