Veterans Benefits Information

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Veterans Benefits Information

Support veterans and families who need our assistance

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Dear American Legion Family and Friends,

It was a year ago when American Legion members, posts and staff members worked together to collect, process and distribute more than $1 million in Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) grants for Coast Guard families who were ensnarled in the federal government shutdown.

Fortunately at this time, we don’t have to step in for the federal government to ensure the brave men and women of the Coast Guard are compensated for keeping our nation safe. But there are other urgent needs that we will address now and throughout 2020 through The American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation (V&CF).

Grants from the foundation not only provide vital support for military and veteran parents in unexpected financial crises, they also support American Legion service officers in their tireless efforts to obtain care and due benefits and opportunities for disabled veterans and families.

These service officers provide free expert assistance to more than 700,000 veterans, widows and families as they navigate the complexities of VA benefits and services they have earned through their service.

Sadly, service officer support and TFA grants often go unnoticed in local communities.

But their importance cannot be overstated. The Veterans & Children Foundation improves lives for veterans, servicemembers and their families. It is essential that the foundation remain a resource for our comrades in need in communities throughout the nation.

Whether funds are used to assist Coast Guardsmen who are missing paychecks or a veteran and her spouse who lost their home to a fire or a military family struggling to make ends meet, the Veterans & Children Foundation needs your support.

For the remainder of my term as national commander, I will be focusing on my fundraising goal of $25 million for V&CF. That may sound like a lot of money. Just remember that in 1924-25, Legion members created the original American Legion Endowment Fund by raising $5 million — that’s about $72 million in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation.

I am confident that with your kind contributions, we will indeed assist veterans, support military families and build a strong foundation for the future.


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Protect Veterans From Fraud

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Congress could do much more to protect Americans who have served their country from predatory for-profit colleges.

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Wanted: Eyewitnesses to the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri

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Organizers for an event planned next year for the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II have tracked down 14 veterans who were aboard the USS Missouri where Japan officially surrendered. All have agreed to attend.

Thousands of allied sailors and officers crammed aboard the Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945, as it was anchored in Tokyo Bay for the official Japanese surrender, said Michael Carr, president of the USS Missouri Memorial Association, during a news conference Wednesday on the ship’s deck.

“Every square inch of this ship was covered with men,” he said. “We have identified 14 individuals who were actually on board. There is no central database, unfortunately, that we can go [to] to help identify all of them.”

The search is continuing, he said.

Those 14 — and others if they are found in the coming months — along with one traveling companion each, will be flown to Hawaii for the five-day commemoration, which begins Aug. 29 and concludes with a ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial on Sept. 2.

National legislation authorized the 75th World II Commemoration, which is being administered by the Department of Defense.

Bob and Elizabeth Dole, both former U.S. senators, are national co-chairs of the commemoration, which will recognize the end of the war in Europe with events in Washington, D.C., May 6-10. Bob Dole is a World War II Army veteran and was severely wounded in Italy.

More than 100 vintage warbirds are expected to fly over the National Mall on May 8 in 24 separate formations sequenced by historical periods.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige formally kicked off commemoration planning for his state Wednesday with a proclamation naming the 25 committee members overseeing the event, which will include a welcome banquet, gala, educational forums, flyovers and the ceremony aboard the Missouri. The ship has been berthed at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor since 1999, when it was converted into a World War II memorial site.

Ige signed the proclamation on the exact spot where Gen. Douglas MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender in 1945.

Ige and Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, are honorary co-chairs of the Hawaii committee.

“What strikes me here, and what strikes me about the 75th commemoration, is not what ended here on this deck, but [what actually began] a rules-based international order that literally freed hundreds of millions from tyranny and lifted billions out of poverty over the course of the nearly 75 years now,” said Davidson, who added that he had served aboard the USS Missouri during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Davidson made special mention of those who served in the armed forces during World War II.

“There are very few of them left, and this is a key opportunity to again commemorate and celebrate their service and their sacrifice during World War II and what it’s meant to the foundation of freedom, not only for the United States but for the Indo-Pacific as well,” he said.

  • Members of The American Legion can receive 50 percent discounts on annual subscriptions to the Stars and Stripes digital platform of exclusive military news, topics of interest to veterans, special features, photos and other content, including the daily e-newspaper, job listings and history. American Legion members can subscribe for $19.99 a year by visiting legion.stripes.com and using the coupon code LEGIONSTRONG when filling out the online form.


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Mexico's cartel crisis – and ours

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The slaughter of nine unarmed U.S. citizens – three women and six children – in Mexico’s Sonora region at the hands of a Mexican drug cartel has shocked the American people, served as a reminder of the barbarity and lawlessness on our southern border, and even raised the possibility of U.S. military intervention.

In a phone call with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López-Obrador after the massacre, President Trump proposed a joint effort to “wage war on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.”

Before scoffing at that prospect, know that America has arguably gone to war for less. Thirty years ago this month, President George H.W. Bush ordered U.S. troops into action in Panama after an unarmed American serviceman was killed, two servicemen were injured, and an American woman was threatened with sexual assault.

“That was enough,” Bush sternly declared as he launched Operation Just Cause, adding, “I have no higher obligation than to safeguard the lives of American citizens.” Among other objectives, Bush explained, the operation aimed to “protect the lives of American citizens in Panama,” “defend democracy in Panama,” “combat drug trafficking” and “bring General Noriega to justice in the United States.”

The U.S. military secured all of those objectives.

Failures

If nothing else, Operation Just Cause serves as a precedent – and perhaps a template – for direct U.S. military intervention against Mexico’s drug cartels. To his credit, Trump doesn’t want such an intervention to be a unilateral affair. “If Mexico needs or requests help cleaning out these monsters,” Trump announced last month, “the United States stands ready, willing and able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively.”

The president is not alone.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a combat veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq, argues, “If the Mexican government cannot protect American citizens in Mexico, then the United States may have to take matters into our own hands.” He notes, “Our special-operations forces were able to take down al-Baghdadi in Syria a couple weeks ago ... They did it to Osama bin Laden in Pakistan eight years ago ... I have every confidence that if the president directed them to do so, they could impose a world of hurt on these cartels.”

Likewise, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, also an Afghanistan veteran, says he would be willing to send U.S. troops into Mexico to combat gang and drug violence, as the Sacramento Bee reports.

However, Mexico’s president is not eager to have the Green Berets, Delta Force and/or SEAL Team 6 roaming the Mexican countryside. And he has, so far, resisted Trump’s offer, promising that his government can tackle the problem on its own, while arguing, “The worst thing is war.”

Let’s leave the philosophical debate about whether some things are worse than war – and whether Mexico is already in the middle of a war – for another essay. Instead, let’s focus on the practical matter of whether Mexico’s police and security forces can handle this problem alone. If the stories and statistics oozing out of Mexico are any indication, the answer is no.

In October, as The Wall Street Journal reports, “35 Mexican police and national guard troops were forced to release the drug lord Ovidio Guzmán after they were surrounded and outgunned by cartel forces.” (Guzman is the son of notorious cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman, who is rotting away in a Colorado supermax prison.)

It gets worse.

More than 3,500 police officers have been dismissed due to corruption, according to the State Department.

It gets worse.

An estimated 150,000 Mexican military personnel deserted between 2000 and 2016.

It gets worse.

There were 35,964 murders in Mexico in 2018 – a new record. Since 2007, some 250,000 people have been the victims of violent homicides in Mexico’s cartel war. To put that number in perspective, the Iraqi government reports that 85,694 civilians were killed between 2004 and 2008 in Iraq’s postwar insurgency. That’s 17,139 per year. The toll of Mexico’s cartel war since 2007: 20,833 per year.

Add it all up, and Mexico has all the characteristics of a failed state. In fact, a U.S. military report warns policymakers to prepare for a worst-case scenario involving the “rapid and sudden collapse” of Mexico, adding, “an unstable Mexico could represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United States.”

The Fragile States Index (FSI) places Mexico in the “warning” category and describes Mexico’s narco-insurgency as “extremely serious.”

As in Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Pakistan – all FSI cellar-dwellers – warlords have taken over huge chunks of the country, and the central government’s writ is severely circumscribed. State Department and Defense Department guidelines list 12 of Mexico’s 31 states as no-go zones for U.S. travelers.

And as in Syria – the very definition of a failed state – Mexico’s chaos is breaching its borders. To the north, police in Arizona and Texas link shootings, homicides, even bombings to cartel foot-soldiers. To the south, cartel hitmen have slaughtered Guatemalan farmers.

Hugs

Since 2007, the United States has sent $3 billion in aid to Mexico under the Mérida Initiative – what the Congressional Research Service (CRS) calls a “security and rule-of-law partnership.” Some 20,000 Mexican prosecutors, police officers and judicial officials have been trained under the Mérida Initiative. However, as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) reports, Lopez-Obrador has tried to redirect Mérida aid away from security and toward development.

Indeed, Lopez-Obrador has pursued a “hugs not bullets” – his actual words – peace initiative. This gentler, nonconfrontational approach to the thugs that run the cartels – and run quite a bit of Mexico, for that matter – isn’t working.

In one positive sign, Mexico City has asked the FBI for assistance in tracking down those who murdered the Americans in Sonora. Yet one wonders if law enforcement – even the FBI, the best law enforcement agency on earth – is equipped to go toe to toe with the cartel armies. As we learned in the 1990s, indictments and search warrants are not enough to defeat an army – whether it’s an army of jihadists or an army of sicarios (hitmen).

Lopez-Obrador seems to believe that his predecessors’ efforts to combat the cartels caused this problem; it merely exposed it. As the dramatic spike in mass-killings and homicides during the Lopez-Obrador administration underscores, the “hugs not bullets” experiment is both naïve and futile. The Mexican people recognize this, which explains why 85 percent of Mexicans have expressed support for using the army against the cartels and 74 percent approve of U.S. training assistance.

This is not to suggest that there’s a military answer for every problem, but rather that the cartels are a military-security problem that require a military-security solution. The State Department reports that Mexico’s cartels “increasingly employ military tactics.” The cartels deploy mortars, snipers, RPGs, bazookas, land mines, armored assault vehicles and even submarines. As the Guatemalan government observed after its troops engaged a Mexican cartel inside Guatemala, “The weapons seized .. are more than those of some army brigades.”

In short, defeating the cartel insurgency and pulling Mexico out if its slide toward failed-state status must start with security and stability, which means a) Washington must view the cartels as a national-security threat, and b) Mexico City must invest more in defense.

Mexico spends just 0.5 percent of GDP on defense. This is not nearly enough given Mexico’s internal security challenges. Consider the defense-spending levels of countries facing similar insurgency threats: Afghanistan invests 2 percent of its GDP on defense and receives billions in military aid from the United States and other NATO members; Colombia spends 3.4 percent of GDP; Iraq spends 4 percent of GDP; Pakistan spends 3.6 percent of GDP.

If bolstering the defense and security assets of those four countries – none of them sharing a border with the United States – is in the national interest (and it is), then helping Mexico defeat its narco-insurgency is as well.

A backdrop behind all of this is America’s insatiable demand for narcotics – a demand happily met by cartel suppliers – but that is another subject for another essay. Suffice it to say that both supply and demand need to be addressed, and that our role in creating a demand obliges us to help eradicate the supply and the suppliers.

Coincidences

As Trump and other policymakers suggest, that help may take the form of U.S. boots on the ground.

It pays to recall that from the earliest days of the republic, the United States has deployed military forces to protect America and American citizens from lawlessness on the nation’s borders. In 1816, U.S. troops entered Spanish Florida – an ungoverned region CRS describes as a haven for “raiders making forays into United States territory” – to bring order. Between 1873 and 1896, U.S. forces were dispatched to lawless areas in Mexico to pursue “thieves and other brigands.” The United States intervened in Mexico in the early 20th century, given that the Mexican government at the time was unwilling to control what was happening within its borders. Today’s Mexico may be willing, but it is clearly unable.

“Armed foreigners cannot intervene in our territory,” Lopez-Obrador declared this month. “We will not allow that.” But he may not have a choice as to whether U.S. forces deploy into his country to bring the Sonora mass-murders to justice – or to bring justice to them. We likely will only be able to surmise it after the fact – like the effects of an overnight storm – by piecing together seemingly disparate stories: a shootout here, a smoldering compound there, the fortunate coincidence of cartel thugs being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the capture and “handover” to U.S. authorities of a herd of warlords.

This may sound like the stuff of a Tom Clancy novel. But it’s worth noting that military experts generally believe El Chapo was captured in 2016 with the assistance – perhaps guidance – of U.S. special-operations units. They’ve never confirmed that. They are known as quiet professionals for a reason.


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To Strengthen a Nation 6: Americanism

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In Episode 6 of “To Strengthen a Nation,” a video series on the history of The American Legion, hosts Lorna Duyn and Jeric Wilhelmsen explore the original reasons the organization made “Americanism” a pillar value.

Responsible U.S. citizenship, respect for the flag, constitutional understanding, voter participation, support for law and order and a number of youth programs arose from a founding interest to ensure that Americans not only had the resources and training to defend the country, but also understood the reasons why.

Watch Episode 6 here. And click here to watch the entire documentary series.


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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.