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White House visit culminates Legion scholars D.C. trip

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The 10 Samsung American Legion Scholarship recipients of 2017 concluded their recognition trip in Washington, D.C., with a visit to the East Wing of the White House on June 7. It was the first time many of the scholars had been inside the home of America’s commander-in-chief.

The White House visit “definitely made this trip memorable. Especially since it’s sort of like the hallmark of D.C. with leadership, so it goes with the theme of why we’re here and it’s to be able to serve and to lead our communities,” said Claire Seibel of Roanoke, Va. “This visit stands out as one of the most memorable experiences of my time here.”

Krista Flinkstrom of Stow, Mass., who will be attending West Point this fall, said the ornateness of the White House “lived up to my expectations, if not exceeded them, with the chandeliers and china; I didn’t know each first lady has her own china.”

Flinkstrom added that between the White House visit and the tours of D.C.’s war memorials, she has been able to see “how wonderful our democratic state is, its history and getting to see veterans all makes you become more inspired and excited for our nation. Sometimes people just want to pigeonhole when it’s bad. Not that I was doing that, but this trip makes me more excited when I see that this is real, people are working hard, and they are working together. It’s inspiring.”

“It’s been a great two days meeting the other scholars, alumni and Legion staff,” said Jack Gardner of Vacaville, Calif. “It’s been nonstop, but everything we’ve done these past few days has been meaningful. It’s had a purpose.”


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Teamwork a point of emphasis at Oklahoma Boys State

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There was an opportunity for a teaching moment, and Oklahoma American Legion Boys State senior counselor Jonathan Leatherman Clason took it.

Two “cities” were competing against each other in a bucket brigade as part of the Boys State program at NEO A&M College in Miami, Okla. With members of the Miami city fire department looking on, the Boys State delegates were tasked with filling up a large trashcan with buckets of water from a portable tank.

One city came up with a better idea: save the relay and fill up the trashcan directly.

“And they smoked them when they did it,” Clason noted afterwards.

Clason recognized the teamwork and the leadership necessary to come up with a different way to attack the bucket brigade scenario, part of the special schools at Oklahoma Boys State which also included an emergency response simulation and a Marine Corps leadership challenge aimed at pushing the delegates outside their comfort zone while working in teams.

“We have a huge focus in Oklahoma American Legion Boys State about unity and being team-oriented,” Clason said. “… We find that the most difficult leadership to do is peer leadership. How do you become a leader amongst your friends? Everyone’s trying to be an individual. And our society today is kind of like, ‘I’m an individual, treat me like an individual,’ but things need to be led. Families need to be led, organizations need to be led, programs need to be led.

“And we have great school programs that do that. They teach leadership. But government needs to be led as well. So we teach unity and teamwork here.”

Learning the rights, privileges and responsibilities of franchised citizens is a major emphasis for every Boys State program. At Oklahoma Boys State and other programs, the incoming high school seniors are placed into cities and political parties to simulate their respective state’s government.

“We really stress service,” said Oklahoma Boys State Director Clay Ballenger. “You can’t be of good service to your fellow man and to our country and to your community if you aren’t able to work as a team and work with others and so, to me, it’s really just important as a society that we pass those things along to our youth. Some of them don’t get it at home, and so we try to be aware of that at Boys State, try to give them those life lessons like being part of a team, leadership and followership and service. It’s really what it’s all about here at Boys State.”

Ballenger said it’s important that young people learn how to be part of a team.

“That’s so important in today’s society, because when these young people get out in the workforce, in college and beyond, they need to have those skills to be able to work within a team, and to help each other, and not only to lead but to follow, and Boys State is a great opportunity to put them in those situations that many of them never would be,” he said.

As the Boys State program often draws the “best of the best,” learning how to work as part of a team plays a pivotal role in the delegates’ growth at Boys State.

“In most of these kids’ school, they’re going to be their student council president, they’re going to be their high school football captain, they’re going to be in a leadership position,” said Oklahoma Boys State Assistant Director Corey Brooks. “They’re going to be used to having people follow them; maybe they’re the popular kid, they’re charismatic, they’re the standout kids in their high school.

“When they come to Boys State, they’re an equal; everybody has the same résumé, by and large. So just like in real life, you get out of that small pond into the bigger ocean, and you realize that a lot of your life is followership. So we pride ourselves on teamwork, so we emphasize leadership for those who are truly the standout guys, but also learning how to be a follower, which is critically important in every aspect of life, whether it’s the military, whether it’s politics, whether it’s business, and we try to emphasize that as much as we can so these kids have the best possible opportunities to succeed when a year from now they’re basically out on their own, going to college wherever, it’s a huge lesson that we think is important.”

The governor of this year’s program, Colt Crowson, saw that firsthand.

“From the get-go, when we first arrived at Boys State, we were taught that we were a city and we were a family,” Crowson said. “The American Legion has really come together to make this program great.”


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Legion scholars see the price of service and sacrifice

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World War II veterans who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, liberated Nazi concentration camps, stormed the beaches of Normandy following D-Day and served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, sat across from the 10 Samsung American Legion scholars who are in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Legion and Samsung. Two of the veterans being honored at the World War II Memorial for the 74th anniversary D-Day observance ceremony on June 6, are Legionnaires – Norman Duncan of Post 270 in Virginia and Vivian Bailey of Post 156 in Maryland.

“When you hear about World War II, you think it’s so far ago. But to see people who were actually in the war personifies it and shows that this was real instead of something that I read in a textbook,” said Grayson Stinger of Elizabethtown, Ky.

The armed forces medley was played toward the end of the ceremony and veterans in the audience from each branch stood up to be recognized. This stirred an emotion in Nathan Alvarez of New Orleans, whose late grandfather was a Navy veteran. “When they played the Navy song I got chills. It was just incredible to hear it and think of my grandfather.”

The World War II Memorial was the first memorial visit for the scholars following their recognition breakfast on Capitol Hill. They also visited the Vietnam and Korean War memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Marine Corps War Memorial, as well as the National Museum of American History and Arlington National Cemetery where they saw the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A popular exhibit at the National Museum of American History among the scholars was The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.

“The Americans at War exhibit made me really grateful, and it made me realize how far we have come to making America what it is now,” said Heather Stout of Hurricane, Utah, who will be attending Utah State University this fall. “This trip has been a good learning experience. It was really cool to see those veterans who served in World War II as it made me feel more appreciative.”

Lindsday Fincher of Wedowee, Ala., enjoyed seeing the Vietnam War portion of the Americans at War exhibit. She has heard stories from her grandfather who served in the war but to actually see artifacts from the war and read more in-depth about it, “it was like ‘Wow. He was a part of that history.’ It just hits you to see it in person.”

A tour guide provided the scholars with a greater knowledge of and facts about the memorials. Even though Connor Wagaman had visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial before, he learned for the first time that it symbolizes a healing wound. And while visiting the Korean War Veterans Memorial for the first time, he was fascinated to learn that the reflection in the granite walls of the 19 statues makes 38 to represent the 38th Parallel and the 38 months at war. “I’ve never learned as much about the memorials as I have now,” said Wagaman of Wilmington, Del., who will be attending Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. “I appreciate The American Legion and Samsung for this amazing opportunity and scholarship.”

Daniel O’Hara’s grandfather, who is a Korean War veteran, made him eligible for the Samsung American Legion Scholarship. And seeing the memorial that honors his grandfather’s service and sacrifice is a reminder that it’s “the reason I’m here,” said O’Hara from Robins, Iowa.

The act of service and sacrifice that the scholars absorbed during their tour of the memorials and Arlington National Cemetery has always been a part of Margaret Kleiman’s upbringing. “I grew up as a member of the American Legion Family serving veterans and servicemembers. My motto is ‘above and beyond;’ it’s a way of living life I learned from my family,” said Kleiman of Hutchinson, Minn., who will attend the University of South Dakota. Her father and grandfather are members of Post 96. “I’m truly grateful to The American Legion and Samsung for this scholarship.”

The scholars wrapped up the evening with dinner at The American Legion's D.C. office to learn about the different divisions and the lobbying efforts the organization does on behalf of all veterans and servicemembers.


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Sweeping veterans health care bill becomes a law

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In a ceremony June 6, President Trump signed the John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act, also called the VA MISSION Act, into law. The comprehensive legislation impacts how veterans receive their health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, along with Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, were instrumental in working with The American Legion and other veterans service organizations to get the legislation passed.

It also includes provisions to consolidate community care programs into a single, streamlined service; provides sufficient funding to extend the program through 2019; expands comprehensive assistance; strengthens ability to recruit, hire and retain quality medical personnel; and reforms the VA health-care infrastructure.

The legislative package is comprised of five titles that address major areas of deficit, including increased access to private-sector car, consolidation of community care programs, expansion of the Family Caregiver Program and the recruitment of qualified medical professionals.

Title I: Caring for our Veterans

Establishment of Community Care Programs

One of the largest changes the legislation will bring to VA health care is the expansion of the community care program. The VA MISSION Act gives veterans more control when it comes to their health care such as increased access to private-sector care, improvements to standards for quality, access to walk-in care, ensuring individuals can get appointments scheduled in a timely manner and continuity of care.

This section requires an individual have access to community care if the VA is unable to provide the care or services needed by an individual. Some of the considerations for access to community care include distance between the veteran and facility, type of service, timeliness of available appointments and whether the veteran seeking care faces an excessive burden.

An area addressed under the Establishment of Community Care Programs provision is the remediation of medical service lines. If a service line is determined to be non-compliant with the standards for quality, a plan of action must be submitted within 30 days that addresses the actions necessary to bring the medical service line into compliance.

The establishment of a comprehensive community care program is the subject of American Legion Resolution No. 46: Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) non-VA care programs. The resolution states the VA must “develop a well-defined and consistent non-VA care coordination program, policy and procedure that includes a patient-centered care strategy which takes veterans’ unique medical injuries and illnesses as well as their travel and distance into account.”

Paying Providers and Improving Collections

Another issue under the Act is the payment of service providers. The VA MISSION Act contains a clause requiring the prompt payment of providers. It directs that service providers be paid in under 45 days for paper claims and under 30 days for electronic claims.

Education and Training Programs

The Act states that the VA will develop a program to educate veterans about their health-care options within the VA medical system. An issue many veterans face is a lack of education in what benefits they are entitled to and what exactly those benefits entail. These programs will teach veterans about eligibility criteria for care under the VA, priority enrollment groups, copayments and other financial obligations that fall on the veteran, as well as how to utilize the standards for quality and access standards. Part of the education and training program will provide veterans on information on what to do when they have a complaint about health care received through the VA.

Other Matters Relating to Non-Department of Veterans Affairs Providers

Additional matters relating to non-VA providers include a process to ensure safe opioid prescribing practices, improved information sharing with community providers, competency standards for non-VA health care providers, and access to and participation in national and state-level prescription drug monitoring programs.

Other Non-Department Health Care Matters

Additionally, Title I includes provisions to use the remaining Veterans Choice Fund to pay for health-care services at non-VA facilities or through non-VA providers, as well as permitting VA health-care professionals to provide treatment with telemedicine. The Family Caregiver Program is also addressed in this section. The Act requires the VA to expand eligibility for VA's Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to veterans of all eras, addressing American Legion Resolution No. 259: Extend Caregiver Benefits to Include Veterans Before September 11, 2001.

Title II: VA Asset and Infrastructure Review

This section requires the VA to assess the capacity of each Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) and identify deficiencies within each VISN.

Title III: Improvements to Recruitment of Healthcare Professionals

Title III focuses on improving the recruitment and retainment of quality health care professionals by providing two to four-year scholarships to medical students in exchange for service to the VA. The VA MISSION Act also increases the amount of education debt reduction available from $120,000 to $200,000 over five years, and establishes the VA Specialty Education Loan Repayment Program. Title III also establishes a pilot program for veterans healing veterans supporting four years of medical school education costs for two veterans at select medical schools. There’s also a provision requiring the VA to ensure clinical staff are able to participate in the Education Debt Reduction Program.

Title IV: Health Care in Underserved Areas

Title IV develops a plan to address problems in underserved facilities and criteria for designating those facilities. These criteria include but are not limited to the ratio of veterans to providers, range of specialties covered, and whether or not the facility is meeting the VA’s goals when it comes to wait times. In order to address the underserved facilities, the Act creates a pilot program to provide medical deployment teams to these flagged facilities. Finally, it requires the VA to establish medical residency programs at covered facilities.

Title V: Other Matters

Title V requires VA to submit an annual report on performance bonuses and awards given, including the amount of each bonus or award, the job title of the individual receiving the bonus or award, and the location where the individual works. Additionally, Title V requires VA to be transparent with vacancy information on a VA website, requires an Inspector General review of the website and requires the VA to report annually the steps the VA is taking to reach full staffing capacity.


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Scholars share gratitude to the Legion, Samsung

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Ten youth from across the nation gathered on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 6 sharing a commonality – their lives have been enriched by The American Legion as the 2017 national recipients of the Samsung American Legion Scholarship. It’s an achievement they earned through their participation in Legion Boys State or Auxiliary Girls State, being a direct descendant of a wartime veteran, academic excellence and community service.

The scholars, who recently graduated from high school and are preparing for higher education, traveled to D.C. for a special recognition from The American Legion and Samsung as an honor for their achievement. This is the fifth consecutive year that Samsung and The American Legion have recognized recipients of the scholarship with a trip to D.C. Besides the scholars, those in attendance include Samsung and American Legion staff, and Legion Family leadership such as Americanism Chairman Richard Anderson of Connecticut, Auxiliary National Education Committee Chairman Norma Tramm of Minnesota and leading candidate for Sons of The American Legion national commander Gregg Gibbs of New York.

The scholars' day started with a breakfast on Capitol Hill where the scholars met their state senators, received words of wisdom from Samsung American Legion Scholarship alumni, heard from guest speaker Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and had the opportunity to share their gratitude for the scholarship.

“I couldn’t be any prouder for having received this honor. This scholarship is about supporting my education, which to me is the greatest gift,” said Nathan Alvarez of New Orleans, who will be attending Tulane University this fall. “Education helps us discover who we are and what we’re here to do. And that’s what this scholarship is enabling me to do.”

"The Samsung American Legion Scholarship removes financial barriers and makes intangible dreams materialize," said Claire Seibel of Roanoke, Va., who will be attending Virginia Tech this fall. "The scholarship was formed from a desire to give back to those who served, and answered my why to serve the world with the dream of working for the United Nations."

The appreciation of how the scholarship is supporting and furthering their education, as well as honoring their veteran grandparent, was a sentiment shared by all the scholars. Daniel O’Hara from Robins, Iowa, said, “The Samsung American Legion Scholarship fuels the notion that education is a tool that empowers the children of democracy to uphold its ideals, using the torches carried by people such as my grandfather (a Korean War veteran) to light the way. This scholarship not only honors my grandfather and every person like him, but encourages young people such as myself to become students of democracy and citizens of our nation.”

About 5,700 youth from across the Boys and Girls State programs nationwide applied to the scholarship last year. Out of those applicants, to be selected as a top 10 scholar “you should feel really, really honored,” said Sen. Kaine. “My hope for each of you is that this scholarship is an acceleration of your ambitions to try to do good things for others.”

Samsung bestowed an endowment to the Legion in 1995 for the establishment of a scholarship; it was their way of showing an appreciation for the U.S. troops that came to the aid of South Korea. “There’s probably no company in the country that owes more to those who served than Samsung,” said Dr. David Steel, executive vice president of Samsung. “Because in the ashes of the Korean War in 1953, South Korea was just destroyed. And when our company was founded a few years later there was thanks to the victory in that war as well as the security of alliance that has endured ever since. That has allowed our company to prosper, to grow. So we have that profound sense of gratitude and that’s why years ago we set up this scholarship.

“And we couldn’t be more proud of The American Legion as a partner. It’s enormous pride that we have in what The American Legion has done to manage this program.”

Since the first scholarship was awarded in 1996, there have been more than 2,000 recipients. Eric Bucher of Ohio, a 1997 scholarship alum and a member of the Samsung American Legion Alumni Association board, shared that when he received the phone call announcing him as a recipient, he was “awestruck that I had the honor to receive the scholarship thanks to my grandfather’s service in the Korean War.” It allowed him to focus on his studies and worry less about financing college. And as the 10 scholars prepare to embark on their college experience, Bucher gave them three challenges – “never stop learning … always work hard regardless of the task in front of you … remember that very few things in life are free.”

The understanding that sacrifices were made, and are continually made, by veterans to secure their freedoms and dreams is not lost on the 10 scholars. They made recognition of this in their appreciation remarks.

As the child of an Army veteran and Legionnaire, Grayson Stinger has moved six times but is “driven by the values and sense of community” he has acquired from his multiple relocations. “My generation should be so thankful for the life provided by veterans as they are the ones who paid for us to follow our dreams,” said Grayson of Elizabethtown, Ky., who will be attending the University of Louisville. “Thank you Samsung and The American Legion for the chance to be here, but more importantly, thanks to all the veterans who have provided me and my classmates a peaceful life and a future full of opportunity.”

Auxiliary member Lindsay Fincher of Wedowee, Ala., who will be attending the University of Alabama, added that “by exemplifying the importance of serving others for the betterment of the country, The American Legion is leading my generation to become useful, productive citizens and to reach our fullest potential.”

Before departing breakfast for a tour of D.C. memorials, monuments and museums, Samsung provided each scholar with a new Galaxy tablet to aid in their education and continue the connection with each other that the scholars have made since arriving in the nation’s capital Tuesday night.


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