Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Legion staff make a warm donation

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Homeless veterans in the nation’s capital are benefitting from the generosity of staff at the Legion’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., this holiday season. The staff donated and delivered nearly two dozen bags and boxes of clothes to the Southeast Veterans Service Center (SVSC) on Dec. 20. “We just started the drive in early December, so the response was amazing and very heartening,” said Mark Walker, the Legion’s Deputy Economic director. Walker called the drive a “joint effort” of his division and VA&R (Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation). He and fellow volunteers routinely support the SVSC with donations of goods and services. The SVSC and its collocated Chesapeake Veterans House in Washington, D.C., maintain a 98-bed transitional living facility for homeless male and female veterans of all eras. In-house services include substance abuse counseling, mental health therapy, family issue counseling, employment training and job placement services. The center also contains a VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic that provides medical treatment to center residents and visiting veterans. SVSC was founded in the late 1970’s by then D.C. councilman H.R. Crawford after he became aware of the plight of homeless veterans in his legislative district. The story is recounted on the center’s website.

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Military Pensions Are Essential

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It would be a grave mistake to replace the guaranteed military pension, which compensates for the sacrifices service members make.

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Welcome home, and thank you

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In the early morning hours of March 20, 2003, U.S. airstrikes in Baghdad opened a new front in the global war on terrorism: Operation Iraqi Freedom had begun. The operation did what its name suggested. Militant extremists and insurgents were systematically exterminated, and Iraq’s oppressive leader, Saddam Hussein, was hunted down and hanged. A new constitution was drafted and approved, elections were held, and an Iraqi army trained by U.S. military personnel was stood up. Having given rise to the promise of freedom and safety, our military mission in Iraq was assigned a new name: Operation New Dawn. Today, it needs no name because U.S. troops are now out of Iraq, ending America’s eight-year military presence there. It is now time for Iraq to protect itself from those who would seize its hard-won freedoms. And it is up to us, as Americans and as Legionnaires, to welcome home our service men and women who fought so bravely and successfully. Thousands of American military men and women will be able to gather with their families during the holidays in the coming days. Undoubtedly, they will raise their glasses in memory of nearly 4,500 comrades who went off to war and never came back alive. For some, the war will go on inside their heads for years to come. Many of these veterans will need health care – physical and mental alike. Some will want to pursue delayed college educations or convert their military experiences into trades and professions. Unfortunately, a good number of them will enter a job market that is only beginning to recover after years of recession and an unemployment rate that has climbed to as high as 30 percent for veterans ages 20 to 24. Some will want to go into business for themselves. As our troops have been serving, The American Legion has worked every day to ensure that the best possible care, compassion and opportunity are made available to them upon their return. We continue to work to make a better Post 9/11 GI Bill. We have fought for adequate funding for VA health-care services with special emphasis on improving mental health and the needs of women veterans. We have demanded better compliance with the Veterans Preference Hiring Act and with laws that require no less than 3 percent of federal contracts be awarded to service-disabled veterans. We have coordinated job fairs and business workshops. American Legion service officers are assisting tens of thousands of veterans and their families every day with benefits claims and other matters. The war in Iraq may be over, at least for now, but our work in support of this generation of veterans has only begun. The American Legion was created primarily to provide that support, and it has fulfilled for every U.S. war era since 1919, regardless of the nation’s economic condition or political climate. Welcoming home our servicemembers is not just a government funding issue. It is a moral responsibility. That is why we will continue to reach out to all veterans for years and decades to come. My wish this holiday season is that Legionnaires everywhere step forward and help our homecoming servicemembers, newly discharged veterans and their families adjust to their new lives. And do not be shy about it. Invite them to your posts. Offer a welcome-home dinner in their honor. If you have a National Guard or reserve unit based in your community, stage an event to celebrate their accomplishments. Help them charter a new American Legion post if they want one. When the Vietnam War generation – my generation – came home from the service, too few Americans paid any attention to our sacrifices. Some showed outright disrespect. I think that is why we feel such a sense of connection to today’s warriors. So, as the Iraq generation comes home, please make sure they feel welcome in your post. Seek them out, if necessary. Lend an ear when they need someone to talk to. Share your experiences with them. Offer a shoulder to cry on, if one is needed. Regardless of where we served or when, we all have a common bond. And those of us who have seen combat in distant places know what it means to hear the words, “Welcome home” and “Thank you for your service.” It is my honor and privilege to offer the full support of the nation’s largest veterans service organization to the men and women who’ve served with distinction in Iraq. May they always know that in The American Legion, they have a lifelong friend.

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Stockings for troops in Sinai

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Less than two months after Terra Stewart got married on July 3, her husband deployed to Egypt. He joined Task Force Sinai, the U.S. Army’s contribution to the international peacekeeping force that oversees the terms of a 1979 treaty signed between Egypt and Israel. Travis Stewart, a chief warrant officer with 21 years of service, has been there since late August, stationed at South Camp Sinai and flying Blackhawk helicopters.

“I’m a first-deployment wife, so I’ve never been through anything like this,” Terra said. “So instead of sitting at home and moping, I came up with the idea of sending Christmas stockings to our troops in Egypt.” Husband Travis did a head count and came up with 700 soldiers in the task force — elements of the 1st Support Battalion and the 175th Infantry Regiment. From there, the Stockings for Sinai project was born.

For the project, Terra needed to get 700 stockings, fill them with Christmas goodies, pack them up and ship them to Egypt. Although highly motivated, Terra couldn’t get it done by herself, so she paid a visit to Kenny Whitmer, a Marine Corps veteran and commander of American Legion Post 28 in Triangle, Va.

“Terra came to me and said she had this Stockings for Sinai project, and wanted to know if she could put it together here at the post,” Whitmer said. “And I said, ‘Absolutely. Anything to support the troops.’ She took that project and ran with it, and she’s done a terrific job. When she asked people for help, they stepped up to the plate. We’ve had this whole hall full of people. They came out to support her, and to support the troops.”

A volunteer force formed that included Terra’s parents and her family, members of Post 28 and its American Legion Auxiliary unit, and the Auxiliary unit for Post 364 in Woodbridge, Va. And in three days, Terra had raised enough money from Legionnaires, the community and other contributors to buy the Christmas stockings. Then she spent many late-night hours writing emails and letters to companies and individuals — including Ford Motor Company and country music artist Toby Keith — asking for support. Two months later, at the end of October, she had raised more than $5,000 in cash and merchandise donations.

It was enough to fill 700 stockings with all kinds of treats, such as  granola bars, beef jerky, candy, cookies, decks of cards and  bags of peanuts,  and ship them to Egypt. The facility manager at Post 28, Sue Cordner, baked more than 4,000 chocolate chip cookies for the troops of Task Force Sinai. Each stocking also contained a letter of greeting from Post 28.

On Nov. 2, Terra and her volunteers filled the last of the stockings, and all 700 arrived at South and North Camp Sinai later that month. “We’ve all worked so hard on this. We’ve gotten so much help from local companies and community members, and Post 28 has been a huge supporter,” Terra said.

Terra said the soldiers in Egypt  were “very appreciative” when they got their Christmas stockings. “Many of their thank-you cards and letters are still coming in.”

George Lussier, who has served as adjutant and commander of Post 28, said that when Terra brought up the Stockings for Sinai project to him, “I told her to go for it, and tell the (post) commander about it. And she just jumped into it without hesitation.” Lussier said Post 28 has a lot of events throughout the year and Terra “is involved with everything. She’s already talking about doing this project every year.”

That may be. But for now, Terra has other more immediate plans. “People ask me, ‘What is your next project?’ And I say, ‘I’m going to sleep for a few days.’ It’s been such a rewarding experience, but also very tiring. The community, family, friends, other organizations,  we’ve all worked hard. And to see it all come together, and to know it’s been completed,  I just took a step back one day to take it all in, and I had tear-filled eyes.”

Travis Stewart and 699 fellow soldiers got a piece of Christmas in the desert this year, thanks to his wife’s truly great idea.










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A Holiday Message

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On Christmas night, 1776, General George Washington led a poorly-clothed, poorly-equipped, and poorly-fed American Army across the icy Delaware River to attack well-equipped Hessian troops at the garrison in Trenton, New Jersey. The determination of the beleaguered Americans carried the day. They achieved total surprise, capturing 900 prisoners and their cannon.

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