Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Georgia post saves fellow Legionnaire from homelessness

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More than 20 years ago, William Bolton lost his wife to breast cancer. Since that time, the Vietnam Air Force veteran has been paying off medical bills, surviving on a limited income, and living wherever he can find shelter. A small Volkswagen was about to be Bolton’s new living arrangements, a space that would have been “awfully uncomfortable at the age of 71,” he said. Thankfully, Thomas M. Brady Inc. American Legion Post 45 in Canton, Ga., stepped in “and made a difference in my life.”

Bolton will have permanent shelter in his new tiny home.

Post 45 recently gifted Bolton – a Paid Up for Life member of Post 316 in nearby Woodstock, Ga. – with the tiny home that was made possible by the efforts of Legionnaires, Blessed Trinity Christian High School in Roswell, a Home Depot Foundation grant and community support.

Bolton “was the perfect recipient for us to give it to,” said Jim Lindenmayer, service officer for Post 45 and director of the Cherokee County Homeless Veterans Program (an affiliated nonprofit of Post 45 made up of 100 percent volunteers).

Last summer Lindenmayer was notified that students from Blessed Trinity Christian High School were in the process of building a tiny house and wanted to donate it to a homeless veteran through the CCHVP. However, the students needed funds to complete the project.

CCHVP works closely with Habitat for Humanity and the Home Depot Foundation, fulfilling about 10 projects a year for veterans in need of home repairs with grants from the Home Depot Foundation – in 2019 alone the program received about $100,000 in grants. So CCHVP was able to secure a Home Depot grant and other financial assistance from the community for Post 45 to build the tiny house that features a loft for a bed, bathroom, living area, and a kitchen with appliances such as a stove and refrigerator.

When it came time to gift the tiny home to a homeless veteran, one couldn’t be identified due to restrictions in place – the home was not permitted to be in Cherokee County. “We were trying to find the right veteran to get it,” Lindenmayer said. And that’s when Post 45 learned that Bolton, who owned an acre of land in a county north of Cherokee, was getting evicted from his current residence. CCHVP went through Bolton’s qualifications and said, “This is the guy we want to give it to. It’s perfect for him,” Lindenmayer said.

Bolton is waiting on the permit so the tiny home can be placed on his land, along with water and sewer hookup. When Bolton learned that he was going to be able to live on his own land, which he had on the market to sell for a few years, “I thought that was wonderful. It will make for my old age to live comfortable,” said Bolton, who is currently living with some friends. “This means everything. I will be able to enjoy life again.”

Bolton said he’s appreciative of Post 45’s generosity and the efforts of Lindenmayer in making the tiny home possible for him. For Lindenmayer, it was about giving Bolton “a house of his own.”

The tiny home is just one of the many ways that Post 45 and CCHVP supports veterans in the community.

Post 45 provides transportation and housing needs

Two years ago Lindenmayer met a 100-percent service-connected disabled veteran, with a wife and two kids, whose 20-year-old car quit running and he couldn’t afford a new one. By fate Lindenmayer received a call from a veteran who had a 1995 car with 195,000 miles that he and his wife were no longer using and wanted to donate it to a veteran in need of one. The opportunity to provide reliable transportation sparked the idea for Post 45 to implement a vehicle donation program for veterans that need it most. Since that time, Post 45 has donated 16 vehicles to qualified veterans – those who are honorably discharged and at least 70 percent VA service-connected disabled or former homeless veterans who have overcome their situation and are now back on their feet.

Last month, the program gave two cars to veterans. One was given to Darius Roy, a Navy veteran who recently transitioned out of the military and has been without a car for years. But he needed transportation to get to work and take his daughter to school.

"When you have somebody like The American Legion who comes and steps in and helps you make that transition once you get out of the service it’s definitely a blessing," Roy said.

Lindenmayer said about 80 percent of the used vehicles given to the program – which are retitled to Post 45 through the DMV – are from other veterans. All vehicles received by the post for donation are sent to a local mechanic, who is a veteran, for inspection and repairs if needed. Then, the vehicles are sold to veterans for $1.

“People know that if they have a need they call us, and we do it for them,” Lindenmayer said. “This is what we do about giving back … this is what we’re supposed to do is take care of veterans and the Legion should be in front of this and that’s what we’re doing.”

Lindenmayer said most vehicle donations have been to formerly homeless veterans, including one to a homeless Navy veteran who was walking to and from his Walmart job nightly for over a year.

Lindenmayer said the veteran has to have a valid driver’s license, pay for the car tax, insurance, and basic needs.

Post 45 and CCHVP’s furniture donation program is similar to the vehicle donation program where veterans and non-veterans donate unused furniture to other veterans in need. The moving company Two Men and a Truck heard what the post was doing and wanted to provide moving fees for free.

The program has been underway for only four months but in that short amount of time they have already moved 20 families and provided furniture to house the homes.

Furniture donated is dropped off at Post 45 or it’s picked up from the donor and given to the veteran family that needs it. Lindenmayer said furniture donated is veterans giving to veterans. “That’s what they want to do. They want to donate it to another veteran, and we’re happy to make sure it gets to another veteran.

“We do a lot here in the community. And we’re making life-changing donations.”

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'We're happy to do this for our comrades'

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Since March 26, George P. Vanderveer American Legion Post 129 in Toms River, N.J., has been teaming up with another local nonprofit and a food pantry to provide hundreds of hot meals and critical supplies weekly to those in need, including local veterans.

For Post 129 Finance Officer Ralph Wolff, it was evident early on during the coronavirus pandemic there would be a need for the effort. And Wolff and others in the post’s American Legion Family wanted to be the ones that filled the need.

“Knowing that unemployment (benefits) were going to be held up for some individuals (and) the stimulus checks were going to be held up, I knew that our veterans would be without funds,” Wolff said. “We started this a little bit ahead of the curve. We did not want our veterans to experience food insecurity. We wanted them to come to a place where if they had to ask for food, they could do it with honor and dignity. We all know each other (at Post 129).”

The state’s largest post at around 1,700 Legionnaires and 2,500 American Legion Family members, Post 129 has been working with the organization A Need We Feed, which works with area restaurants to provide meals for veterans, children and families who are in need. The meals are picked by I Need We Feed volunteers and delivered to the post, which in turn donates money back to I Need We Feed to pay the restaurants.

“It’s a cycle,” Wolff said. “The other benefit is it keeps the restaurants in business and gives them a cash flow.”

Working with the food bank Fulfill, the post also is able to distribute crisis boxes consisting of enough non-perishable foods to sustain someone for three to four days. The post also gets fresh fruit and vegetables to distribute as well, along with paper products.

Members of the Legion Family pack up all of the supplies and food, and the post conducts two meal and supply distributions a week, following strict social distancing guidelines. Post 129 Legion Family members wear masks and load the meals and supplies into the cars that line up at the post.

In a month and a half, Post 129 has distributed 1,284 meals, 992 rolls of paper towel, 4,048 rolls of toilet paper, 295 crisis boxes, 1,000 oranges, and hundreds of pounds of additional fruits and vegetables.

In addition to veterans, the post has provided food and supplies to anyone else in need, first responders and health-care professionals. If there are leftovers meals, they don’t stay unused for long.

“We send them off to the fire department or the police department,” Wolff said. “Last Thursday we had 200 meals. We took 30 of them over to the emergency room at the (Community Medical Center). We took another to the police department. Anything left doesn’t go to waste.”

The reactions from those who have benefited from the post’s efforts have been that of thanks. “They are so grateful that we were able to take even the smallest burden off of them, even cooking their own meal,” Wolff said. “The thing about it is these are nutritious meals. The nutrition in these meals will help sustain their immunity systems. People with weak immunity systems are the most likely to get the virus.

“Most of our veterans are of the Vietnam era. They’re older,” Wolff said. “If I can keep just one of them from going to the grocery store … and keep them safe. That’s what I want to do. That’s what we’re here for. We’re happy to do this for our comrades.”

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Giving Tuesday donors pledge $15,000 to V&CF

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Amid the pandemic and economic uncertainty, American Legion Family members and friends demonstrated kindness toward and support for veterans and military families.

A special Giving Tuesday campaign raised $14,959 across a three-day period in the first week of May for The American Legion Veterans and Children Foundation. The total is similar to the most recent Giving Tuesday campaign that took place in December 2019, the traditional annual time for the day of giving.

In May, approximately $8,900 was donated by American Legion members with the remainder coming from non-members. The funds go toward American Legion service officers who provide free assistance to veterans seeking help with obtaining their earned military benefits. They also are used for grants to help military families with minor children at home who are struggling financially.

“Every penny that was donated last week will go toward these two highly important initiatives,” said American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford. “I am so overwhelmed — but not surprised — by the generosity of our American Legion Family and friends.”

To learn more about and donate to the Veterans and Children Foundation visit the web page.

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Seven things you didn’t know about Armed Forces Day – and a tip

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As Memorial Day especially honors deceased military veterans and those who died in action, and Veterans Day living veterans, Armed Forces Day especially honors current active-duty servicemembers on the third Saturday of May. Here are some other facts about the holiday.

1. President Harry Truman first instituted Armed Forces Day in 1950. When the separate departments for each military service branch were placed under the new Department of Defense in the late 1940s, it was decided that there should be one all-inclusive service day to recognize the uniformed branches and those who serve in them.

2. During the first Armed Forces Day, highlights included B-36 bombers flying over the capitals of every state; 10,000 troops and veterans marching in Washington, D.C.; and more than 36,000 participating in a parade in New York City. (CNN)

3. President John F. Kennedy officially made it a national holiday in 1961. (CNN)

4. Many countries observe some form of the holiday to honor their own armed forces. (Wikipedia)

5. Each year’s Armed Forces Day has a theme. 2019’s was "For the Nation. For the People." 2020’s has not been announced.

6. Armed Forces Day is part of Armed Forces Week leading up to it, as well as of Military Appreciation Month.

7. The American Legion rekindled the World War I-era Blue Star Banner program after 9/11 for the families of those serving on active duty; a guide on the Legion’s website discusses Armed Forces Day as the perfect time to hold a Blue Star Salute for servicemembers and their families.

8. Along those lines, check your local news for word on possible postponements of Armed Forces Day activities in your area. If none are planned, consider trying to get some going for later in the year.

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California youth named American Legion Eagle Scout of the Year for 2020

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Michael McPhie of Irvine, Calif., has been named The American Legion’s Eagle Scout of the Year for 2020. As a recipient of the award, he is receiving a $10,000 college scholarship.

McPhie was nominated for the award by the Department of California and is a 15-year-old sophomore at University High School with a 4.0 GPA. He has been active in Scouting since 2011 with Unit 749, and earned his Eagle Scout rank in March 2018.

McPhie’s Eagle Scout project honored veterans in Orange County by collecting their military and war experiences through oral interviews for the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The archived interviews will allow “current and future generations of Americans to hear directly from these veterans about their war experiences,” McPhie wrote in his Eagle Scout of the Year application.

McPhie identified veterans of all wars to interview by asking family and friends, and by contacting several veterans service organization, including local American Legion posts. Over the course of two days in 2017, McPhie conducted interviews with veterans at American Family Housing’s Potter’s Lane (which provides permanent supporting housing for chronically homeless military veterans) and Newport Beach Civic Center. A luncheon was served and a POW/MIA remembrance table was provided at each location. The interviews “were truly an opportunity to thank our local veterans and listen to their stories and learn from their experiences, examples and wisdom. They were an opportunity for us to celebrate patriotism and Americanism and duty,” McPhie wrote.

McPhie is active in his community and has received numerous awards and achievements, including the 2019 Youth Community Service Award from the Irvine Rotary for creating 3D-printed prosthetic hands for children with a missing limb.

“He has been a driving force for the youth in the city of Irvine and instrumental to our efforts to encourage other students to take action in improving our society as a whole,” wrote Joseph Molina, youth service chair for Irvine Rotary. McPhie also led a service project with 50 volunteers to make over 500 sandwiches to be donated to four food pantries and homeless shelters in Orange County, and has volunteered his time to teach former homeless children computer coding.

“I would like to describe Michael as a ripple effect … he encourages and inspires others to give back,” said Elizabeth Duong, community outreach coordinator for American Family Housing.

Other achievements for McPhie include being a Junior Naturalist with the Sea & Sage Audubon Society, and an award-winning classically trained competitive pianist, having taken first place at the American Fine Arts Festival International Music Competition in November 2019. He has an upcoming solo piano debut at Carnegie Hall, and shares his musical talent at community nursing homes by providing piano performances.

The future for McPhie is a career path in math, he wrote. Last summer, he researched cancer metabolism at the University of California Irvine where he helped develop a mathematical model “to better understand this phenomenon.” The internship was an opportunity for McPhie to apply the complex math that he’s currently studying to achieve his goal of being on the USA Math Olympiad team.

“Having received so much, and being blessed to live in this land of opportunity, I hope to use applied math to find solutions that improve life for my fellow man,” McPhie wrote.

There were 28 Eagle Scout of the Year applications submitted from American Legion departments. The American Legion’s Youth Activities Sub-Committee make selections every year for the Eagle Scout of the Year and runners-up each.

The three runners-up will each receive a $2,500 scholarship – Noah Ventura of Alexandria, Va.; James Simpson of Wayne, Neb.; and Ryan Cannon of Millburn, N.J.

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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.