Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

OCW donation will aid VA telehealth efforts

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Telehealth continues to become a bigger part of Department of Veterans Affairs health care. Using teleconferences, the program allows veterans to connect remotely with their caregivers.

That makes The American Legion’s donation of four high-definition televisions to the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System (VASNHCS) even more valuable.

The TVs were part of an Operation Comfort Warriors donation made during the Legacy Run’s Wednesday stop at American Legion Post 16 in Fallon, Nev. Two of the televisions will go to community-based outpatient clinics, while the other two will be used in the health-care system’s drug and mental health programs.

“Telehealth is really important right now in reaching out to our rural sites,” said Leslie Bennett, VASNHCS’s Telehealth, Telemental Healthy and Rural Health program manager, as well as the system’s chief of staff. “Having those new (TVs) will give us some extra ability to provide more access to the veterans.

“When we get a donation from the community like this, and our veterans know that people went the extra mile, it means so much to them. They feel they care about them.”

In addition to the TVs, other items included in the donation were exercise equipment, darts and other games, and toiletries.

Post 16 Chaplain Cliff Fargse helped shop for the items. “I love it,” he said of being able to help facilitate the grant locally. “I’m retired Navy myself, and I see the veterans that are not doing really well. They appreciate the items that they get through this organization and through this particular program.”

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Legacy Run Day 5: 'Something you don't get anywhere else'

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The Legacy Run lost a dear friend a week before it started this year when longtime Chief Road Guard Verlin Abbott was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Legion Rider David Heredia, a member of Post 128 in Aberdeen, Md., also suffered a personal loss. His mother passed away last Saturday. But on the ride, Heredia has felt both comfort and support from his fellow Riders.

“What these Riders, once they found out, how they came to me to give their condolences, that’s something that you don’t get anywhere else,” said Heredia, who serves as one of the ride’s chief tail gunners. “Not only are we doing it for the children … somehow we’re doing it for ourselves to give back to them. All the friendships that I’ve made throughout all the (ride) is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

“The fellowship that I get from all the Riders – my brothers and sisters – is something that I had … when I was in the military.”

Weathering the weather

At the start of Wednesday’s leg the temperature was sitting at 59 degrees. It stayed in the 60s most of the way but began heating up as the Run got closer to Austin, Nev., hitting 77 in the Toiyabe National Forest area.

That was nothing. Midway between Austin the final stop in Fallon, Nev., the temp had risen to 91. It was 94 when the ride arrived at Post 16 – a 35-degree difference from the start.

Days like that require preparation, said Alabama Legion Riders Adjutant Tony Berenotto. On his fourth Legacy Run, he has learned what to do and not to do in preparation for weather shifts.

“That is one of the biggest challenges, especially with the elevation changes,” Berenotto said. “You need more coverings because of so many different climates. The topographic of it: With the elevation changes, the temperatures can even change on one leg, which is a big thing.

"The biggest thing to prepare for it is to pack as much as you can in what limited space we have. And (use) layers: jackets that can be multipurpose. Use your rain jacket as a windbreaker. And then remember that you’ve got to take that off at the next stop, because even if you’re chilly for 20 minutes, you don’t want to sweat and overheat by the end of that leg, which is a distinct possibility – especially on a day like today. The temperature changes are going to be drastic. When all of us got up this morning it was in the 40s. So I’ll wear the jacket. A lot of guys have got their chaps on. By that first stop they’re going to want to remove them."

Berenotto’s first Legacy Run was in 2014 to Charlotte, N.C. Torrential downpours plagued the ride over its first two and a half days. It was a learning experience for the Legion Rider. “I found that I had stuff in my bags I didn’t need,” he said. “What else did I learn on that ride? Listen and cooperate. And from that ride on I wanted to do it every year.

“Talk about wanting to do this: I’m supposed to have some pretty major back surgery, and I asked my neurosurgeon to put it off until after this. So I am having some pretty significant reconstruction done on the lumbar spine Sept. 27.”

For Jim Sigmond, a member of Post 32 in Greenville, Miss., the heat was nothing new. “It gets hot in the Mississippi Delta where we’re from, too,” Sigmond said. “As long as you’re moving, everything is all right.”

Warm welcome in Fallon

Post 16 rolled out the welcome in a big way for the Run’s night stop, standing outside to greet the Riders as they parked and then served a spaghetti dinner. Watching 230 motorcycles pull up – and knowing why they are riding – was powerful for Auxiliary Unit 230 member Kathy Lancaster.

“It makes me want to cry,” she said. “It’s very emotional for me. I didn’t know what The American Legion was all about until I came to work here five years ago. It’s very emotional.”

Post Commander John Ezzell said the post’s Legion family had been preparing food since Monday and had also been busy cleaning up the post in preparation for their guests.

“It’s really an honor, and I think my post members would agree,” said Ezzell, who still currently serves in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. “To be able to be a part of one of the national fundraisers like this, it’s been a little tiring the past couple days. But the end result is worth it.”

More than $27,000 was donated to The American Legion Legacy Fund at the post, including $15,000 combined from the Legion Riders and the post from Kenneth N. Dowden Wayne Post 64 in Indianapolis.

This year's ride has brought in more than $467,000 so far for the Legacy Fund.

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Legion family shows Reno ‘the good work that we do’

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Paul Norton gets both a rush and a bit of therapy from working with plants, trees and flowers. So he was right at home Friday during The American Legion family’s annual service project during the Legion’s national convention in Reno, Nev.

But it wasn’t just therapy for Norton, a member of The Historic Fort Benjamin Harrison Post 510 in Indianapolis. It was also a chance to make an impact on the town hosting the Legion family for the next seven days.

“The American Legion likes to leave a good, lasting impression in the community,” Norton said. “We’ve been doing (service projects) for several years. So when we leave, we’re going to leave it a little bit better and nicer, and we’re going to help the local community have something to remember us by.”

Norton and more than 20 other Legion family members spent Friday morning spreading road base along one of the main trails, as well as clearing sagebrush away from the trail, at Bartley Ranch Regional Park in Reno. Reno had a record-breaking winter, and many of the park’s trails were washed out.

Washoe County Park Ranger John Keesee said volunteer efforts like the one carried out by the Legion family make a big impact on the county’s parks. “It’s really huge to have volunteer groups come in and give us a hand, especially after this last winter,” he said. “The other day we had a volunteer group of 10 guys who came up and did some trail restoration. Those 10 people worked for two hours, so that’s 20 hours. Right now we’re sort of short-staffed, so they just saved me a half a week worth of work. It’s huge.”

American Auxiliary Past National President Sharon Conatser, who took part in the project for the fourth time in five years, said such projects show the scope of what the Legion family does. “It’s important (for) the community that we have our national convention in to realize who The American Legion family is and the good work that we do,” she said. “Not only do we work for our veterans, we work for the community.”

Conatser also said it was nice to see the Legion family working so closely together. She stressed the Legion family last year as the Auxiliary’s national president.

“I’ve lived (the Legion family) all my life,” she said. “It’s really important to me for us to be a family because that is what our younger people want today. They want things they can do as a family. By showing that we are an American Legion family, we feel that will be a draw (for prospective members).”

Department of Illinois Executive Secretary Christy Rich, a member of Auxiliary Unit 56 in Bloomington, Ill., helped remove some of the sagebrush and relished the opportunity to contribute. “I just love volunteering,” she said. “I love to do anything to help out.”

Norton, who retired from the Air Force after 38 years, said he struggled a bit after leaving the military. To help himself, he became certified through Purdue University’s master gardener program.

Now an advanced master gardener, Norton said projects like the one at Bartley Park are therapeutic. “One of the things I’ve seen with (those) working with me here today – when we leave today, a lot of us are going to be pretty pumped up,” he said. “It’s going to be an adrenaline thing. They get the same euphoria that I get when they’re doing this. They believe that they’ve done something greater than themselves.”



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Legion Baseball: 'Shows young men how to compete while respecting the game and country'

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Shrewsbury, Mass., Post 397 won the American Legion Baseball's Northeast Regional tournament to earn their first appearance in the American Legion World Series (ALWS).

While on the field last week at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, N.C., Shrewsbury claimed their first ALWS win against Midland, Mich. But their following two appearances on field were a loss to Henderson, Nev., Post 40 (2017 ALWS champions) and Omaha, Neb., Post 1 (2017 ALWS runners-up).

Although Shrewsbury went home without the championship trophy, players and coaches from the team "could not have been more proud to have represented our town, our zone, our state, and our region. What an amazing experience throughout this entire ride," Frank Vaccaro Jr., Shrewsbury Post 397's assistant and third base coach, tweeted. "We made history and had a blast every step of the way!"

American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt attended the World Series and saw the impact one of the Legion's premiere programs is having on youth, and the important role Legionnaires play in that impact.

"As Legionnaires we build opportunities in our communities across the country, and our youth programs are a result of that – Legion Baseball being one of them," he said. "Every year Legion posts give Legion ball players the opportunity to ascend to the American Legion World Series, and have done so for the last 92 years. Legionnaires ought to be proud of what they do in their communities to give young people an opportunity to not only participate in our youth programs, but also learn about patriotism, respect, and an appreciation for veterans who are still serving America. Legionnaires should be proud."

That appreciation was evident in Vaccaro's tweet.

"American Legion Baseball not only breeds great ball players, but it shows young men how to compete while respecting the game and country," he wrote. "We learned life lessons and how to come together as a team and play for a common cause."

Over the past two years Vaccaro said Shrewsbury Post 397 has been able to check off four accomplishments: winning a state and regional title; earning a first ALWS win in the team's history; and "making memories no one can take away."

And it's Legionnaires who are helping players and teams like Shrewsbury Post 397 make these lasting memories.

"This is what happens when we support the programs," Schmidt said. "Regardless if this is your team, or if you didn’t have a team, you should be proud of what we do and the results of what we do.

"Despite not making it to the final game, (Shrewsbury, Mass., Post 397) learned something more valuable than playing baseball, and according to the assistant coach, that’s what they’re taking home."




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Legacy Run Day 6: 'I don't want it to end'

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Georgia Legionnaire Greg Guthrie has been on what he thinks is 10 American Legion Legacy Runs. He’s made friends that he considers some of his best, which makes the end of every Legacy Run more than a little difficult.

“I look forward to this all year long,” said Guthrie, a member of Post 337 in Grovetown, Ga. “I don’t want it to end. But at the same time, I’ve got to get back to work and pay the bills."

This year’s USAA-sponsored Legacy Run traveled more than 1,400 miles over six days, raising money for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund in the process. The fund, which provides scholarship money for children of military personnel killed on or after 9/11, as well as those children whose parents are rated 50 percent or more disabled from their military service, hits close to home for Guthrie.

“My wife, her brother was killed (while serving) and left behind four (children),” Guthrie said. “They were 6 years old, 4 years old, 3 years old and 9 months old. It hits real close.”

Guthrie said he stays in constant contact with the people he’s met on the ride. “The people out here I talk with more than I do (with the people) in my local area. It’s because we all have something really in common. It’s one thing to go to a Legion (post) and know that you’ve got the camaraderie and all that.

"But it’s a whole different game out here. They see things the same way. We can butt heads, but we always get back up and go. That’s what it’s all about.”

Thursday’s final stop in Reno, Nev., saw plenty of hugs being exchanged and emotions running high. Several Riders shared how the close of the Legacy Run affects them

• Debbie Bickel, a member of Post 97 in Auburn, Ind.: “I’m going to miss a lot of these people. I’m sorry if I get emotional. It’s a big family reunion every year. We do this for the cause and we do this for the kids. This year I’m doing it for my granddaughter, Annalyce. My oldest son is currently serving in the U.S. Marines, so I know if something happens to him in the future, that she will have money to continue her education. So this means a lot to me.”

• Theardies “T-Man” Fisher, a member of Post 4 in Wichita, Kan.: “Here we are, getting ready to shut it down. The reunion’s almost over. Every year we look forward to coming back and seeing our friends from Texas, from Virginia, from Georgia, Florida. We just come together. Year after year we see each other. It’s a family.”

• Van Land, a member of Post 192 in Evans, Ga.: “I can smile because of the memories. You create new friends. There’s a greater camaraderie. It’s an experience of everyone working together for a common cause.”

Emotional rollercoaster for ride captain

Chief Road Captain Bob Sussan wasn’t even sure he was going to make the ride this year after his close friend and Legacy Run Chief Road Captain and Co-Planner Verlin Abbott was killed in a motorcycle accident the week before the ride.

Convinced by Abbott’s wife that Abbott would have wanted him to go, Sussan led the ride for the fourth straight year. And he said signs of Abbott were everywhere.

“The range of emotions went from people telling me, ‘There were two doves flying by.’ And that there was a rainbow coming down that hit the BMW sign. Verlin rode a BMW. The sheriff at one of our stops looked at his radar to show the rain, and Route 50 – where we were driving – went right through the middle of it – no rain. We dedicated a memorial in Green River, Utah, … and he was buried the same day.

“I can’t tell you how many times I broke down to myself on the ride, just thinking I was seeing Verlin, hearing Verlin. So we did it, and I knew that he would have wanted me to do it.”

The Riders collected $3,200 to donate to Abbott’s wife and presented the money to Sussan Thursday morning. Abbott’s wife wants the money to go to the Legacy Run. “I was just so touched,” Sussan said. “It was a special ride.”

Dave Schoonover, a Legion Rider from Post 68 in Hutchinson, Kan., presented the money to Sussan. “(Abbott) was such an integral part of the ride,” he said. “We miss seeing him buzz by us on his BMW and keeping us safe. It was an honor to get that much money for him.”

A coveted vest, stuffed animal

A few years ago a group of Royal British Legion Riders took part in a few Legacy Runs. On one of them they left one of their vests behind. Since then, the vest has been auctioned off every year, with the winner keeping the vest for one year and then returning it the following Legacy Run. The money to “buy” the jacket goes to the Legacy Fund; it’s raised more than $6,000 after the Department of Alabama paid $1,000 for it this year.

Mike Harper and ALR Chapter 97 in Auburn, Ind., paid $1,600 last year to keep the vest. “It makes me proud (to wear the vest on the ride),” Harper said. “It’s all for the kids.”

And California Legion Rider Michael Cash donated $1,000 to the Legacy Fund to "buy" Mojo, a stuffed toy dog, for the year. Mojo wears a Riders vest; Cash will keep it for a year and then bring it back to the ride next year to be auctioned off again.

Finals stops in Carson City and Reno

The ride had a lunch break in Carson City, where Battle Born Harley-Davidson provided lunch. The final stops was hosted by Elks Lodge 597. The lodge’s Esteemed Leading Knight, Jim Stewart, also doubles as the Department of Nevada American Legion’s Americanism and Boy Scouts chairman.

Sussan praised the Riders for their performance on the Run, while National Commander Charles E. Schmidt – who rode part of the ride – offered his own view of the Riders’ dedication. “You all are special,” he said. “You came here on your time and on your own dime. But you came here with your heart … to take care of our buddies, remember them and to take care of their children. You guys are special.”

Donations made during the day totaled $84,252.68, including $15,133 from Post 133 in Millbrook, Ala. “This wasn’t just the Legion Riders,” ALR Chapter 133 Director Jeff Boles said. “This was from the hard work our entire Legion family put in.”

Thursday’s contribution raised the ride’s total to $551,568. More donations will be made on the national convention floor on Aug. 22.

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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.