Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Color Guard Contests winners named at convention

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One of the outstanding events of each American Legion national convention is the Color Guard Contests, where units are judged on everything from precision to artistry.

On Friday, Aug. 18, six units from across the country took the stage at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center to compete in three classes: Advancing/Retiring of Colors, Military and Military-Open. Two units - Post 21 from Independence, Mo., which accompanies the American Legion Band of Greater Kansas City, and Post 224 from Easthampton, Mass. - were competing for the first time. Down a member due to illness, Post 224 performed as an exhibition, but according to member Keith Buckhout it's just the beginning. Plans for the Reno competition came together recently; it was only two months ago that they decided to go for it.

"This was to get our feet wet," Buckhout commented. Competing on the national stage for the first time is about "all the little things you don't pick up on" from watching videos or otherwise from a distance. Feedback from the judges will help them in future competitions. And they already have their sights set on the 2018 convention in Minneapolis, where - as befitting the kickoff of the Legion's Centennial Celebration - they hope to perform in real World War I-era attire. They are currently collecting pieces from helmets to leg wrappings.

Scores from the classes were:

Advancing/Retiring of Colors

Newport Harbor Post 291, Newport Beach, Calif.: 94.3

Harrisburg Post 472, Houston: 93.5

SAL Detachment of California District 12: 93.0

George Whiteman Memorial Post 642, Sedalia, Mo.: 86.7

Post 21, Independence, Mo.: 86.5


George Whiteman Memorial Post 642: 88.85


Newport Harbor Post 291: 93.2

Harrisburg Post 472: 92.7

Newport Harbor Post 291 repeated as overall winner. National Commander Charles E. Schmidt, who presented the awards, commented, "You all make us proud."

Many of the units will also march with their departments in the National Convention Parade on Sunday.

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GI Bill officially becomes a forever benefit

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President Donald Trump signed the “Forever GI Bill” into law on Aug. 16 in Bedminster, N.J.

The Forever GI Bill, also called the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, is named for The American Legion’s past national commander who created the draft of the original GI Bill of Rights in 1944. The legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives July 13 and quickly moved through both chambers of Congress.

“(The Forever GI Bill) is expanding our ability to support our veterans in getting education,” said Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. “Already we’ve had 1.7 million individuals take advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. We hope that many more now will.”

American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt praised the legislation.

“The signing of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 marks a new era for all who have honorably served in uniform," Schmidt said. “We believe that this legislation, named after a past national commander of The American Legion, will transform America as the original did following World War II.”

This bill would improve and extend GI Bill benefits granted to veterans, their surviving spouses and dependents. Specifically, it would:

• Remove time restrictions to use the GI Bill, enabling future eligible recipients to use their GI Bill benefits for their entire lives as opposed to the current 15-year timeline.

• Simplify the benefit for future servicemembers by consolidating the GI Bill into a single program, which would reduce the VA's administrative costs.

• Provide significant increases in GI Bill funding for reservists and guardsmen, dependents, surviving spouses and surviving dependents.

• Provide 100 percent GI Bill eligibility to post-9/11 Purple Heart recipients.

• Restore eligibility for servicemembers whose school closes in the middle of a semester and creates a pilot program that would pay for veterans to take certain high technology courses.

It also corrects a Pentagon deployment authorization that has kept thousands of National Guardsmen and reservists from accumulating earned education benefits.

"This lifetime benefit will allow veterans, and their families, to earn degrees and begin rewarding careers that can lead our economy" Schmidt said. "On behalf of the 2 million members of The American Legion, we thank the House of Representatives, the Senate and the president, for working together in a bipartisan manner to assist the fine men and women who have proudly served our nation.”

For more information on H.R. 3218, click here.

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Legacy Run Day 4: 'You want to make sure they're safe'

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Tuesday morning, more than 230 motorcycles departed Richfield City, Utah, and traveled across the mountains, national forests and desert to end up in Ely, Nev.

Among those motorcycles was a small group whose sole function is to ensure that someone is looking out for the riders: the Legacy Run’s advance team. The team normally leaves 30 minutes or so ahead of the main group of riders, advising the road captains of potential hazards ahead, and then orchestrating refueling efforts and parking at lunch and dinner stops.

Todd Harris, a member of John D Wibby Post 86 in Overgaard, Ariz., has been on the advance team seven of his 10 years on the Legacy Run. While the team has ways it wants to do things, Harris said it also has to be able to think on the move.

“Our slogan is ‘sember gumby’ – always flexible,” Harris said. “When we get out there, we do have overhead pictures and general guidelines. But 99 times out of 100 it never works out that way. You have trucks in the way, cars, just the general public wanting to come out and see us. Those are all hazards; as much as we want the publicity, they’re all hazards to the Riders when they get in the way.”

Like Harris, many of the advance team members have been a member of the team for years – from three to as many as 11 years. That type of continuity is beneficial.

“We work as a team,” Harris said. “We’re family. We think alike. We all have the same goal of the safety of the Riders. It takes special people to have that mentality.”

Rhonda Cowen, a Legion Rider from Francis Neidlinger Post 79 in Zionsville, Ind., and an 11-year member of the advance team, is a part of the advance team for one simple reason. “I know how I would feel if I was in a big group,” she said. “I would want somebody protecting me. There’s a lot of things out there. There’s a lot of challenges. You want to make sure they’re safe.”

Touching gesture

The Border Inn, which sits on the Utah-Nevada border and served as the lunch stop for the Run on Tuesday, had to bring in extra staff to help out serving lunch. But when the extra staff found out why the Riders were doing what they do, they wanted to help.

“They said they wanted to donate their (extra pay) to the Legacy Run,” Chief Road Captain Bob Sussan said. “It was really pretty amazing.”

Thanks for the weather

During Tuesday’s wreath laying at the Ely, Nev., Veterans Memorial, Mike Raymond – a Legion Rider from Post 110 in Port Charlotte, Fla. – provided the prayer. He also thanked someone near and dear to all the Riders’ hearts: Verlin Abbott, the Run’s longtime chief road guard who was killed in a motorcycle accident Aug. 5.

“Please let Verlin know we appreciate what he’s doing with the weather,” Raymond said.

Elks open their doors to ride

Elks Lodge 1469 in Ely hosted the Run’s dinner stop, providing grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. Lodge 1469 Exalted Ruler Alan Lafferty, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1997-2001, said it was an honor to host the ride.

“Being a Marine myself, it’s just an honor to serve my fellow veterans,” Lafferty said. “We open our doors for every veteran. It’s a chance to still feel like you’re serving even though you’re not wearing the uniform anymore.”

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Department Spotlight: West Virginia's Boys State program is 80 years strong

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This past June, 400 young men from one state stayed in 13 cabins for seven days to receive leadership training and gain insight into the political process. Those rising high school seniors are now a part of the more than 30,000 graduates of the Department of West Virginia American Legion's Mountaineer Boys State program.

Founded in 1936, Mountaineer Boys State is the second-oldest Boys State program in the nation and has been located for all 80 years on historic West Virginia University Jackson's Mill State 4-H Campground – the boyhood home of Gen. Stonewall Jackson. The idea to adopt the program in West Virginia was initiated in 1935 by then Department Commander C.L. Smith from St. Albans, W. Va., after forming a committee and visiting the first Boys State program in Illinois. Soon afterward, the incoming Department Commander W.G. Stathers of Clarksburg, W. Va., had the idea to host it at West Virginia University since it was centrally located and resembled the grounds of the Department of Illinois' Boys State program.

Mountaineer Boys State Director Jim Davis credits the longevity of the program to the alumni that come back to serve on staff, the dedication shown by West Virginia Legion family members, notable speakers, and changes made to adapt to technology advancement.

One way the program has evolved with technology is through voting. The Boys State delegates cast all of their ballots on voting machines that citizens use during local, state and national elections. The ballots casted are for positions that the young men run for in pursuit of their career path at the program, whether it's in politics, journalism, banking, law enforcement, National Guard and more.

Speakers have included World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams, state senators and governors, professors, researchers and program alumni. A few alumni include former Los Angeles Lakers player Jerry West and former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise.

Mountaineer Boys State has remained a premiere youth program of the department "because of the quality of leadership that the boys receive during the week and the many great speakers," said Davis, a member of Post 46 in Benwood, has served on staff for 15 years. "Also, when the boys return to school they are telling everyone of their special week at Boys State."

A week that often shapes the future.

"We hear thanks and more thanks about the way we changed their plans for the future," Davis said.

Now, the countdown is on for the 2018 Mountaineer Boys State program – June 10-16.








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Nevada claims 2017 American Legion World Series title

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From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, Henderson, Nev., Post 40 went from expecting elimination to lifting the 2017 American Legion World Series trophy in just 48 hours after a 2-1 victory over Omaha, Neb., Post 1 on Tuesday night.

After a loss on Sunday, Nevada thought the team was eliminated, but by virtue of a tiebreaker, Post 40 advanced.

A semifinal win over Bryant, Ark., Post 298 on Monday sent the team to the final, where Henderson faced a familiar foe.

A rematch of Game 2 of the tournament proved to be a lot more competitive than the original meeting. In that contest, Nebraska slashed 21 hits, one shy of the ALWS Record, in a 9-1 rout. Nebraska also became the first team in ALWS history with four players each with four or more hits.

The same starter for Nebraska in that game, Joshua Culliver, took the hill after a sparkling seven innings of two-hit ball on Thursday against Nevada. Shane Spencer, just 16 years old, got the call for Nevada. Spencer was coming off of his own seven-inning gem, only allowing one hit against Shrewsbury, Mass.

Nevada stranded two runners in each of the first two innings, while Nebraska scored in the bottom of the first to take an early lead.

Tom Steier walked to lead off for Omaha and advanced on a single by Will Hanafan. After a nice bunt by Zach Luckey, Dylan Phillips brought Steier in with a sacrifice fly.

Nevada got a run back as Jack Thomas Wold, who had a .952 slugging percentage in the regional tournament, laced a ball down the right field line for a double with two outs in the third. Wold came around on a single by Garrett Giles. Wold finished with 29 total bases in the regional and World Series tournaments.

The teams remained on level pegging until the sixth inning when Henderson’s J.J. Smith singled, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Nick Thompson did his job to bring in the runner with a sacrifice fly to give the designated visitors the lead.

Spencer, who was locked in on the mound, finished the game off with more stellar pitching, finishing with a line of seven innings pitched, three hits and only one run allowed.

For his work on the hill, Spencer was named the 2017 George W. Rulon Player of the Year.

“It took a couple innings to settle in because I have never been in this atmosphere before,” Spencer said. “I wasn’t expecting these awards as a pitcher. It is a great feeling. I’ve never been on this big of a stage before. What a great feeling it was and I hope I’m here again next year."

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