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Veterans Benefits Information

Membership effort set for Denver area

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American Legion national staff will team up with Department of Colorado Legionnaires for a membership revitalization and veterans outreach effort next week in the Denver area.

Veterans in the area are invited to get information about American Legion programs and Department of Veterans Affairs and other veterans benefits. The outreach effort will take place at two locations over three days:

• Oct. 20 and Oct. 22 – 1-5 p.m., Department of Colorado Headquarters, 7465 E. 1st Ave., Suite D, Denver.

• Oct. 21 – 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Wilmore-Richter American Legion Post 161, 6230 W. 60th Ave., Arvada

A veterans service officer will be available at both locations to assist with VA claims and other benefits questions.

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Upcoming film succeeds in 'humanizing combat'

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A screening for an upcoming film elicited emotional responses from American Legion members Oct. 10 in Indianapolis during the organization’s annual Fall Meetings.

Legionnaires were treated to a special viewing of Lionsgate/Amazon Studios’ “Last Flag Flying” at the Sheraton Indianapolis City Centre Hotel.

The film, based on Darryl Ponicsan’s novel of the same name and directed by Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee Richard Linklater, tells the story of a Navy Vietnam War veteran who, upon finding out his Marine Corps son is killed in Iraq in 2003, asks two Marines he served with in Vietnam to go with him to pick up his son’s body.

Originally planning on burying his son at Arlington National Cemetery, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) instead decides to bring him back to their home town in New Hampshire. His friends Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard (Laurence Fishburne) accompany him the entire way.

Carell’s performance has created Oscar talk, while the overall film was praised by Legionnaires who viewed it.

“I think (film) does a good job of humanizing combat, showing that it affects not just the combatants,” said Michael Hjelmstad, a member of Post 43 in Hollywood. “With the Marines, people think it’s almost a catchphrase. You’re like ‘that’s what you signed up for. You knew the risks.’ But your family didn’t necessarily sign up for that. It affects not only people that are in (combat), but also a big periphery of people that are around them.”

During the film, Shepherd and his buddies go to pick up his son’s body. There, they learn the circumstances of his death, which didn’t happen during combat.

“I think what this film did a good job of doing is that showing how – I mean every servicemember is a hero – but they show how sometimes your death might not be exactly heroic,” Hjelmstad said.

Hjelmstad, who spent 16 years in the Marines – including combat tours – has since worked as a military technical advisor and filmmaker. He couldn’t help watching the film through those eyes, in addition to just being a member of the audience.

“As a military tech advisor I’m always critiquing the film for accuracy and all that,” he said. “I thought they did a good job. And as a filmmaker, I always (ask), ‘Does it invoke an emotional response?’ It certainly did that.”

Another audience member said he was “speechless. Thank you. It hit the nail on the head.” Others praised the authenticity of the actors portraying Marines. “By chance were the actors real Marines?” another audience member asked. “They acted like it.”

Some audience members cried. Others thanked Thomas Lee Wright, one of the film’s producers who attended the screening. Wright said the production crew received good technical support from the Marines and called the film “a story seldom told - what happens on the home front.”

The film will open in Los Angeles Nov. 3 and nationwide Nov. 22. Watch the trailer here.

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A Department of France welcome

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A picture in the March 1978 issue of The American Legion Magazine shows then-President Jimmy Carter, on a visit to Paris, being greeted by then-Department Commander "Bo" Williams and then-Adjutant Edward Drayton.

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Legion reaffirms position for a strong America

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Resolution No. 1, brought forth by The American Legion's National Americanism Commission Wednesday afternoon during the National Executive Committee (NEC) meetings in Indianapolis, received applause and unanimous approval.

The resolution, in part, reaffirms the Legion's "unwavering support for the American way of life" under the U.S. Constitution; it "urges Americans and freedom-loving peoples everywhere to stand united in their respect" for each other, for military troops and law enforcement officials who place themselves in harm's way to protect our way of life, and for "symbols and customs serving as tangible images" of freedom; and it encourages the Legion's promotion for "a united nation and a united American people."

In his remarks to the NEC, Americanism Commission Chairman Richard Anderson said the resolution "calls for unity and respect. Unity and respect of this nation ... unity and respect of what she stands for ... and unity and respect for each other as Americans. It cannot be disputed that we are a nation of diverse people having diverse perspectives, but I am confident that coming together, as Legionnaires and especially as proud Americans alike, that a 100 percent Americanism will persevere."

The resolution comes on the heels of a statement released a few weeks ago by American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan, who sent her condolences to the victims and their families affected by the mass shooting in Las Vegas. During her opening remarks to the NEC, she made mention of a news headline from that horrific act. It was about U.S. Army soldier Matthew Cobos who risked his life by shielding a woman from the bullets that were fired at the concert crowd.

“Our military men and women protect, shield and comfort all of us every day. The best way for The American Legion to comfort, protect and support Matthew Cobos and his brothers and sisters in arms, is not just to advocate for our military, but to advocate for their families,” Rohan said. “We need to let them know that the American Legion Family is there for their family. Which is why my theme is Family First!"

Rohan said an example of her Family First! initiative has been witnessed during the past few months with the Legion’s relief efforts for victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Since Harvey and Irma struck, nearly $65,500 in American Legion National Emergency Fund (NEF) grants have been given to 128 Legion Family members. These grants have covered the cost of shelter, food, clothing and other immediate needs while the families have been displaced from their homes due to the devastation caused by the hurricanes.

“We, The American Legion, help people that most likely would not have been helped otherwise,” Texas NECman Butch Sparks said to Legion leadership. “When you see a 4-year-old kid with no shoes, and you are able to give him what he needs (thanks to relief donations that poured in from departments nationwide), it makes you feel very honored to be a member of The American Legion.

“On behalf of the thousands and thousands of people that you helped by sending supplies and (monetary donations) after Hurricane Harvey, thank you for what you do to make sure that the American Legion Family comes first.”

NECmen and other Legion leadership showed their support for the Legion’s disaster relief efforts by presenting checks to Rohan for NEF that totaled more than $17,000.

Other Legion program donations were brought forth before the closing of Wednesday's NEC meeting, including more than $28,700 for Operation Comfort Warriors and $3,100 for the Legacy Scholarship Fund.

In between natural disasters and attacks such as the one in Las Vegas, Rohan reminded Legion leadership that blood donations must continue. In 2016, from the 8,800 Consolidated Post Reports received, it was noted that Legionnaires donated more than 78,000 pints of blood. With the Legion’s holiday donor blood drive starting Nov. 22, Rohan stressed that “it’s the blood that’s on the shelves when events such as the one in Las Vegas occur that save the lives now and in the future.”

In closing, Rohan reflected back on the heroism of Cobos and The American Legion’s need to not only advocate for America’s military men and women, but for their families as well. “Because in reality, it is the American Legion Family that takes care of our nation’s families,” she said. Rohan asked Legion leadership to join her in helping take care of families nationwide by inviting their community to the dinner table on Nov. 11.

Rohan is calling on Legion posts, units and squadrons to serve up a bigger-than-ever Family First Veterans Day Dinner. Legion Family can invite National Guard and reserve troops, active-duty military personnel who might be far from home, Boy Scouts, VA staff, Legion youth program participants and alumni, civic organizations, educators and others. Materials have been created to help Legion family members plan and promote their Family First! Veterans Day Dinner. Download the materials here.

“We can’t support our communities if people don’t know we exist. Let your community know that we are also America’s family,” Rohan said. “We also can’t grow our membership if people do not know who we are and what we do. Because even though we have taken off our uniforms, we do continue to serve.”

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Rohan: VA covering up mistakes, malpracticies 'unconscionable'

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USA TODAY has released a story on its investigation revealing that for years the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs concealed mistakes and misdeeds by staff members entrusted with caring for veterans.

In some cases, agency managers do not report troubled practitioners to the National Practitioner Data Bank, making it easier for them to keep working with patients elsewhere. The agency also failed to ensure VA hospitals reported disciplined providers to state licensing boards.

American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan issued the following statement in response to the issues raised in USA Today’s story:

“It is unconscionable that VA staff would cover up mistakes or malpractice by VA clinicians. This is exactly why The American Legion pressed Congress to provide the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs increased authorities to protect whistleblowers and hold medical providers and staff accountable for their performance. We are very concerned about the lack of transparency in these cases and the reports that poorly performing medical providers were not reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank. We are encouraged that Secretary Shulkin ordered all future settlement deals with employees involving payments over $5,000 be approved by top department level officials, and call on the VA to review and enforce their policy of reporting providers to the National Practitioner Data Bank.”

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