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Veterans Benefits Information

Legion discusses best practices for military to civilian employment transition

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The American Legion's National Veterans Employment and Education (VE&E) Commission held an employment summit Aug. 19 at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, Nev., to hear from key stakeholders and professionals within the veterans community about best practices for preparing, supporting and connecting veterans to the organizations that want to hire them.

The summit, held in conjunction with the Legion’s 99th National Convention, featured panel discussions about the career landscape facing both veterans and employers, as well as working through the challenges facing both parties in navigating the transition from the military to civilian employment. Topics for the panel discussions included:

· Career development programs;

· Transition Assistance Program (TAP);

· Corporate careers; and

· Accommodations and the workplace.

“The Department of Defense estimates that approximately 250,000 servicemembers, including members of the National Guard and reserve, will leave the military annually over the next several years,” said Matthew Miller, a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training. “If veterans are not taken care of on the back end of their service, they will not recommend to their friends or relatives to join the military on the front end. We can’t afford to lose that.”

The career development programs panel, moderated by’s Veteran Employment Senior Director Liz McLean, analyzed ways servicemembers and veterans can acquire more skills and experience prior to entering the workforce. In particular, this panel addressed how fellowships and training programs can move veterans from transitional employment into full-time career opportunities, and how corporations can tap into these programs.

“After 29 years of service (in the Army), I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left the military,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Lead National Trainer/Program Manager Rob Comer said. “One of the most valuable programs that I think (best suited me) was the Corporate Fellowship Program. That was an initiative that was started (to help transitioning military leaders) find jobs. That program is now a national program.”

According to the foundation’s website, The Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program provides transitioning servicemembers with management training and hands-on experience in the civilian workforce. Candidates are matched with participating companies based on the skills and preferences of both parties.

Comer said the program, hosted by military installations and major cities across the country, helps expands corporate America's understanding of the veteran job market and preparing those individuals for smooth transitions into meaningful civilian careers.

“We’re very proud to say that the program is currently at 12 installations nationwide,” Comer said. “The margin is wide open for them. That program is a partnership with corporate America – companies like Microsoft, Amazon, UPS, 7-Eleven (and) Starbucks,”

In August 2013, the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) launched the Veterans Employment Initiative to provide transitioning veterans with better employment opportunities within Virginia's technology community. This initiative matches veterans with jobs, internships, mentorships and certifications, while also providing support to member companies in their efforts to hire, train and retain qualified veteran employees.

According to NVTC's website, the Veterans Employment Initiative aims to be a model community for veteran employment resource by:

· Expediting the transition from military to civilian employment;

· Creating innovative ways for companies in the region to hire, train and retain veterans;

· Collaborating with state and federal policymakers to remove the barriers that prevent government contractors from effectively hiring and training veterans;

· Assisting NVTC member companies in establishing or expanding their own internal veteran programs;

· Helping veterans in developing the skills necessary to find a job in the private sector and succeed in their private sector careers; and

· Increasing veteran employment among NVTC member companies.

“It’s a holistic initiative brought on by the businesses that saw the value in bringing veteran talent into their companies,” said NVTC Veterans Employment Initiative Program Manager Steve Jordon, who served 31 years in the Navy. “What we’ve done as an association, in partnering with the great folks at Monster and, is built an incredibly robust virtual presence with all the things the veterans need that really add value to what they get through TAP.

" has 1 million veteran resumes in their database. So, what they’ve done is they opened that up to the connected companies under the Northern Virginia Technology Council. We are now partnered with the Consumer Technology Association (comprised of) 2,000 employers. Numbers matter – we look to expand this initiative and find great value to not only the job seekers, but the companies themselves.”

The TAP panel included remarks from a veteran who recently transitioned from active duty, and a human resources representative that provides services to onboard veterans. Other speakers, including the Legion’s own Kaitlin Gray, VE&E assistant director of small business, discussed their personal experiences and trends in transition, what helped them and what did not help them.

Continuing the discussion on transition, the corporate careers panel focused on military culture, skillsets, training, applicability of experience and how these skills are translated from the military to the corporate environment. Speakers addressed the requisite skills for survival in the corporate landscape including:

· Networking,

· Interviewing, and

· The paradigm shift in how the post-9/11 veterans engage with their employers.

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OCW helps wounded vets, caregivers heal

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The timing of an Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) trip could not have come at a better time for retired Army Sgt. Danny O’Neel and his wife, Faun.

They are among three wounded veterans and their caregivers who are attending The American Legion’s national convention in Reno, Nev., learning about the Legion, interacting with veterans and participating in special activities.

“We are absolutely grateful for this experience and to be introduced to The American Legion and the many good things that they are doing,” O’Neel said.

He says a highlight has been learning more about the Americanism programs of the Legion. “I met some great youths who are involved in some of the Americanism programs,” said O’Neel, who lives in Folsom, Calif. “They are teaching not just youth but folks across America about patriotism, which I think has been my favorite part of the week. I also got to meet a lot of fellow veterans from all across the U.S. It’s been amazing.”

The five-day trip is also a welcome distraction for the O’Neels.

“I actually found out a little while ago that one of my brothers committed suicide this morning,” said O’Neel, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). “So to be able to come here and think about that has been a good thing to keep focused on — doing good things in the veteran community and keeping a positive mindset. We have to do something — the care is inadequate — we are having issues. I want to make sure that we are doing our part; I know my family is. And The American Legion is a good facilitator of those needs.”

OCW provided everything from entertainment to meals to unique outdoor activities for the three wounded veterans, who are all members of The American Legion. On Saturday, OCW funded a trip to Lake Tahoe where Tim Senkowski and his stepfather and caregiver, J.R. Rigdon, experienced a 40-minute glider flight.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Senkowski, a double leg amputee from the war in Afghanistan. “It was exciting to go up there and be flying. It’s great to get to meet and hang out with other soldiers out here with The American Legion.”

He appreciates the opportunity for a getaway from the routine back home in Indiana. “All this support means a lot,” Senkowski said. “It’s great to know that there are people out there still supporting veterans and it means a lot for people to support the troops overseas. It’s not about the conflict. It’s not about the war. It’s about the soldiers who were over there, boots on the ground, especially when they come back hurt.”

Rigdon, a member of the Sons of The American Legion, enjoyed spending time away from home with his stepson.

“It’s been really awesome,” he said. “The glider ride was phenomenal. I’ve never done anything in my life like that before. Soaring up there with no motor was the highlight of the day. Just to be a part of that has been phenomenal.”

As a caregiver, Rigdon understands how important the OCW-sponsored getaway is for Senkowski. “It gets Tim out of his real world,” he said. “You are able to come and do something that you are not able to do. It’s nice to be able to get away and relax.”

Sonia Campa accompanied her boyfriend, Jason March, on the trip to Reno. March, a retired Army sergeant, was shot in the head by a sniper outside Fallujah, Iraq.

“It’s been a rough road,” says Campa, who has known March for about seven years. “(This week) has been great to experience different things. Get away from hospitals. And not having to worry about the hospital and pain and stress. This is just fellowship to have friends and partners to have fun.”

It’s the instant camaraderie that helps Camp and March heal.

“Sometimes we go on knowing that life is hard but know that it is going to be OK,” she said. “That great brotherhood, that respect for one another — and to say, ‘It’s going to be all right.’ It’s wonderful to be able to just say, ‘Thank you for your service.’”

For his activity, March chose a four-hour horseback ride along the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

“I haven’t done that in so long — and I’m from Texas,” said the San Antonio resident. “To get out and do that … and see the hills, and the streams and river. It was awesome. It was challenging for me because I am paralyzed on one side. And managing to get on the horse and control the horse with only my right hand was hard. But the guide and the whole staff were great in helping me.”

March was grateful for the donors who provided the funds for the OCW activities. But he is just as grateful for the caregivers who share the journey with their wounded warriors.

“Thank you for supporting our wounded warriors and our warriors, period,” he said. “What people around the world don’t understand is that the hero isn’t the wounded warriors or the veterans. But the real heroes are the spouses, the caregivers, the people behind the scenes that nobody sees. Those are the real heroes.”

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Chaplain’s message: 'Unity without conformity'

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American Legion National Chaplain Harvey Klee of Texas said he once met another chaplain who “would not sign up a candidate for Legion membership if he or she didn’t hold a belief in God.”

Such a position, Klee told attendees of Sunday’s Patriotic Memorial Service at The American Legion’s 99th National Convention in Reno, Nev., is both controversial and askew with the organization’s purpose. “My friend’s attitude probably stemmed from the beginning phrase of our preamble: 'For God and country…'"

Klee told hundreds gathered for the service in the Reno-Sparks Convention Center that the question – how can you be "for God" without necessarily believing in God – led him to a deeper examination of the preamble to The American Legion Constitution. “The 10 enumerated purposes of our associating ourselves together is to be in service for God and country. One need not believe in God to be in His service, nor is it mandated in our membership requirements.”

The national chaplain called for unity among veterans, regardless of their beliefs, who are called to work together for the good of their communities in The American Legion. “My point is simply this – we shouldn’t be alienating ourselves from one another because of our faith or belief differences but rather uniting ourselves for God and country without conforming to the beliefs of others. Our union should be based on what we have in common, not on our differences.”

As it is for U.S. military chaplains, American Legion chaplains have a responsibility to “minister to the spiritual needs of our members, setting aside our personal differences,” Klee said. “Whatever it takes, they are a willing servant. What The American Legion requires in its chaplains is spiritual integrity and leadership, nothing less. We are there to minister, not to convert, nor advertise our own conversion or beliefs.

“We are all associated in a common cause, united for specific purposes in service ‘for God and country.’ And we should leave it at that – meeting each of our fellow comrades with open arms, open hearts and open minds. Perhaps another way of putting it, we should be tolerant of the beliefs of others, and intolerant of those who are not.”

The service included presentations of memorial wreaths to honor veterans and military personnel who passed away this year. Presenting for The American Legion were National Commander Charles E. Schmidt and National Adjutant Daniel S. Wheeler; for the American Legion Auxiliary, National President Mary Davis and National Secretary Mary “Dubbie” Buckler; and for the Sons of The American, National Commander Jeff Frain and National Adjutant Brian O’Hearne.

American Legion 2017 Boys Nation President Darius Thomas of Alabama lit the Candle of Remembrance onstage at the service, and the Newport Beach, Calif., American Legion Post 291 posted and retired the colors during the ceremony. Choral music was performed by the Carson Chamber Singers.

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Showing Reno 'we're out there'

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Department of Michigan Legionnaire Marilyn Britten has marched in what she believes is six American Legion National Convention parades – including Sunday’s in downtown Reno, Nev.

And she will continue to do so, for multiple reasons.

“It’s being part of my department,” said Britten, a PUFL member of Post 178 in Lansing and the department’s historian. “And it’s also showing people in these communities we’re out there, we have served and we’re glad to show that we are serving still.”

A total of 73 units marched up Virginia Street Sunday, doing so in front of several of the city’s residents who lined the street to cheer the parade participants.

“They were cheering,” Britten said. “They’d see the banner that has the state (name), so then they started cheering for the state. It was really neat.”

The Department of Montana led off the process of contiguous Legion departments – something that was a source of pride for Department Parade Chairman and immediate Past Department Commander Hal Rice.

“It’s wonderful – something we haven’t done for a long time,” Rice said. “We had a really good year. It was one of our best years. I called on (our department members) to put out their Montana pride. It really worked.”

The Department of Nevada hosted a parade after-party at the nearby Reno Ballroom that included food and live entertainment. Hosting an American Legion National Convention means something to Department of Nevada Sergeant.-at-Arms Richard Eberly.

“It’s 100 percent (a source of pride),” Eberly said. “Not every state gets to host a national convention. It’s an honor to be able to do so.”

Having a party after the parade, Eberly said, allows “everybody to get together from all the states, and to be able to see each other from each state and associate with each other outside of being in a meeting.”

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Legionnaires learn about preparedness, awareness at national security meeting

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More than 300 Legionnaires packed the meeting room during The American Legion's National Security Commission meeting and POW/MIA update Aug. 19, at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nev.

Presentations for the commission meeting during the Legion’s 99th National Convention were provided to the members by the American Red Cross of Nevada, U.S. Selective Service System, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and the National League of POW/MIA Families. The key theme was preparedness and awareness.

“We all have the opportunity for a natural disaster to strike … you need to be prepared in the event of a disaster,” said American Red Cross of Nevada Executive Director Zanny Marsh. “We respond to about 70,000 disasters and the frequency of large scale disasters may be increasing, but the most common disaster that we respond to are home fires.

“In our local community, Red Cross volunteers are responding to a home fire about every 41 hours, but in Las Vegas it’s every 15. By educating yourself about preparedness, you can reduce the risk of devastation, injury or death for your spouse, your family, or your neighbors.”

Marsh recommends a practice called “Be Red Cross Ready.” These steps include:

1. Get a kit

2. Make a plan

3. Be informed

Detailed information on how to prepare for emergencies can be found at the American Red Cross website.

“The time is now – your partnership is essential,” Marsh concluded. “I hope that when you return home, you contact your local chapters and ask them how you can further implement the strategies to ‘Be Red Cross Ready.’”

Legionnaires also learned how America is prepared on the home front. Despite the success of an all-volunteer military force, registration with Selective Service must continue as a key component of national security strategy.

The Selective Service System prepares our nation with a structure and a system of guidelines which will provide the most prompt, efficient, and equitable draft possible, if the country should need it.

“We are a necessary and incredibly inexpensive insurance policy that ensures the availability of trained and untrained personnel to the Department of Defense in the event of a national emergency,” said Donald Benton, director of the Selective Service System. “Like The American legion, we must be maintained and maintained with an appropriate budget.”

The Selective Service System’s mission is to provide manpower to the armed forces in an emergency; and to run an Alternative Service Program for men classified as conscientious objectors during a draft.

“It’s extremely important to realize that the registration of the Selective Service (for men aged 18-25) is the law, but compliance with the law comes with certain tangible benefits and failure to register has consequences,” he said. “Registration is linked, by congressional acts, to important education, job training, and employment benefits at both the federal and state level.”

It takes 45 seconds to register at, according to Benton as he urged the committee to spread the word.

“Many of the young men in our communities, in your communities, are losing these benefits because they have not registered,” he continued. “My fear is that the many young men that don’t register don’t even realize that they are losing these opportunities until it’s too late.”

As of today, the Selective Service continues to register only men, but Benton also addressed if women were going to be required to register.

“Women have proudly and honorably served our volunteer force,” he said. “We do not create policy. We implement policy that the president and the Congress direct, and we have not been directed to register women.”

Benton praised the men and women currently serving in the 130 countries around the world. He concluded by saying, “We stand behind and ready to back up our all-volunteer military force.”

In the unfortunate event a servicemember is missing following a war or conflict, it’s the responsibility of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to recover those personnel.

Legionnaires received an update from Johnie Webb, the deputy director for External Relations and Legislative Affairs for DPAA.

“We had to develop a new technique, a new tool, that will allow us to identify individuals and that tool is the chest x-ray comparison,” Webb said. “We were able to find the chest x-rays of many of the individuals from World War II and Korea that were still in the archives.”

X-rays were restored and digitized, then used to identify the remains of individuals. According to Webb, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner approved this technique as an official means of identification earlier this summer. He said that there are more than 83,000 Americans still missing, many of them deep sea losses, requiring additional assistance. Because of this, Congress has allowed DPAA to partner with universities, underwater archology experts, and other private groups to assist with the identification and recovery efforts.

More information on accounting for missing personnel can be found at the DPAA website.

The American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt made a surprise visit to the National Security Commission meeting and noted the importance of national security and POW/MIA recovery efforts.

“It’s our responsibility, our legacy, that we’ve inherited to pay attention to the national security of our great country,”Schmidt said. “Our resolution says we call for a full accounting until they all come home.”

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Did you know?

Military Funeral Honors ceremonies must be scheduled in advance.

The law requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, which includes the folding and presentation of the United States flag and the playing of “taps,” upon the family’s request. This Department of Defense program calls for the funeral director to request military funeral honors on behalf of the veteran’s family.