Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Fleet surgical team saves life aboard USS Somerset

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PACFIC OCEAN — Navy Electrician’s Mate Fireman Samuel Guidroz was more than 4,500 miles away from home when he was awakened by a sharp pain in his abdomen on the morning of Nov. 27, 2018. 

The 20-year-old Sailor, assigned to the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset, tried to treat the day like any other day spent underway in the Pacific Ocean. But the discomfort in his stomach soon drove him to the ship’s medical bay.

“I had a nauseating feeling in my lower abdomen,” said Guidroz, from his bed in the ship’s recovery ward. “They ran some x-rays and a few additional tests.” 

“Fireman Guidroz came to us, and we were able to determine he had acute appendicitis,” said Navy Cmdr. Jeffery Chao, the surgeon for Littoral Combat Group 1.  

Chao said it was fortunate that the fleet surgical team happened to be there on the Somerset to augment the ship’s capabilities. The fleet surgical team is attached to Amphibious Squadron 3, which is currently embarked on USS Somerset as part of LCG-1. If they had not been there, surgery aboard USS Somerset would not have been an option.

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National commander to mark Pearl Harbor anniversary in Hawaii

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To commemorate the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad will be in Honolulu this week for ceremonies honoring those killed in the attack that brought the United States into World War II.

Reistad will attend a Young Marines ceremony on Dec. 6 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl. And on Dec. 7, Reistad will attend World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument for the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration. Click here to watch a live stream of the ceremony beginning at 7:50 a.m. Hawaii Time (12:50 p.m. ET) on Friday.

Meanwhile, across the country, American Legion posts are doing what they can to honor those lost at Pearl Harbor. In Massachusetts, Westfield American Legion Post 454 Commander Robert J. Ragone, the head of the city's Veterans Council, is working with others to remind those in the community about the sacrifices made 77 years ago. An event is planned for Dec. 7 at Kane & Wojtkiewicz Park, which is named in part for Navy Chief Machinist's Mate Frank P. Wojtkiewicz, a Westfield native who was killed on the USS Arizona.

“I think it's critical we have observances like Pearl Harbor Day because most of our children today are so young, and I'm not sure (the history of World War II) is being taught as history in our schools,” Ragone told the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. “We are losing our World War II veterans at astronomical rates. Soon, we won't have anyone left. It's imperative to be getting the word out to remind people of what the Greatest Generation did for us and to stir the pot to ensure it continues."

Other Pearl Harbor Day ceremonies involving American Legion posts across the nation include:


American Legion Post 296 in Sterling will conduct its annual Pearl Harbor memorial service on Sunday at the post. The ceremony will include a speaker, a rifle salute and playing of Taps, and a flag that flew above the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor will be folded.


In North Mankato, those serving at Pearl Harbor during the Dec. 7 attack are honored the entire month. North Mankato American Legion Post 518 already has honored two local survivors of Pearl Harbor: Charles Sehe, 95, and Victor J. Paradis, 100.


American Legion Post 738 in Fairview Park will pay tribute to the service men and women who died at Pearl Harbor with a short public ceremony beginning at 7:45 a.m. remembering those who were killed that morning.


• Seaside American Legion Post 99 will sponsor a Pearl Harbor Day observance in the main entry area of the Seaside Civic and Convention Center, with a wreath-laying ceremony and possible Coast Guard flyover at 9:55 a.m.

• American Legion Post 10 in Albany will host a Pearl Harbor Memorial Service at the post. The guest speaker will be retired Army 1st Sgt. Bryan Burt, who served as a Ranger for 20 years.


Lester Keate Post 90 in St. George is teaming up with other veterans service organizations for a public Pearl Harbor ceremony beginning at 10:48 a.m. local time (7:48 a.m. Hawaii time) at the Pearl Harbor Memorial at Tonaquint Cemetery. Four veterans will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony, while four of the oldest veterans in the area will be seated on sides of the Pearl Harbor Memorial.


American Legion Post 73 in Sunnyside will mark the 77th anniversary of Pearl Harbor with an 11 a.m. ceremony at the Jerry Taylor Veterans Memorial Plaza. The JROTC students at Sunnyside High School will provide a 21-gun salute following the ceremony.

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Band of the Tonawandas: a tradition of service through music

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On Nov. 13, 1929, members of American Legion Post 264 in Tonawanda, N.Y., called a meeting to organize a community band. The World War I veterans had no funds, uniforms or instruments to get it going. No concerts or parade appearances would be scheduled for another six months, so they had to drum up money in other ways, initially by putting on a boxing smoker that, according to Post 264 minutes from the time, “was a flop, losing money on its first try.”

The band was not about to give up. Musicians personally rented instruments, raised funds from business sponsors, had fish fries, ran some profitable smokers, chipped in 50 cents each to pay a director and personally indebted themselves for $10,000 – at the beginning of the Great Depression – to buy equipment needed for a group that would ultimately grow to some 90 musicians.

By the end of 1930, the musicians were able to convince post leadership to allocate $1,800 for new gold and blue uniforms. By then, they had given no fewer than 11 performances – none of which generated much revenue – and on Jan. 15, 1931, they played a concert for disabled veterans at the Marine Hospital in Buffalo. Regardless of start-up capital, the Band of the Tonawandas was on the march.

American Legion bands were popping up across the nation at the time as part of the organization’s movement to build community pride and unity through parks, pools, theaters, sports facilities, forums and other public developments in what was known as the “Iowa Idea” launched in 1923 by Past National Commander Hanford MacNider. Overseen by the national Americanism Commission, the concept was to create and expand “all forms of better citizenship movements… every enterprise which will further the well-being, health and happiness of the community.”

Nine decades later, the American Legion Band of the Tonawandas continues to do just that. Winners of the 100th American Legion National Convention Band Contest last August in Minneapolis, the band has won the New York State American Legion Band Competition almost continually since 1947 and has collected 18 national convention titles.

Musicians range in age from teens to octogenarians. Their careers and backgrounds include business, medicine, engineering, government, sales and education.

Booked year-round, the Band of the Tonawandas has performed for a PBS documentary tribute to march king (and historic New York City Legionnaire) John Philip Sousa. The band has also toured internationally, having received a gold medal for its performance as the U.S. representative in the International Music Festival of 1992 in Sydney, Australia. And after three consecutive titles at the Canadian National Exhibition International Band competition, to go along with six others early, the CNE awarded the Band of the Tonawandas its President’s Trophy – permanently. The band has recorded five CDs and one DVD, in honor of its 75th anniversary in 1994.

Moreover, in keeping with the spirit of the Iowa Idea, the band stands “ready to aid in any worthwhile community function to uphold the great tradition of The American Legion,” according to its promotional literature.

Clarinetist and band President David Abrahamian, a Sons of The American Legion member, has been with the band for 49 years, managing it for nearly 40.

Following a Veterans Day concert last month, he reflected on the group’s success over the years. “To keep this caliber of musicians, we play challenging music and concerts that they enjoy. At the same time, the general public enjoys it, too. It’s a win-win.”

The musicians, who are selected by audition, are not paid, despite a rigorous performance schedule. “The band means a lot to the community,” Abrahamian says. “It means a lot to the members. The members put a lot of time into this group. It’s very demanding (but)... they enjoy what they get back out of it – the musicality, the friendship from the other members – a lot of camaraderie.”

About half the musicians are also members of the American Legion Family; the requirement for national competition is no less than 20 percent. Abrahamian says the emblem of the nation’s largest veterans organization is an inspiration to them all. “It means a lot. A lot of people are connected to veterans because their family members, friends, relatives – they all know people who served. And I think the band gets gratification playing at veterans events, playing for veterans.

“People come to us for patriotic events. For instance, every year, we play a concert for the Armed Forces Day ceremony that takes place in Buffalo, and it’s quite an event. Military color guards from all over come together, and there is a nice patriotic ceremony that actually takes place for most of the week. We play in Memorial Day parades. We play the Fourth of July. We’ve done dedications for monuments. We have played for the Vietnam Moving Wall. We do things like that for the community, and the band members like doing it.”

He said the band also takes pride in its place in the centennial legacy of The American Legion “History means a lot to the group,” Abrahamian says.

To learn more, purchase CDs and see upcoming performance dates, visit on the web.






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Giving Tuesday donations fuel American Legion programs

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Thanks to the kindness of hundreds of donors to The American Legion, more veterans, servicemembers, their families and our nation’s youth will be supported in the coming year.

On Giving Tuesday, 396 donations worth a total of $22,620 were made to the Legion’s Veterans and Children Foundation. These contributions will go toward assisting military and veteran parents who are experiencing financial crises, and supporting service officers in their efforts to obtain care, benefits and opportunities for disabled veterans and families.

“In this season of giving, American Legion Family members came through like never before,” American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad said. “I am grateful for all the support we have received in this vital program. Without donations like this, our ability to support our veterans in need and our military families in distress would be severely compromised. Thank you to every single donor. It means a lot.”

To support these programs, donations may be made securely on the Legion’s website.

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Remembering the fallen, one wreath at a time

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What began as a dream for Department of Wisconsin American Legion Riders Ray and Evelyn McSherry will become a reality Dec. 15. The pair had a goal of covering every grave at the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Waupaca as part of the national Wreaths Across America program.

Seven years after starting the program, the goal will be reached. On Dec. 15, all 7,300 graves will be marked with a wreath, thanks to the efforts of the Wisconsin American Legion Riders and other Wisconsin American Legion Family members.

Evelyn, Wisconsin American Legion Riders District 8’s secretary, said this year’s program at the cemetery will feature Department of Wisconsin Commander Frank Kostka, Wisconsin American Legion Auxiliary President Char Kiesling and a Gold Star mother.

Also in Wisconsin, American Legion Post 186 in Independence is participating in Wreaths Across America for the second year. The post raised funds to place wreaths in four area cemeteries.

Both Wisconsin efforts are part of Wreaths Across America’s nationwide program, which is in its 27th year. For more information or to find a Wreaths Across America event in your area, click here.

The following are a few examples of American Legion posts who will take part in Wreaths Across America on Dec. 15.


Paradise Post 79 in New Port Richey will be placing approximately 80 wreaths at Pine Hill Cemetery, including on that of Medal of Honor recipient James W. Huff.


Doornink-Brunsting Post 199 in Sioux Center will place approximately 450 wreaths at Memory Gardens Cemetery in Sioux Center.


In Mackinac Island, American Legion Post 299 will place 225 wreaths over two cemeteries in its first year participating in Wreaths Across America. Post 299 Commander Sidney DeHaan said the wreaths arrive by truck, then boat, then horse and dray.

New York

Joseph Kovarik American Legion Post 1146 in Bohemia is participating at an event at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale.


Stevens-Christian Memorial Post 557 in Wintersville sponsors the Wreaths Across America event at Two Ridge Cemetery in Wintersville. The cemetery contains veterans from as far back as the Revolutionary War. Also buried at the cemetery is one of Post 557’s namesakes, Virgil Stevens, who was killed in World War I. The post lays 25 wreaths at the cemetery.


Post 109 in Mechanicsburg has raised money for Wreaths Across America and will have representatives at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery to place wreaths.


Robert F. McDermott Post 309 in Helotes will be providing wreaths at the POW/MIA section at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. The posts American Legion Riders chapter will escort the arrival of the wreaths.

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Did you know?

The issuance or replacement of military service medals, awards and decorations must be requested in writing.

Requests should be submitted in writing to the appropriate military service branch division of the NPRC. Standard form (SF 180), available through the VA, is recommended to submit your request. Generally, there is no charge for medal or award replacements. For more information, or for the mailing address of the military branch office to submit your request to, call 1-86-NARA-NARA (1-866-272-6272) or visit the NPRC website at