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Veterans Benefits Information

Senate resolution calls for 'American Legion Week'

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On June 26, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a Senate resolution honoring The American Legion’s 100th anniversary of serving veterans, their families and communities.

Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced a resolution designating August 23-29 as "American Legion Week" to coincide with the Legion's 100th anniversary convention in its home city of Indianapolis.

In a press release, Braun said, “The American Legion has been a cornerstone of American life from the local to the federal level since the beginning, and serves as a constant reminder of the enormous contributions America’s armed service members have made to enrich our nation during and after their military service. Indiana is proud to be home for the American Legion, and I'm proud to congratulate them on 100 years of service."

Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also praised the organization. “For generations the American Legion has played an undeniable role in strengthening the veteran community,” he said. “Since its inception, The American Legion has provided support to veterans and their families in Montana and across the country by helping them navigate the VA system to get the care and benefits they earned. During American Legion Week, we celebrate their accomplishments, honor their 100 years of service, and thank them for their continued advocacy.”

Praise also was offered by Brown. “Throughout the decades, The American Legion has remained dedicated to veterans and their families who have served and sacrificed so much for our country,” he said. “I’m proud to honor The American Legion on their 100 year anniversary of serving veterans of the armed forces, their families and our communities.”

Young, lead sponsor of The American Legion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act, said, “For 100 years, the American Legion has advocated for our veterans. As an American Legion member myself, I can attest to the important work the Legion does to improve the lives of veterans across America. That’s why I was proud to help create The American Legion 100th Anniversary commemorative coin, and it’s why I’m proud to help introduce a resolution celebrating this milestone.”

U.S. Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), who represents Indianapolis, is expected to introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“The strong civic spirit found in Indianapolis is largely thanks to the enduring presence of the American Legion, which is headquartered here,” Carson said in a press release. “For 100 years, it has set an example of patriotism and service that has strengthened our community and many more across the nation. I’m pleased to congratulate the American Legion on its centennial, and honored to lead the resolution celebrating this milestone in the House of Representatives.”


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President signs Blue Water Navy Veterans Act into law

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The decades-long fight for Blue Water Navy veterans to receive VA disability benefits for illnesses linked to exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War is over.

On Tuesday, June 25, President Trump signed into law H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019. The American Legion-supported legislation will extend disability benefits covering medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure to those who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam, known as "Blue Water" Navy veterans.

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. Presumptive diseases of exposure to the herbicide include certain cancers, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. However, this act applied only to veterans who served on land and in Vietnam’s inland waterways. H.R. 299 extends these benefits to any military personnel who served on any vessel during the Vietnam War that came within 12 nautical miles of the coastlines of Vietnam.

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.


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Chairman Takano, Ranking Member Roe Statement on Passage of Historic Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano and Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe issued the following statement after the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, H.R. 299, was officially signed into law: “Today, we are proud to say that the tens of thousands of Blue Water Navy veterans can rest easy tonight knowing that the benefits that they earned while serving off the coasts of Vietnam will be guaranteed. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 is finally law and is the culmination of a decades-long bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill to properly recognize these veterans’ claims and grant them the justice they have waited for. This day would not be possible without the leadership and unwavering commitment of our House and Senate colleagues, countless veteran voices, and the Veterans Service Organizations behind them including the Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, The American Legion, AMVETS, Fleet Reserve Association, Military Officers Association of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Paralyzed Veterans of America. We are so grateful to each of them and look forward to continuing our work together to ensure that every one of those who have bravely fought for our country is afforded the care, benefits, and services that they deserve.” Background: The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 will extend benefits to servicemembers that served in the territorial waters off the coast of Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange. This was the first bill Chairman Takano introduced this Congress after a similar bill was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives last Congress but stalled in the Senate. This legislation will ensure tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans finally get the benefits they’ve earned and deserve. ###  

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'Incredible' Legion support helps bring disabled veterans together

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Fifty years ago, Paul Minillo, Bill Hancock, Ron Marmon, Joe Hughes and Tom Crites all served together in Vietnam in the U.S. Marines’ Hotel (H) Company in the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines, 5th Division. All five men earned Purple Hearts, as did more than 90 percent of those who served in Hotel Company; another 74 of the company’s Marines were killed in action.

Their service together created a bond that the five men have turned into decades of friendship that include regularly meeting up to reminisce and, in part, to continue healing. Their most recent get-together occurred on Lake Erie June 19-23 and happened in part due to The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW).

The five Vietnam veterans, along with 101 other disabled veterans of various war eras and first responders injured in the line of duty, took part in the eighth annual Walleyes for Wounded Heroes event at Ted’s Little Cottages and Family Resort in Marblehead, Ohio. Participants arrived June 19 from Iowa, Kentucky, Illinois, West Virginia, Indiana and Ohio and spent three days fishing Lake Erie for walleye on charter boats provided free of charge.

In fact, the entire event is free to the participants, helped in part by an OCW grant of $16,000 that covered two meals a day and lodging for the veterans and first responders. OCW has been providing grants to Walleyes for Wounded Warriors since 2014. The grants have grown in size over the years and are crucial to the success of the event.

“It’s huge. Like every nonprofit, our blood is donation money,” said Walleyes for Wounded Heroes President Joe Stelzer, a member of American Legion Post 323 in St. Marys, Ohio. “With what the Legion does, it’s incredible. For us to come up with that money every year that the Legion donates would be so many extra hours that we just don’t have.”

While fishing is the primary activity for the participants, it’s only part of the experience. “It’s camaraderie. It’s a healing thing,” said Marmon, a 41-year Legionnaire and now a member of Post 513 in Cincinnati. “Guys goes home feeling a lot better. When you go home … you’ve got more friends than you had when you got up here.”

Marmon and the other members of Hotel Company have been taking part in Walleyes for Wounded Heroes since 2016. Minillo, a 21-year member of Jay Wilson Post 112 in Madison, Ohio, enjoys “seeing my brothers. Getting together with them. And the fishing is always good.”

The weekend gives Crites – a member of American Legion Post 452 in Stanton, Mich., for 20-plus years – a chance to “be with my brothers. And we also get a chance to help other veterans. We went through some of the same things they went through. If we can help them get help, get their PTSD more under control … it can help the younger veterans bond with us. We’re here as older people and can take a younger guy under our wing and become friends with him. Each year we see them that bond grows stronger. It’s really satisfying for us to help other veterans.”

Hancock, a member of Post 513 in Cincinnati, also sees the weekend as a chance to work with the younger veterans participating. “The nice thing about this is we get to talk to some of the young veterans that are coming back. And we listen to them. They don’t need to hear our stories. What they need to do is tell their story. And they know they can tell it to us.”

One of those younger veterans attending the event was two-time Purple Heart recipient Jesse Sage, who medically retired from the U.S. Army Rangers in 2015 after suffering a traumatic brain injury. Despite an age difference between himself and veterans from previous conflicts, Sage said a connection remains.

“I think that one thing that all combat veterans share in common – although their theater and their enemy were different – is trauma is trauma,” said the 41-year-old Sage, who deployed 10 times to Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the 101st Airborne Division and 3rd Ranger Battalion. I think that bridges the gap between those wars.”

Sage said he was able to connect with other veterans during the five days in Marblehead, connections he’ll take with him back to Iowa. Meanwhile, U.S. Army veteran Jimmy Cantrell, who received a Purple Heart after being injured in Operation Just Cause in Panama and went on to serve in Operation Desert Storm, saw a caring side to the event. “I really got to meet … a lot of great people (and learned) how much this community really cares about us and what we’ve done,” he said.

Cantrell came to Walleyes for Wounded Heroes because he found himself slipping into a “bad place.” The time away with other veterans made a difference for him.

“A lot of the thoughts are gone, the bad thoughts I was having,” Cantrell said. “They really disappeared.”

Cantrell’s story is nothing new to Marine Corps veteran Ferd Lohman, a volunteer with Walleyes for Wounded Heroes. He said the difference between some of the veterans when they arrive at the start of the week and how they are at the end is “night and day. When the first-timers get here, they’re closed off. They don’t know what to expect. They’re the ones sitting at the far end of the tent by themselves. And the (veterans) who have been here in the past, they see those guys, they know they’re struggling and they want to help.

“Our Vietnam vets that come, they see the younger generation who are fighting the same things they fought back when, and they go up to them and sit down and talk. It’s amazing how our older vets are stepping up and helping our younger vets.”

Lohman, a member of Yeager-Benson Memorial American Legion Post 199 in Harrison, Ohio, is the first mate with Circle Maker Charters and organizes all the charters for Walleyes for Wounded Heroes. Some of the charter captains are veterans, but all donate their time and boats at no charge. “Some of these charter captains are turning down close to $800 a day to go and do this for three days for these fellas as a sign of respect and ‘thank you,’” Lohman said.

Greg Freeze, a boat captain with the fishing charter business Walleye2go Sportfishing, has been volunteering with Walleyes for Wounded Heroes for six years. This year was the fourth time he’s been paired up with the members of Hotel Company.

“These guys served our country. To me, it’s the only way I’ve got to give back,” Freeze said. “I didn’t serve our country, so the only thing I can do is serve them. I look forward to this every year.”

After three days of fishing, Walleyes for Wounded Heroes culminates with a Thank You Celebration at Tall Timbers Campground in Port Clinton, Ohio. Members of the community came out to show their appreciation during the celebration, which included a meal, silent auction, vendors, music and the aerial delivery of an 1,100-square-foot U.S. flag courtesy of members of Team Fastrax, the world’s largest commercial skydiving team.

Two Gold Star families – those of Army Master Sgt. Brian Naseman, killed May 22, 2009 during Operation Iraqi Freedom; and Army Sgt. David J. Luff Jr., killed Nov. 21, 2010 during Operation New Dawn – also were present and honored during the celebration.

For Hughes, the Thank You Celebration was the culmination of a five-day stretch that provides “a sense of peace. That’s the biggest thing.”

But the Paid-Up-For-Life member of Post 407 in Lenexa, Kan., said The American Legion’s support for Walleyes for Wounded Heroes is an opportunity for the 100-year-old organization to make an impact on the newest generation of veterans.

“It’s good to see my American Legion (be a part) of events for the young (veterans),” Hughes said. “It’s all about them now. We want to hear their stories, not tell our stories.”


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Wounded by Chemical Weapons in Iraq, Veterans Fight a Lonely Battle for Help

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Annette Nellis and three other airmen came forward with health issues years after they were exposed to chemicals during a training exercise. When will the military provide the recognition they were promised?

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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.