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Veterans Benefits Information

Remembering Our Promises to Veterans

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As the number of deaths in their ranks continues to rise, we need to revisit our enduring commitment to their care.

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June Willenz, Champion of Women in the Military, Dies at 95

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She didn’t serve in the military herself. But she saw the armed services denying equal benefits to female veterans, and she crusaded to make a difference.

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In defense of Cripple Creek’s donkeys

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In Cripple Creek, Colo., American Legion members are rallying for the ambassadors of their community, a herd of donkeys.

Up until the late 1920s in Cripple Creek, the gold rush was on. Donkeys played crucial roles, ferrying heavy loads of supplies through narrow trails and up challenging slopes.

But as production in the gold mines came to a halt, employees and the donkeys lost their jobs. The miners looked for work elsewhere. The donkeys headed to the hills.

As a way to bring revenue into Cripple Creek and its neighboring town of Victor, Derby Donkey Days were launched in 1931. The annual fundraising event supports the Two Mile High Club, which is charged with overseeing care for the donkeys.

“They are considered wild animals,” said Curt Sorenson, a former senior vice commander of American Legion Post 171 and president of the Two Mile High Club. “However, we provide shelter, food, veterinary care and all the incidentals that go with that. We’re a small town and we all do double duty. Many members of the Two Mile High Club are also members of The American Legion.”

The club — named after the town’s elevation, which is 9,494 feet — now is trying to replace the funds that would normally be raised in June during Derby Donkey Days. The two-day festival features donkey races, a parade, musical performers and more entertainment that usually draws thousands of people. It has been condensed and tentatively rescheduled for Labor Day Weekend due to the coronavirus.

Sorenson estimates that it takes between $18,000 and $20,000 annually to take care of the 13-donkey herd. “We make most of that during the Derby Donkey Days festival. We are trying to be creative in finding ways to make up for that loss in funding.”

One aspect is a virtual concert, which was recorded last week and has been published on YouTube. The idea is to raise donations when viewers check out the concert.

Among the performers are Legionnaires Larry Meyer and Mark Green, the post historian and club vice president.

“All of us play a role in different civic organizations and we play a role in helping each other out,” Sorenson explained. “The American Legion is a leader in terms of community service, as well as patriotism. The Legion does a lot in terms of community service. The Two Mile High Club is all about community service because the donkeys are the ambassadors for Cripple Creek.”

Post 171 is perhaps best known for rehabilitating the condemned home of Andrew Smith, a 100 percent disabled Marine Corps veteran and single father of a son who has muscular dystrophy. The post also cleans up veterans burial plots at the local cemetery and contributes to its community in other ways including participation in its major summer celebration.

During the warmer months, the donkeys roam around town. But when cold temperatures set in, the donkeys are treated to an enclosed 20-acre pen with a barn, funded by the Two Mile High Club.

“Donkeys are a big deal in Cripple Creek,” Sorenson said. “I appreciate all of the people who have volunteered for this effort on behalf of the donkeys since our major fundraiser has been downsized, if we’re going to have it at all.”


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They Survived the Worst Battles of World War II. And Died of the Virus.

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Inside the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was a man who had served as a jailer to Hitler’s top aide. A man who had rescued Japanese kamikaze pilots from the sea. A man who carried memories of a concentration camp.

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American Legion supports bipartisan legislation extending VA health benefits to WWII veterans

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American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford called on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) last fall to open its health-care system to World War II veterans that are not already enrolled.

“The American Legion has confidence that you will not fail or forsake the heroes who literally saved the world three quarters of a century ago,” Oxford wrote in a letter urging VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to expand VA health care benefits to all World War II veterans.

Bipartisan legislation was introduced by U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., on May 21, WWII Veterans Hospital and Medical Eligibility Act, that would ensure all World War II veterans are eligible for health care services provided by the VA. Due to current limitations in the law, there are World War II veterans who are currently prevented from receiving VA health care benefits. This legislation would change that statute to echo the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Act of 1996, which exempted all Spanish American War and World War I veterans from having to meet certain requirements in order to receive VA health care benefits.

“Those who made the Greatest Generation truly great are nearly gone," wrote Oxford. "We can recognize these remaining heroes with actions far more meaningful than words. The Veterans Health Care Eligibility Act of 1996 exempted all veterans of the Mexican border period and World War I from the means test required to enter the VA health care system. It’s time to do the same for our World War II veterans. The American Legion is proud to support this legislation that further opens the VA’s great system to all of our nation’s World War II veterans.”

American Legion delegates at the 2017 National Convention unanimously passed Resolution No. 3: WWII Veterans Hospital and Medical Eligibility. The resolution urges VA to extend the means test exemption to World War II veterans. The population of living veterans has declined dramatically since the resolution passed. VA estimates that of the original 16 million U.S. veterans who served in World War II, about 300,000 are alive.

“As we head into Memorial Day Weekend, let us remember the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers and honor those still living by providing them with the care and services they need and deserve,” Menendez said. “This bill will cut the red tape and ensure our World War II veterans have access to the benefits they’re entitled to. This is the least we can do to pay our respects to the Greatest Generation who put their lives on the line to defend our freedom.”

“The United States would not be a free country today without the sacrifice and service of those who fought for our country in World War II. We are obligated to provide them with the highest quality care available,” Cramer added.


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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.