Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

American Legion Family answers national commander's candles of honor callout

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American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford asked, and the American Legion Family answered.

In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day, Oxford asked Legion Family members to light candles of remembrance and placing them on front porches at dusk on Memorial Day. The purpose, Oxford said, was to “show our respects by lighting and displaying candles to remind everyone why we must never forget the meaning of this sacred holiday.”

The American Legion Family responded, using social media to share dozens of photos using the hashtag #candlesofhonor. We’ve put together an album of some of the photos that were shared; find out on our National Headquarters Facebook page.

Thanks to all who participated in this campaign.

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NEF aid available to qualified Michigan flood victims

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Just days after dam failures flooded parts of north-central Michigan, American Legion members in the affected area were mobilizing to help their communities.

“We’re pretty much packed to the rafters” with donations of cleaning supplies, personal hygiene products, and more, said Mark Authier, commander of Post 443 in Sanford, Mich.

Post 443 sits far enough east that the building wasn’t impacted by the millions of gallons of water that emptied out of Wixom Lake when the Edenville Dam ruptured after days of heavy rain. But the flooding forced thousands from their homes, and the cleanup has begun.

“People are mostly involved in getting their homes and businesses just cleaned up,” Authier said. “There was a big effort over the weekend and (on) Memorial Day where people were just coming in and out of town in dump trucks, filling them and taking them to the area landfill. What they’re concentrating on right now is cleanup.”

Despite the post being closed since March 16 due to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, Post 443 quickly became a distribution center for supplies to the community.

Authier said donations had been so generous, the post had to ask donors to stop bringing clothing — “People don’t have any place to put it,” he said — but donations of other necessities were still coming in.

The community’s generosity was also evident in the reaction to a GoFundMe page set up to help fund the rebuilding of the Sanford Flag Memorial. Post 443’s Legion Riders chapter helped raised funds with the Ryan Burgess Memorial Foundation to build the monument, which was dedicated in 2018. Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan Burgess was killed by an IED in Iraq in 2006.

“One flagpole out of the seven was bent down into the ground,” Authier said. “We rescued the American flag and the POW flag; both were tattered. Everything else washed downstream. We rescued the combat cross and some of the brickwork, which we’re storing at the post until we can rebuild.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the GoFundMe campaign had raised over $33,000 toward rebuilding the monument.

“We’re a small town, but this community has really pulled together to try to clean up and get ready to move on to the next phase, which we hope will be a new and better, stronger Sanford,” Authier said.

NEF funds available

The National Emergency Fund is available for American Legion and Sons of The American Legion members, as well as Legion posts, who have been impacted by natural disasters like the flooding in Michigan. The NEF provides up to $3,000 for Legion and SAL members with an active membership who have been displaced due to damages to their primary residence, and up to $10,000 for posts that have been damaged by a natural disaster and whose programs and activities within the community are impacted. To apply for an NEF grant, please visit

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Pandemic pauses Paralympian’s path

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When she served as emcee at The American Legion’s 100th National Convention in Minneapolis two years ago, Melissa Stockwell was looking forward to representing Team USA again at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down those plans.

Even before the Olympic Committee officially postponed this summer’s Olympic Games to 2021, Stockwell saw it coming. She was among athletes at a Florida event in February that was cancelled due to the coronavirus.

“We came back to the Springs and a week later they closed the training center facilities,” she said, referring to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. “At that point, we knew that there was a high probability that the Games would be postponed or cancelled. When we woke up one morning and got the news that they were postponed, it was not that surprising. It was always the right decision because health always comes first.”

Still it was disappointing for Stockwell, who was aiming to return and improve on the bronze medal she won at the 2016 Games.

“It doesn’t change the fact that a lot of us have our lives planned out in quads, every four years,” she said. “A year is not a big deal. For others, it is. I’m 40. I have two kids. And my husband (Brian Tolsma) and I opened a business in Colorado.”

After the 2020 Games, they had planned on Stockwell working at the business more. Now those plans are delayed for a year. Their business, Tolsma-Stockwell Prosthetics, helps fit customized prosthetics to patients. “It was a little daunting and scary at first,” she admitted. “But we’ve seen a good number of veterans as customers. It’s been nice to give back.”

Giving back and honoring veterans is what led her to The American Legion’s convention in 2018. Stockwell treasures the time she spent there. “I always knew how large and respected an organization the Legion is,” she said. “But being there in person and seeing and experiencing it was great. I was proud and honored to be there and to speak there.”

In 2004, Stockwell became the first woman to lose a limb in combat when a roadside bomb detonated near Baghdad, Iraq. She received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and spent a year recovering and rehabilitating at Walter Reed Medical Center.

From there, she has been a multiple-time Paratriathlon world champion, and won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. “Losing a leg didn’t stop me from doing anything in my life,” she said. “I proudly represented my country in two Paralympic Games.”

Stockwell and her family moved to Colorado Springs in early 2019 so she could train at the Olympic Training Center with the goal of returning again to the Paralympics. She won a few World Cup events last year and is looking forward to Tokyo. “The hope is that I will get to the Paralympics but there has not been any qualifying yet.”

The move has helped her improve as an athlete, thanks to a more regular routine, at least before the pandemic, as well as access to nutrition, strength and triathlon-specific coaches.

“Before the coronavirus, every Monday through Friday we’re in the pool from 7:30 to 9 (in the morning),” she said. “The training is now more prioritized. My training was always a priority but now it is more so when you have a team, the coaches and the facilities to use.”

As a triathlete, Stockwell has to spend time working on three disciplines — swimming, biking and running — instead of concentrating on one like most athletes.

“I would say the bike is where I have improved the most since moving out here. I was the least fastest at that one but I have seen the most improvement there. A lot of consistency, time on the bike and being in Colorado and the hills and elevation have all combined to make that happen.”

With the training center closed, the athletes can train on their own. But in-person team bonding has been replaced by Zoom meetups. “We usually spend hours and hours together and we’re missing that team aspect. We do what we can but we’ll be excited when we can get back and see each other more.”

For now, Stockwell continues to train, by running, biking and using her home gym. She will still have to qualify for the Paralympics but she is eager to get back to the Games.

“It will only be a year,” she said. “It will go quick, and it will be worth the wait. But some days it feels like an eternity.”


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Our WWII Story: Civil defense in a time of war

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American Legion Past National Commander Raymond Murphy put out a nationwide call to display, in capital letters, a warning to “every village, town and city in the land” that citizens must be prepared in the event World War II should reach U.S. soil:


“We must learn to defend and protect ourselves, each other, and our properties, just as the men in the fighting services have had to do,” wrote Murphy, then director of The American Legion’s Citizens Defense Training Program, in the May 1942 issue of The American Legion Magazine. “If we don't, we shall be in a sorry mess, for at any moment this war may crash down from the sky or through sabotage into our own backyards.”

The United States was less than two months into World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt personally accepted National Commander Lynn Stambaugh’s offer to use Legionnaires and posts to train others to qualify as plane spotters and air-raid wardens. Soon was born The American Legion Citizens Defense Corps Training Program. Among its goals was to have more than 1.2 million trained air raid wardens in place across the country. With just about 1 million members at the time, the challenge would require training others.

“It’s our special assignment in this war and one of our contributions to victory,” Murphy wrote.

In the months ahead, as more than 150,000 members of The American Legion (World War I veterans and career officers) returned to wartime service, nearly 400,000 local Legionnaires became air-raid wardens and trained others in their communities. American Legion posts were staging areas for all forms of wartime civil defense, which included a massive ramp-up in specialized firefighting training in case of incendiary bombs, procurement of gas masks in case of chemical attack, and orderly evacuation procedures should they be needed.

The American Legion worked in collaboration with the U.S. Office of Civil Defense to fill local emergency-response gaps and lead community protection programs. The OCD authorized a 72-page textbook and curriculum prepared by The American Legion for air-raid warden training programs nationwide.

“We want America strong enough to meet any possible attack before it arrives and to turn the enemy back so that our homes remain intact and our families secure,” American Legion National Defense Committee Chairman Warren Atherton told the National Executive Committee of The American Legion. “We urge the members of The American Legion through their posts to tender their service to local councils of defense as observers, auxiliary fire fighters, air raid wardens, and in the performance of every type of service set up by those organizations in their respective communities.”

The NEC authorized the display of official civil defense insignia on American Legion uniforms while performing their duties.

By the war’s end, The American Legion had fulfilled the mission given by the White House in February 1942 to such a degree that the organization called for an indefinite continuation of the program as other emergency wartime programs across the country were folding tent at the time.

“Under conditions of modern war, the training of civilians to be able to care for themselves and their property during attack is almost as important as that of training military personnel,” the Civil Defense Committee reported to the 27th National Convention in 1945, calling for a nationwide corps of posts that would lead emergency-response efforts in times of war or of peace.

Hundreds of local posts continue to lead civil defense programs and work with local, state and federal authorities – and with VA medical facilities – to coordinate efforts should the need ever arise.

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Americans Ponder Losses Past and Present on a Subdued Memorial Day

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At beaches, seaside arcades and other attractions, many people hoped to turn the page from the past few months. But neither the weather nor the pandemic made that easy.

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