Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Legion Riders encouraged to add to memorial database

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As The American Legion moves closer to its 100th birthday, Legionnaire Bob Sussan is urging his fellow American Legion Riders to help add to the Legion’s ever-growing memorial database.

Sussan, chairman of the The American Legion Riders Advisory Committee, is asking for Riders across the country to contribute to the database, which has more than 1,860 memorials provided by 447 contributors from 54 states and countries.

“As we quickly approach our 100th anniversary celebration, we remember our founders and the following quote from the Preamble to our constitution – ‘To preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars,’” said Sussan, who as chief road captain of The American Legion Legacy Run has made wreath-laying ceremonies at veterans and military memorials a regular stop in the ride. “To honor the sacrifice and service of so many, The American Legion started a memorial database.

“Now we need the Riders’ help. While they are out in the community, we would like to ask our Riders to please capture a photo of the memorials and then post it with a brief description. Help us to remember and never forget our heroes who gave so much for our freedom.”

Adding a memorial is easy. Click here and then follow the instructions. Submissions will be displayed after review.

To add a memorial, you need the following:

• A photo or photos (required), easily taken with a smart phone.

• Location of the memorial, mapped if possible.

• Purpose of the memorial, such as who it honors and why, in just a sentence or two.

• Date of the memorial’s installation and who originally installed it.

• A brief assessment of its condition today.

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Employment event set for Washington Conference

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The American Legion and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program will team up for an employment event at this month’s Washington Conference in the nation’s capital. Veterans, military personnel and their spouses are invited to attend the event, which will take place Feb. 23 at the Washington Hilton, 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW.

An employment fair, featuring hiring managers from private corporations, and state and federal agencies will take place from 1-4 p.m. Prior to the employment fair, the Legion will provide a résumé workshop (9-10:30 a.m.), financial literacy workshop (10:30-11:30 a.m.) and networking luncheon (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.).

The résumé workshop will focus on résumé building, networking and interviewing tips. The financial literacy workshop will include tips on managing money, creating a budget, tracking spending, paying down debt and saving for the future.

To register for the job fair, which will allow job-seekers to upload their résumés ahead of time and give potential employers an opportunity to view them, click here.

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Register now for veteran career and education events at Washington Conference

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A number of career and education events for veterans, servicemembers and military spouses are on tap for The American Legion's Washington Conference later this month.

In addition to a conducted by the Legion and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program, which includes a hiring fair and workshops, events at the Washington Hilton, 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW, include:

• Feb. 28: Action Plan for Growth Workshop, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.: For CEO’s, chief level executive leaders and business owners. Breakfast and lunch will be provided. To register:

• Feb. 28-March 1: Boots to Business Reboot, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.: An entrepreneurial training program designed for veterans and their dependents that have already made the transition back to civilian life. To register:

• March 1: Avenir Life Coaching Mind Fit Workshop, 9 a.m.-noon or 1-4 p.m.: Designed to teach cutting-edge, research-based nutritional information and simple self-regulation and mindfulness-based techniques to enhance overall performance and wellness. To register:

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Olympians' military background gives them an edge

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There’s a notable military presence on the U.S. Olympic bobsled and luge teams. Four bobsledders, three lugers and two coaches are servicemembers.

Those military ties give them an edge, said bobsledder Nick Cunningham.

“Knowing that we have the support of the military behind us, kind of gives us a psychological edge over our competition. Everyone else has their country and community and family; we have country, community, family and the U.S. military backing up. I’m going in pretty confident into this competition,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham has the most experience of Team USA’s three bobsled drivers; this will be his third Olympic Games. The rest of his four-man bobsled team — Hakeen Abdul-Sanoor, Christopher Kinney and Sam Michener — are making their Olympic debuts; Abdul-Sanoor and Cunningham also qualified in two-man bobsled.

Cunningham’s experience can be beneficial to his teammates. “I’m able to go in there and tell them what to expect, how again to work with the media, work with training times, track times, just how things work with the (Olympic) Village and whatnot. … The goal was not making the Olympic team, that was just a steppingstone to our goal. That’s what I’ve been trying to convey to them at this point,” he said.

Cunningham was a brakeman in the 2010 Olympics with driver Mike Kohn, who’s now a coach of the team. Kohn introduced Cunningham, then a civilian, to the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP).

“I was not looking at the military whatsoever, and he told me about it,” Cunningham said. “There had to be somebody that had something negative to say about this program somewhere, and everybody I talked to only had such positive things to say about the WCAP program, and that’s when I went to a meeting to learn a little bit more information about it, and within two months I was going to basic training and wanting to be a part of this program.

“…One of the cool things about this program is going into an Olympics and knowing that, yes, I’m competing for the United States of America, but when you know that you’re representing so much more than just that competition, I get to represent everyone, beyond even the Army, all of our armed forces. I can go out there and give my best effort for the men and women that are fighting for us, and not able to be at home, and hopefully we can give them something to cheer about and let them know that even though I’m sliding down a sled on ice, I’m still right there with them all.”

Cunningham said his military experience directly correlates to being successful as an Olympian.

“You live those Army values day in and day out. We’re soldiers first, and with everything else, the time management, how to overcome adversity, distractions, all that stuff, and making decision in a stressful situation, all that stuff plays a part, especially in the sport of bobsled where there’s so many variables that play a part, so many moving things can change,” he said. “So the Army has taught me a lot of values and different components that I take into my daily routine as an athlete.”

The servicemembers on the U.S. Olympic bobsled and luge teams through WCAP:

• Sgt. Nick Cunningham, bobsled driver, competing in his third Olympics.

• Capt. Chris Fogt, bobsled brakeman, competing in his third Olympics. Fogt won a bronze medal in 2014 as part of the four-man bobsled team driven by Steven Holcomb.

• Capt. Mike Kohn, bobsled coach. Kohn competed in three Olympics (2002, ’10 and ’14), winning a bronze medal in 2002 as part of the four-man bobsled team driven by Brian Shimer.

• Sgt. Taylor Morris, singles luge, competing in his first Olympics after being an alternate in 2014.

• Sgt. Matthew Mortensen, doubles luge, competing in his second Olympics.

• Sgt. Justin Olsen, bobsled driver, competing in his third Olympics. Olsen was part of the gold medal four-man bobsled team driven by Steven Holcomb in 2010 but underwent an emergency appendectomy, Feb.. 5. The U.S. Olympic Committee said it’s hopeful he will still be able to compete in the Winter Games.

• Sgt. Shauna Rohbock, bobsled driving coach. Rohbock competed in two Olympics (2006 and 2010), winning a silver medal with Valerie Fleming in ’06.

• Sgt. Emily Sweeney, singles luge, competing in her first Olympics.

In addition, Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Weber, an active-duty Green Beret, will push Olsen in the four-man bobsled in his first Olympic appearance. Weber was inspired to try out for the team after reading an article about Olsen, and trained while deployed.

The 2018 Winter Olympics will be Feb. 8-25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. A complete schedule of events can be found here.

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Illinois post keeps the memory of four Army chaplains alive

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The story about the bravery and self-sacrifice of four World War II Army chaplains aboard the USAT Dorchester is one that has been told for the past 75 years. And the story evokes deep emotion no matter how many times one may tell it.

“It’s my fourth year reading this story … but it still hits the heart strings. I’m a Navy veteran so when you talk about boats going down I get a softball in my throat,” said Pete Hirt, who was one of three Legionnaires at American Legion Post 974 in Franklin Park, Ill., to recount the story during the post’s fourth annual Four Chaplains memorial service on Feb. 4. “I put myself in that cold water, watching the boat go down. As much as I try to stop thinking about what I’m reading, my mind won’t let me. (The heroic acts of the four Army chaplains) is another reason why they call (World War II veterans) the world’s greatest generation.”

On Feb. 3, 1943, the Dorchester was carrying 902 men across the cold North Atlantic waters to an Army Command Base in Greenland. The Dorchester never arrived to its destination. It was torpedoed by a German U-boat, killing 672, including the four Army chaplains of different religions who sacrificed their lives for men of all faiths – Reverend George Fox (Methodist), Jewish Rabbi Alexander Goode, Reverend Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Father John Washington (Roman Catholic).

Post 974’s service, which was opened to the public, honored the chaplains with a table that held their photos, relics of their religion and life jackets adorned by U.S. flags to symbolize their courage.

The torpedo knocked out the Dorchester’s electrical system, leaving the ship dark. Panic set in among the men on board. The chaplains calmed the men through prayer and organized an orderly evacuation of the ship and helped guide wounded men to safety.

“Four chaplains … not the captain of the vessel, not the commanding officers. It was four chaplains who stopped the chaos,” said Kendal Bishop, chaplain for Post and Squadron 974. “It didn’t matter what denomination they were. It was about the spirituality of helping their fellow comrades.”

As life jackets were passed out to the men, the supply ran out before each man had one. The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. Survivors said that the four men linked arms, bowed their heads, said prayers and sang hymns as the ship went down.

“They put aside their own fears and uncertainty to administer to the needs of others,” read Post 974 member Gene Korus. “Together they sacrificed their last shutter of hope to ensure the survival of other men.”

During the memorial service, four Legionnaires portrayed the Army chaplains by sitting in front of the table that featured their photos and religious relics (baptismal wand, sacred oils, rosary beads, chalice, book of daily prayers and more). Stories about why they joined the military and the families they left behind were shared as a reminder that these men were sons, brothers, husbands and fathers. The Legionnaires turned toward the table to face Fox, Goode, Poling, Washington and lit a candle in their memory as the sound of a bell tolled.

Following the lighting of the candles, a memorial wreath was brought forth by Mia and Alexis, the young daughters of Post 974 member and 9th District Senior Vice Commander Don Horn, who was one of the story readers.

“When I was rehearsing this morning my daughters asked, ‘Are you going to start crying again?’ I had to explain to them why we were doing this,” Horn said. “The story of the Four Chaplains exemplifies where we came from and the sacrifices our servicemembers make.”

Educating youth like Mia and Alexis about the Four Chaplains story is vital, said Unit 974 member Patricia Kowalski. “We need to stress what these men went through and how they gave up their lives for their comrades. Our youth need to understand what their grandfathers, fathers, brothers, sisters and mothers did for their country.”

The memorial service ended with the sounding of taps, prayer and the chaplains’ candles being extinguished. But across the country, and within Post 974, the memory of Fox, Goode, Poling and Washington lives on. Post 974 is one of many across the country memorializing the chaplains to remind the “community, state and nation to understand the sacrifices that are made not just by these four chaplains but by everyday people doing everyday service with the military,” Bishop said. “Even after they leave the military they are still out there serving.”

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