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Veterans Benefits Information

Blue Water veterans legislation passes Senate, heads to White House

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American Legion-supported legislation extending disability benefits covering medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure to Blue Water Navy veterans unanimously passed in the U.S. Senate June 12 and will now go to the White House. H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, passed 410-0 in the House of Representatives on May 14 and will become law once signed by President Donald Trump.

Veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if diagnosed with a medical condition associated with the herbicide, according to the Agent Orange Act of 1991. However, this act applied only to veterans who served on land and in Vietnam’s inland waterways, excluding those who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam, known as “Blue Water” Navy veterans. H.R. 299 will extend these benefits to the Blue Water Navy veterans.

H.R. 299 further expands coverage and includes the provision that every veteran exposed to herbicides like Agent Orange should receive the same presumptive benefits. A provision in H.R. 299 states, “A veteran who, during active military, naval, or air service, served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975,” will be eligible for disability compensation for presumptive conditions of herbicide exposure. This will allow veterans who fall into that category and whose claims have been denied or held in pending status to gain access to VA medical care for conditions on the presumptive list.

H.R. 299 will afford spouses of certain veterans whose death was caused by a service-connected disability access to pension benefits. The bill also provides the children of veterans of covered service in Thailand who suffer from spina bifida access to health care, vocational training and rehabilitation, and monetary allowance.

Passage of the legislation came just over a week after the Department of Justice announced it would not appeal a federal court ruling, Procopio v. Wilkie, extending disability benefits for Agent Orange exposure to Blue Water Navy veterans.


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75th anniversary of Operation Overlord remembered

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The Friends of the National World War II Memorial hosted a ceremony and wreath laying June 6 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Operation Overlord at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The public was invited to pay tribute to those who stormed the beaches and parachuted from the skies in the invasion that turned the tide in the Allied fight against the Nazi regime in Europe.

As the world remembered the 75th anniversary of D-Day, nearly 40 World War II veterans were present at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the anniversary of the day 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of beach in Normandy, France. The invasion, while a turning point in the war against Hitler and the Nazi regime, came at a high price. More than 4,400 Allied troops lost their lives — 2,800 of them Americans. Another 13,500 American servicemembers were wounded.

“They were young men, many of them just 18, 19, 20 years old who answered the call to take up arms and shouldered an awesome responsibility beyond their years,” said Jeffrey Reinhold, acting superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks.

“Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for 75 years of peace in Europe,” said Alex Kershaw, author of “The Bedford Boys” and “The First Wave," and the master of ceremonies for the event.

Friends of the National World War II Memorial is a nonprofit dedicated to honoring and preserving the national memory of World War II and to creating the next “Greatest Generation” of tomorrow.


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Bipartisan LEGION Act passed by the Senate

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A bill expanding membership eligibility for the American Legion passed June 11 by unanimous consent in the Senate. The Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act — also known as the LEGION Act — is a bipartisan effort introduced by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

Because The American Legion’s membership periods are congressionally chartered, the organization is prevented from expanding membership eligibility without an act of Congress. The act expands membership eligibility to honorably discharged veterans who have served in unrecognized times of war since World War II.

The LEGION Act was a focus of American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad’s Feb. 27 testimony before a joint hearing of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans' Affairs. He called on Congress to take action amending the charter, thereby giving tens of thousands of veterans access to American Legion benefits and programs they are not currently eligible for.

“Nearly 1,600 brave American men and women were killed or wounded since World War II, while defending our nation during times not officially recognized as periods of war by the U.S. government,” American Legion National Commander Brett P. Reistad said during his testimony. “These veterans are unable to receive some of the benefits and recognition available to their counterparts who served during official wartime periods."

When the LEGION Act was introduced Feb. 14 in the Senate, Sinema said, “The American Legion provides critical resources to our veterans, but currently, only veterans who served during formally recognized conflicts can belong to the Legion. That restriction leaves out thousands of former American servicemembers who signed up to defend our country. Our legislation rights this wrong and ensures veterans have the opportunity to join the American Legion.”

 


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June impact report features job assistance, 2019 high in ALOU clicks

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The June 2019 Membership Impact Report highlights The American Legion’s dedication to helping servicemembers and veterans – and their spouses – find jobs, as well as its growing media program.

In May, the Legion participated in 10 career fairs/summits in eight states, getting in front of an estimated 1,400 job-seekers. The Legion also participated in a Yellow Ribbon event that reached 429 more.

The May 16 edition of the American Legion Online Update e-newsletter garnered 55,673 click-throughs, the highest so far of 2019. With updates on the LEGION Act and the Bladensburg Cross Supreme Court case coming soon, there’s no better time to subscribe; go to www.legion.org/newsletters to do so.

Also last month, $1,122,624 in American Legion Legacy Scholarship funds was awarded to 57 applicants, the children of U.S. military personnel who lost their lives or became over 50-percent disabled on or after 9/11.

Click here to see the June Membership Impact Report. For previous reports, go to www.legion.org/membership/impact.


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Bringing Legion Riders, scholarship recipients face to face

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During a stop at Struck-Klandrud American Legion Post 336 in Onalaska, Wis., during the 2018 American Legion Legacy Run, American Legion Riders on the run were able to meet Legacy Scholarship recipient Ally Niven and her father, disabled U.S. Army veteran Lee Niven.

The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund provides college assistance for the children of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, as well as children of post-9/11 veterans with a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher. The 2018 Legacy Run raised a record $1,300,804 for the Legacy Fund, the fifth-straight year the ride has raised more than $1 million.

Lee, who is 50-percent disabled, said that being unable to work his regular job, the Legacy Scholarship “means the world to me that I can, in some way, support my daughter going to college.”

Those words stuck with Legacy Run Chief Road Captain Bob Sussan, which is why Sussan has collected a list of Legacy Scholarship recipients in each of the seven states that this year’s ride will pass through, with the goal being to have at least one at each evening stop.

“I wanted the Riders to see the impact their efforts have on the kids,” said Sussan, chairman of the National American Legion Riders Advisory Committee. “It really shows what the Riders have done and continue to do to care for these children. Riders ride for the kids, and it’s really touching seeing these big, burly bikers that are doing this.

“You stop at these gas stations and people asked the Riders what they are doing, and they’re so touched by what (the Riders) do that they reach into their pockets and give us money at every gas stop. It’s a wonderful thing.”

This year’s ride will leave American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake, Fla. – the nation’s largest Legion post – and travel through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky before ending up at Kenneth N. Dowden Wayne Post 64 in Indianapolis. Harley-Davidson will provide a meal and live music at Post 347 the night before the ride kicks off and will donate proceeds from the event back to the Legacy Fund.

American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad will accompany the ride, and in fact is getting his ride to the American Legion World Series via Legion Riders. The Run will stop in Shelby, N.C., on Aug. 20 for an afternoon parade in downtown Shelby, and afterward Reistad will be taken to Keeter Stadium for the ALWS championship game.

Sussan said that other highlights from this year’s ride will include a stop in Waycross, Ga., where the mayor, members of the local tourism board and possibly a Gold Star family will meet the Run; stops at lakeside posts in Gainesville, Ga., and Spartanburg, S.C.; a lunch stop at Cumberland Bowl Park in Jonesville, Va.; a dinner stop at Wildcat Harley-Davidson in London, Ky.; and a lunch stop at Post 9 in Madison, Ind., before the ride comes to an end in Indianapolis.

And on some stops, smaller flights of Legion Riders will visit American Legion posts in the area that are not scheduled for stops by the larger Run contingent.

“It looks like it will be pretty interesting,” Sussan said. “We’re engaging more Legacy Scholarship recipients. We’re (visiting) posts virtually everywhere. We’re starting from the largest post in the world. It should be a good ride.”


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