Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

An 'enormous opportunity' to help veterans

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A successful collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs, The American Legion and the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) resulted in more than $300,000 being awarded to veterans with VA claims appeals waiting to be adjudicated by the Board of Veterans Appeals. That collaboration has turned into a larger pilot program, and those involved at the earliest stages of the project are hoping it goes nationwide.

Since 2016, the MDVA claims division – comprised of several American Legion members – has been part of VA’s Pre-Hearing Conference program. The program got its start in St. Paul, Minn., and has since been expanded to 10 other VA Regional Offices: Cleveland; Montgomery, Ala.; Houston; Waco, Texas; Winston-Salem, N.C.; Denver; St. Petersburg, Fla.; San Diego; Oakland, Calif.; and Detroit.

The Pre-Hearing Conference program allows senior claims representatives with clients who have pending VA claims appeals to present those claims they feel should be easily adjudicated at the regional office to a BVA judge via teleconference. The judge can rule in favor of the veteran at that time or suggest the case go before the board; under no circumstance will a pre-hearing conference be a detriment to the veteran.

Zach Hearn, the Legion’s deputy director of benefits in the Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, said that VA – primarily BVA senior leadership – had been working with the Legion and other veterans service organizations “behind the scenes” on modernizing the department’s appeals process before a bigger push for modernization began in 2016.

Hearn said he was asked if the test program was something the Legion could do. “Minnesota’s got a superior department in the claims office, so I reached out to Ron Quade,” he said. “Ron was pretty much like, ‘Let’s do this.’ Ron’s always looking for new ways to tweak the system. He’s kind of like 3M: ‘I don’t necessarily invite it, but I make what it is better.’”

Quade, who doubles as the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs director of the Claims and Outreach Division, and as director of its Veterans Programs, jumped at the opportunity.

“We said ‘heck yes, we’re interested,’” said Quade, a member of American Legion Post 45 in New Prague, Minn. “It was an absolutely enormous opportunity to help some veterans get something they may have been waiting years to receive.”

Quade communicated with BVA Judge John J. Crowley, the man behind the idea. “It took us about two weeks to connect,” Quade said. “But when I say ‘connect,’ we connected. We were speaking the same language. The judge, right out of the gate, made a lot of sense to me. The goal he was trying to attain was very similar … to mine: What a program would look like, what his goal was, and for me, (to) advantage the veteran.”

Crowley handled pushing the program through VA officials in Washington, D.C., and also assisted with implementation in Minnesota. Quade said Crowley spoke about the program to an annual group of Minnesota county service officers this year. “He did a meet and greet … the first day and then stayed throughout the entire second day to do a presentation … and to be able to discuss cases. I bet he met with 25 or 30 (county service officers) while he was here. And he gave them all his cell phone number.”

The six pre-hearing conferences in 2016 and 2017 resulted in veterans with appeals winning more than $318,000 in compensation just from the MDVA office. “The amount of money they were able to secure … for these veterans was really impressive,” Hearn said. “It goes to show the benefit of VA working with the veteran community to try to improve its product line.”

But there is a hitch. Quade said when the program was established, it was determined that no cases appealed after April 2014 were eligible for a pre-hearing conference. But initially referred to as the two-year date, that date hasn’t been moved forward as the program has aged.

“It’s not a two-year date,” Quade said. “It’s a date that’s set in stone that continues to grow.”

Hearn said the Legion will ask VA to push that date forward. “I don’t think that anybody predicted the success would have been as great as it was in this pilot program,” he said. “It’s something that we’re going to have to sit down and talk about. You want to create a program to be longstanding. You can’t use a static date. Eventually you are going to run out of those cases.

“What do you do? Do you say that the program dies, or do you recognize the importance of the success of the program … and make a date flexible so VA’s better equipped to serve veterans? That is something that I will, over the next several months, be speaking with (BVA) on and say, ‘What is preventing us from moving this forward, and what sort of actions do we need to take to ensure that it happens?’”

Quade believes advancing the date will make a big impact on VA’s appeals backlog. “Let’s say tomorrow we can wipe out 10 percent of the entire backlog. It’s just gone,” he said. “Wouldn’t that be good for the remaining 90 percent and how fast the VA would be able to get to their claim? That’s our idea of how beneficial it can be if you can run through those cases.

“We are trying to do the best job for our claimants, and I really think we brought that through with this program.”

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Legion Baseball, Boys State alumni capture effects of PTSD on film

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War and the effects it has on troops returning home is captured in the award-winning film “Battle Scars,” a drama and thriller produced by two American Legion program alumni. The film won the Founder’s Choice Award at the 2015 GI Film Festival and will be available July 14 for Legion posts to screen.

“Battle Scars” is about a young Marine who is suffering from both post-traumatic stress disorder and other wounds unseen after returning home from Afghanistan. He in turn crosses paths with a woman “who leads him into a violent world every bit as dangerous and isolating as the brutality that (he) so desperately left behind in Afghanistan.”

Danny Buday, writer and director of “Battle Scars” and a California Boys State alum, and producer Lane Carlson, who played American Legion Baseball for Post 491 in Bayport, Minn., spoke with The American Legion about the inspiration for the film and how their participation in Legion programs impacted their support for America’s military heroes.

The American Legion: Who or what inspired this film?

Buday: I’ve seen a few documentaries about the ongoing war in Afghanistan while on the film festival circuit with my feature “5 Star Day,” and I found myself most fascinated with the sections of the documentaries that focused on the soldiers trying to adjust once they came back home from their various tours of duty. Soon after, I read an article about a recent increase in certain types of IED blast wounds and the idea for “Battle Scars” was born.

The struggle and tenacity displayed by our injured soldiers was the main inspiration for this film. Our goal was to create a film that soldiers suffering from PTSD would find both entertaining and relatable. This film is dedicated to every servicemember suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Why is this film so important to you?

Buday: On average, 22 servicemembers a day die from suicide. That number shook all of our team members and was one of the initial catalysts that led us to decide to focus on a story about post-traumatic stress and, more specifically, how both a soldier and their family deal with the physical and psychological effects of trying to acclimate back home after a long tour of duty overseas. For me, I felt it was important to try and share a story that other soldiers might be able to relate to and find common ground with.

Carlson: For me, this film is an opportunity to really bring home some hard facts of what continues to happen to our soldiers each day. The war continues on for many soldiers returning home. This film hit home as I have friends that have served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. My intention is to not only entertain and raise awareness for post-traumatic stress, but also offer out alternative healing modalities and organizations to help those dealing with post-traumatic stress.

Can you share what your experience with Boys State and Legion Baseball was like?

Buday: Boys State was an amazing experience and served as my introduction into the world of local, state and national politics while also providing a hands-on approach to mock government. My time during Boys State taught me valuable life lessons about how to work as a team toward a common goal and the value of the electoral process.

Carlson: I have fond memories of our coaches and team gathering at the Bayport Legion recreational area following our baseball games, eating pizza and sharing stories. We were always greeted with smiles and words of encouragement from Post 491.

Did your participation in Legion youth programs impact your appreciation for veterans?

Buday: My exposure to Boys State as well as my involvement in the Civil Air Patrol definitely played a role in my support for veterans and my desire to create a film that would resonate with veterans.

Carlson: I’ve always had the utmost respect for those men and women who’ve given their lives to help protect and serve. My exposure to the American Legion Baseball program definitely played a role in my support for veterans. I feel this film allows me the opportunity to give back to The American Legion.

What do you want viewers to take away from watching the film?

Buday: After watching Battle Scars, I hope audiences take away a better awareness and sense of compassion for the silent, psychological traumas that affect our soldiers. People see the external injuries of soldiers and most of them instantly feel an overwhelming sense of compassion, yet thousands of soldiers are coming home with post-traumatic stress each year and we can’t seem to find a way to focus the spotlight and attention on the tremendous amount of internal and unseen pain and suffering these brave men and women are coming back home with. Hopefully audiences take away a new perspective and appreciation for a soldier's individual journey and struggle to maintain their sense of self after seeing such atrocities overseas.

Carlson: The film illuminates the physical and psychological injuries our soldiers face on a daily basis. Our main character has an injury that we want the public to talk about. It’s important for us to continue the conversation about post-traumatic stress and the alarming rate of suicides our soldiers are facing each day. It’s up to all of us to come together and help our brothers and sisters who have served this great country. We have the opportunity to transform, inspire and unite around those suffering from post-traumatic stress.

View a trailer of "Battle Scars" here. American Legion posts that wish to screen the film can contact AJ Feuerman at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . The 94-minute film is not rated but does contain strong language and scenes of nudity.

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Share your story of how the GI Bill helped you

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Generations of veterans have used the GI Bill to further their educations, afford home loans, get proper health care and receive additional benefits earned through military service.

As The American Legion presents a special GI Bill exhibit at the World War II Museum in New Orleans starting June 20, veterans are encouraged to share their stories of GI Bill influence. Did you use it for college? Vocational training? A business loan? A home loan? What has the GI Bill meant to you?

Visit our Legiontown website,, to submit a story and/or photo. Submissions will be reviewed by an editor before publication online. They also will be considered for publication as part of The American Legion Magazine's special centennial issue in 2018.

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20 tips to make your resume stand out

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By Lida Citroën

For every resume in existence, it seems there are 100 articles, webinars, seminars, and blog posts about how to improve your resume. Here, I’ve distilled down 20 of the best tips I’ve found for a stand out resume in the military-to-civilian transition:

  1. Sell yourself for the job. Make it easy for the recruiter or hiring manager to see why you are the right person for the job. Tailor your resume to the needs and goals of the employer.

  2. Keywords are critical. Read through the job description to be sure you use the same keywords as the employer. If the employer is recruiting for a business development manager and you use the term “sales” in your resume (instead of “business development"), you might not get their attention.

  3. Key phrases are also critical. Like keywords, pay attention to the phrases they use on their website, job description and marketing materials. If they describe the position as requiring “strong project management skills,” use the key phrase, “strong project management.” If they describe the company as having a “tight knit, family-like” culture, make sure your resume includes those key phrases in describing your desired employer.

  4. Make every word count. Avoid extra words such as, “in order to” when you could use “to.” Additionally, ensure every word offers specific value. Saying you are a “strategic thinker” is not as clear as saying you are trained to “analyze and interpret large amounts of complex data.”

  5. Clean up the appearance of your resume. Use a basic, easy to read font (Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman,) be consistent with the use of headers and bold/italics, and always print on white paper.

  6. Length matters. If you can keep your resume to two pages, that is ideal. A longer resume is warranted if your content justifies it.

  7. Research the company. Understand their hiring practices, goals, vision and competitors and focus your resume to their needs.

  8. Research the hiring managers. Look at their online profiles to get insight into their likes/dislikes and workstyle. This will help to adapt your resume, but also will help you build rapport in the interview.

  9. Culture matters to employers. Study the culture of every company you apply to. If their culture is more formal and conservative, your resume should reflect that. If they are more playful and fun, your resume can be more casual.

  10. Translate your skills. For many veterans, this is the hardest one! If the employer you’re interested in provides a translator on their website, use it. Otherwise, try the tools at or O*Net to relate your hard and soft skills to the needs of the employer.

  11. Highlight your results. Wherever you can, quantify the results of your past experiences. For instance, did you lead 150 troops and supervise $10 million of equipment? List it.

  12. Prioritize your background. Your resume should include the aspects of your background that are relevant to the job you’re applying for. Make it easy for the reader to see how your experience relates to what they are looking for by prioritizing your background.

  13. Make sure it’s formatted for email (PDF). You will often email your resume to employers and networking contacts. Be sure to have a version of your resume saved as a PDF, so the formatting stays intact.

  14. Leave some things out. Your resume is not a listing of everything you’ve ever done. If you throw everything you can into your resume, you make the work harder for the reader. This is a turn-off to recruiters.

  15. Include your contact information. It might sound obvious, but make sure your name, cell phone number and email are listed on every page of your resume. Sometimes pages can get separated.

  16. Proofread it! Have three friends proofread your resume. One typo, formatting error or grammar mistake can turn off a recruiter.

  17. Include volunteer work. If you have done volunteer work during your time in the military or afterwards, include it if the experience can showcase new skills, a passion to serve, or value to the recruiter or hiring manager.

  18. List awards and decorations. Be careful listing every single award you received in your military career. This can be overwhelming and intimidating to the hiring manager. Instead, list the ones that are significant either to you or the employer and be ready to talk about them.

  19. Name your resume file correctly. When you save a version of your resume on your computer (to be emailed to a potential employer,) name it JoeSmithResume2017, and not 2017 Resume or Resume v. 221, so the recruiter or hiring manager can find it quickly.

  20. Keep your resume updated. As you acquire new skills, jobs, volunteer opportunities or experience, continually update your resume to keep it current and fresh.

Your resume is a great list of what you have done in the past. When it is clean, current and focused, employers will use it to decide how well you can do the job, fit into the company, and add value to the organization.

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Post 416 reinvents itself with passion, community events

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George L. Barlow’s affiliation with American Legion Post 416 in California began innocently enough.

One night Barlow’s date wanted to go for a walk with him and her dog before heading out. On the walk, Barlow noticed an older gentleman carrying boxes into the post. Barlow’s offer to help was immediately accepted.

After he completed his task, bartender Louise told Barlow that he should join the post “because all of us old suckers are dying.”

That was about 10 years ago, a time when the post was stagnant. At the time, the post offered Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch. Now the post offers meals six days a week in addition to creative functions that attract younger veterans, their families and other community members.

“The more I learn and the more I am engaged, the more I love the place,” said Barlow, a Navy veteran who was elevated to post commander on June 10. “It’s been wonderful how many people have been involved with The American Legion over the years and what the Legion does for veterans.”

The post is located in downtown Encinitas, outside San Diego, and one block from the Pacific Ocean. “We’re the post at the coast,” Barlow surmised.

While it’s a prime location for the post, it hasn’t always been able to attract members. In fact, several years ago its future was in question. The post wasn’t generating revenue. Few people were dropping by. Post members were not participating in community activities.

“The post was not ingreat shape,” said Steve Lewandowski, who served as post commander for the past three years. “It was pretty bleak. We were going to have to shut the doors within a year. And there was no plan to save it.”

But Legion members — including Lewandowski and Barlow — set out to change things. They presented a positive outlook, started networking and recruited other veterans. “A lot of opportunities presented themselves for a lot of different things,” Barlow said. “Everything began to progress. We saw attendance at meetings go from five to 10 to 15 and now we’ll have a full room of 30 people for our meetings. That is very encouraging.”

Also encouraging is the number of volunteer hours by post members. Those went from several thousand annually to 17,000 hours last year, Lewandowski said. “There’s a whole new cadre of newer people who are volunteering,” he explained. “You know energy begets energy. Negative energy begets negative energy. Positive energy begets positive energy. Now there’s an abundance of positive energy.”

That energy has helped power new initiatives that are helping to transcend the post. For example, one of the post’s most successful events is serving as a place to watch the annual Army-Navy football game. Navy veterans in the area had difficulty finding a location that would be large enough to host a watch party.

In stepped Post 416.

“We became the unofficial headquarters for the Army-Navy football game,” Barlow said. “It’s grown. We had 200 people the first year, and 400 last year.”

Brady Beauchamp, a post-9/11 veteran who served in the Navy for 13 years, joined about 18 months ago after attending the Army-Navy viewing at the post. “It was a very inviting atmosphere,” he said. “We all tell fun stories. It’s fun to be in that atmosphere. When I came to The American Legion and experienced this – it was the exact opposite of what my original perceptions had been.”

The post has also made a commitment to serving as a community spot for Memorial Day. Hundreds of veterans, community members and others visit the post for a patriotic event that is part remembering veterans who have passed and part street festival.

“Last year (2016) was the first year for Memorial Day that we closed the street out front of the post,” Barlow said. “We had 15 to 18 band members, a half dozen bagpipers, politicians, food, rides for kids, and stuff for families so that people could honor the fallen.”

The post also started a quarterly Living History series, featuring a veteran sharing his or her story. “Our first was Lester Tenney, who was a POW-MIA who survived the Bataan Death March,” Barlow said. “He came to speak to our post and there was not a dry eye in the post. He was one heck of a special guy.”

Other speakers have included Medal of Honor recipient and Navy SEAL Michael E. Thornton and World War II flying ace Col. Dean Caswell. “We get that information out in the media and it attracts people who can become Legionnaires, Auxiliary, Sons and even Riders,” he said.

Post leaders realize they also need to refurbish and expand their building, which dates back to 1932. They have raised some money to improve the first floor, add a second floor and increase parking. Up next is a public fundraising phase.

“It has gotten to the point where we understand that as membership grows and expectations increase, we feel that we need a better facility to do our community outreach and come together as a family of veterans,” said Beauchamp, who is the post finance director.

Community support is what won over Peter Rolf Ohnstad when, as a single father, he took his sons to the post for home-cooked meals. “The Legion post was here for me when I needed it, as a single parent,” said Ohnstad, who played American Legion Baseball as a youth in Minnesota. “I got involved off and on throughout my career. As a result, I got the Legion Riders chapter started here about four or five years ago.”

A member for 20 years, Ohnstad has seen the lows of the past and the highs of today.

“We’re growing, we’re expanding,” he said. “We’ve got great people here. We’re becoming more Legion-like. We are doing more of the things we should be doing. Our volunteer hours here are second to none. The volunteerism has been exceptional. We are not money-rich, but we are hours-rich. And that has been a real key to this post.”

Another asset is the dedication exhibited by members like Ohnstad and Lewandowski, who have long ties to the Legion, or are somewhat new like Barlow and Beauchamp.

The passion Lewandowski shows for the Legion can easily be traced back to his roots. Both of his grandfathers were World War I veterans, and they — like his father and uncle — were Legionnaires.

“I was around the Legion my entire life,” he said. “One of my grandpas gave me an American Legion lapel pin, and I used to wear that to school when I was a kid. Both my grandpas had The American Legion Magazine on their coffee tables and they went to Legion meetings and marched in parades. Since it was both grandpas, I kind of thought everyone grew up that way.”

The Legion’s commitment to service also left an impression. Lewandowski recalled a story his grandfathers shared about a severely cold winter back in the 1930s in his home state of Iowa.

“The Dubuque American Legion went out and got all this coal and wood so that families wouldn’t be cold during that winter,” he said. “That’s during the Great Depression. We have pictures of the cars and trucks lining the main street of Dubuque. The Legionnaires — many in their great coats from World War I because they didn’t have the money to buy stuff — were loading up those trucks and delivering the coal and the wood to families in Dubuque that needed it.

“The Legion was the organization that took it upon themselves to make it better. So the Legion has always had kind of a special spot in my heart.”

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Did you know?

A veteran’s family must request a United States flag.

A flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag may be provided per veteran. Upon the request of the family, an “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 21-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices.