The American Legion honored two North Carolina companies and another in Texas with Employer of the Year awards at its 96th national convention in Charlotte, N.C.
North Carolina Food Service in Fayetteville was recognized for the large-employer category (201-plus workers); L-3 Communications ASD in Fort Bragg, N.C., for medium-sized employers (51-200 workers), and M1 Support Services in Abilene, Texas, for employers with 50 or fewer workers.
The awards, presented by The American Legion’s National Veterans Employment & Education Commission, are given to businesses across the country that have established outstanding records in employing and retaining veterans, workers with disabilities and older members of the work force.
To be eligible for an Employer of the Year Award, nominees must be a private-sector business operating for at least five years, cannot restrict its employment to veterans-only, and must have at least 10 percent of its work force made up of veterans.
Employment Service Awards of the Year were also presented in six categories to the following:
Local Veterans’ Employment Representative: Robert O’Keefe, Columbus, Ohio
Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program Specialist: Roy Fillion, Grand Forks, N.D.
Employment Local Office: Brazos Valley Workforce Solutions, Bryan, Texas
Enhance the Lives of the Disabled: Sioux Steel Company, Inc., Sioux Falls, S.D.
Employer of Older Workers: The Society of St. Vincent de Paul North Idaho, Coeur d’Alene
Homeless Veterans Outreach Award: The American Legion Department of Oregon, Eagle Point
United Parcel Service, better known to the world as UPS, has 24,000 veterans on its payroll and has a goal of hiring thousands more. Hundreds of its stores are run by veterans.
But Myron Gray, vice president of U.S. Operations for the shipping giant, told delegates to the 96th Annual American Legion National Convention on Aug. 28 that his company’s hiring practices aren’t driven solely by a sense of obligation.
“While we’re supporting veterans’ career development, charity is not our motivation,” Gray said. “In addition to the right thing to do, hiring veterans is also the smart thing to do for our business. At UPS, we’re looking for leadership, technical expertise, grace under pressure, and someone who has a mission-oriented mindset, diverse points of view and problem-solving abilities.
“Ethics (and) integrity are values that go a long way at UPS. Does that sound like someone you know?”
Gray said that hiring veterans at UPS is “an investment that’s paying dividends. When it comes to sustainability, we believe we have a responsibility to contribute to society and to the environment. We also believe every investment our company makes should return value to our business. Our investment in veterans is … an investment that’s become a competitive advantage.”
Gray said that veterans are the kind of people that businesses should want on their side. He also urged veterans seeking employment to not “undersell” themselves when talking to prospective employers. “Don’t be modest,” Gray said.
During his address, Fisher House founder Ken Fisher praised The American Legion for its donations, both financial and in goods, to his facilities, telling delegates that the Legion is represented in all 64 Fisher Houses.
He also brought up the issues facing the Department of Veterans Affairs and offered some advice. VA should avoid the age-old strategy of throwing new money at old problems. He also said the department should take a business approach to running the health-care system and “implement changes that will last well into the future. It’s time we get serious about VA’s core mission. It’s time we put veterans first, and it’s time we put military families first.”
Walter Barber got a decent place to sleep last night because of The American Legion.
The 70-year-old North Carolina native had been sleeping at bus stops for the past month - he had nowhere else to go.
“I was incarcerated for six years and when my time was up, they dropped me off on the street and I was on my own,” said Barber, an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged. “I did go down to the VA office from time to time and on my last visit they told me The American Legion was helping veterans out down here at the convention center.”
Remembering what he was told, he dropped by the Legion's Veterans Crisis Command Center (VCCC) at the Charlotte Convention Center, which was held in conjunction with the Legion’s 96th Annual National Convention.
Not only did American Legion and VA staff get Barber a place at a local homeless shelter, they began the process of getting him pension benefits and government vouchers for temporary housing.
Verna Jones, director of The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, said Barber’s case was a good example of how the Legion, VA and local providers are working together at each crisis center to improve the lives of veterans and their families.
“The American Legion homeless coordinator here on site worked with shelters in Charlotte that could help, and he also got help from the homeless coordinator at the VA hospital (in Salisbury, N.C.) and a social worker to help find permanent housing,” Jones said.
Barber was one of about 140 visitors who sought assistance at the VCCC in its first two days of operation; it is open today until 8 p.m. In addition to helping with VA enrollment and appointment scheduling, Jones said, many veterans who came to the center got help with filing for benefits earned through their military service. “So far, we’ve helped veterans get total of about $120,000 in benefits.”
Other services offered to veterans at the VCCC include a monitoring station where VA medical staff check blood pressure and heart rate. Some veterans are also referred to exercise and diet programs offered at VA’s community-based outpatient clinic in Charlotte.
Ron Abrams is assisting once again at the crisis center as The American Legion’s legal consultant; he is joint executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program in Washington. One interesting case he handled involved a veteran who had never filed a claim for any VA benefits. Abrams asked the man if he was interested in getting compensation for his service-connected disabilities, “and he said ‘Yes, but I don’t like to complain.’”
Abrams learned the 75-year-old veteran served in the Army from 1964 to 1994, with four tours of duty in Vietnam. He retired as a command sergeant major with more than 200 parachute jumps as a Ranger who worked with Special Forces.
“Today, as a result of his parachute jumps,” Abrams said, “his ankles, knees, elbows, shoulders, back are filled with arthritis, due to the trauma of all the jumps.” The service center manager at VA’s regional office in Winston-Salem, N.C., was quickly notified. “He took one look at this hero’s record, and said 'we’re going to get him service connection for all his physical ailments. We’re going to work on his post-traumatic stress disorder claim' – which we had to drag out of him.
“And when I asked him why, after being out of the service for 20 years, he didn’t file a claim sooner, his answer was, ‘Other veterans needed it more than I did."’
Helping such veterans, Abrams said, “makes me proud to be here, it shows the value of this Crisis Command Center, and I think that what The American Legion has done in creating this program, and putting it all over the country, has established the Legion as the leading service group in trying to obtain benefits for veterans. And the VA has been more than happy to help us at almost every spot.”
The American Legion has conducted VCCCs across the country since last June; future crisis centers will be conducted through October.
The following is the entire transcript of National Commander Mike Helm’s speech given Aug. 28 before delegates at the 96th National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., where he was elected leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization.
Today on this otherwise joyous occasion for me, a shadow falls over this convention in the passing of my great friend and mentor for many years. Jerry Hedrick, has passed on to the Great Legion Post in the sky. Jerry Hedrick, the NECMan from the great Department of North Carolina, was a presence in this organization for so many years that he has touched the lives of us all in a very good way. Jerry was always positive. I don’t believe I ever heard Jerry say a harsh word about anyone. He would look at an issue and give you an honest course of action that he thought was best for you and best for the organization. I know his wife Marie, Adjutant Frank, and the whole Department of North Carolina are saddened beyond words and we all share that sadness. “Jerry, my friend, let me just say this in paraphrasing St. Paul in his second letter to Timothy.- ‘You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith. Your reward in heaven is certainly deserved.’ Rest well my friend, rest well.”
Now I would like to say that this is a humbling position that I find myself in as I congratulate and thank National Commander Dan Dellinger for a great year of service to the American Legion. You have polished and made shine The American Legion Emblem, as a great symbol for all to see. This convention and all of our membership thank you. It will be a shame if we don’t take advantage of your efforts.
I want to thank PNC Jake Comer for all of his support and guidance as I came up through the ranks. He has been a true mentor and friend not only of me but my entire family. My thoughts and prayers are with you as, in a very short time, you have lost two great friends in Dick and Jerry.
Let me now recognize my family. First, my wife: she knew from the start that I had a love and commitment to the American Legion Family that was sometimes going to take precedence over our family from time to time. I want to thank her for the support she has given me over the years. My love, My wife, my Honey Bear, Debbie … I love you.
Of course you all watched our family grow over the years. It was always fun to come to a National Convention to see another of Mike and Deb’s kids make the scene. First Aaron and his wife Robie, both graduates of West Point. They are just finishing a deployment to Kuwait and will return to Ft. Hood next month.
Rebecca, who presented my commander pin, and her husband Jaron Cox. They are both graduates of K-State University in Manhattan, Kansas, and reside in San Antonio, Texas. Jacob is a senior this year at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. I will certainly be there when he graduates in May.
My third son is Matthew. He is a sophomore at K-State in Manhattan, Kansas, and is in the Army ROTC Program. And last is Timothy, who placed my name tag on. He is a senior at Decatur Community High School in Oberlin, Kansas.
I wish my father and mother were here. They came to enjoy national conventions in their later years. My dad, John, loved the parade and finally quit coming when he couldn’t stand and salute the colors as they passed by. He has joined Post Everlasting, but my mother Helen is watching on Legion TV back home. Hi Mom!
Let me real quick introduce my immediate family. My brother Jim and wife Yanis from McCook, Nebraska,. My sister, Kathy Brashears, from Curtis, Nebraska. My sister CeAnne and husband Marty Rinhart from Ogahlala, Nebraska. Their son, John Henry Rinehart, who is my godson, from Colby Kansas. My niece Natasha and her husband Andrew Sloan from Kernersville, N.C. and my nephew Andrew Helm and his friend Megan from Athens, Alabama.
Family is bigger than genetics and growing up the Helm family had a closeness with the Shobe family. We shared the same religion, ideals, joys and sorrow over the years and I am happy to have Cindy Whitely here from Lawrence, Kansas, to share in this moment.
Let me get to my Department. I just want to remember Wayne Davis from up in District One. He was my first and most important mentor. He has gone on before us, but was a great individual who always had time to be a part of my efforts.
I want to thank my campaign manager Don Suchy and his wife Marge. They spent many hours on this campaign. He provided wise counsel to me as the campaign unfolded and I will always be grateful for that. Thanks Marge and Don. Just remember your not done yet. Also, Doug Boldt and his wife Mary Ann. They have been a great team in providing support and direction as we prepared the campaign rooms along the way. You all know Past National Historian Bob Craig who gave my nomination speech. He served as my Finance Officer. He has been a friend for a long time. Thanks, Bob.
I want to recognize Past National President Carol Van Kirk from Sutton, Nebraska. Her support and wise counsel has been very much appreciated. Our NECman Jerry Landkamer, his wife Starla, and son Thomas. Our Alt NEC Bill Crosier. Leon Hagan and his wife Faye.
I want to thank Adjutant Dave Salak, and all of the department staff for their support. I want to give a special thanks for many years of support over the years to Sandy Steinkamp. She is the rock at department that keeps us going. This is her first national convention. Thanks Charlie for sharing her with us.
I also want to thank Eva Nollette and Virginia Nelson who provided the leadership and support of the Nebraska Auxiliary. Also, Harold Thompson and Danny Smith for all of their help with the Sons of The American Legion.
Next I want to thank Team Nebraska. We didn’t know everything there was to know about the commitment it takes to put together a campaign like this. I’m not sure they would do it again but they have done a great job and I will only say thank you all for everything you did. We will have more time Sept. 6 to say some more thanks in Kearney.
I also want to thank District Nine for all of their help. We are a very small district but they have put out the effort to make this day happen. I want to recognize Richard Baxter, Roger Floyd and Joann Ward for their help. Thank you Nebraska American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, Sons of the American Legion and Legion Riders-all.
It took a lot of years to get here. So many of you have been so supportive and so happy for me. And that extends well beyond my own department – but throughout the entire country. Thank you so much. I love you all.
Let me also recognize and congratulate National President Janet Jefford and Sons of the American Legion Commander Mike Moss on their recent election. We have already set down to plan a course of direction with the American Legion Family along with the American Legion Riders.
One of the greatest documents in our organization is the Preamble to our Constitution that we recite at each of our meetings. I see it as a call to action. “for God and Country we associate ourselves together for the following purposes- to uphold and defend, to maintain, to foster and perpetuate, to preserve, to inculcate, to combat, to make right, to promote, to safe guard and transmit, to consecrate and sanctify.” I love these words. The man that wrote them was Hamilton Fish a founding father of this organization. He was a representative from New York from 1920-1945. He introduced the bill to establish the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In my early years of the American Legion I had occasion to meet Honorary PNC Fish. He related the fact that he has met a man who knew General Lafayette of the American Revolution. I think that demonstrates what a young idea democracy is. Think about it: from Lafayette to someone to PNC Fish to me. Now think about how far democracy and freedom has brought this world in that short amount of time compared to the age of civilization. Certainly the footprint is large and more important today than ever. The American Legion has played a large role in making sure this nation stays that same course. That is the plan for this year “Stay the Course.” And no, I do NOT mean that we shouldn’t raise the bar and constantly seek to improve.
What I mean by “stay the course” is to continue to live and honor the great traditions and values established by our founders nearly a century ago. These policies and traditions that got us here will continue to guide us forward.
First of all we are a God and Country organization and we will not apologize for that. We know that a veteran is a citizen of this country who has offered his or her life to honor this nation’s commitment to justice freedom and democracy and by that action has had his or her life radically and sometimes violently changed forever. We will not let this nation forget that we owe that individual respect and any help they need in making their lives whole again.
We address those needs with the 4 pillars of our organization.
Take, for instance, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Under the Leadership of our National Commander we have drawn the line in the sand. We say now that the health-care needs of the individual veterans must be met in a timely manner. We say that the VA can do a better job in the claims and appeals process. At the same time we will continue seek out answers to what went wrong at the VA and why it went wrong. Those people involved will be held accountable. We know that what happened wasn’t an accident or a circumstance. There is an entrenchment in VA that is not helpful to veterans health care or compensation. We will find it and get rid of it at the same time we will continue to support the VA as a national provider of veterans health care. We need our VA medical facilities because we know it can be and is the best care anywhere if administrated properly. Those calling for the end of the VA and privatization of veterans health care are wrong. We continue to see The American Legion as partners and friends of the VA. We know they can and will do better.
Also a great concern we have is our national defense. We cannot continue to see the mounting crises erupting in the world and still think it is a prudent thing to reduce our military force and training. Those forces of evil and hate are enemies of our way of life. This nation must be ready to answer that challenge. We will also continue our efforts to end illegal immigration. It is a national security issue of great importance. Fair and legal immigration is a good thing that has helped build this country into a great nation. We must continue that process. Anything else is a constant danger. Especially amnesty proposals which seek to reward illegal behavior and penalize those who have waited patiently to immigrate the legal way.
We will continue to support our Children and Youth programs and Americanism programs. These programs are not only a challenge and adventure for our youth, they also make up the fabric that keeps us strong as a nation. This year we will also make a concentrated effort in assimilation of citizenship. Hopefully we can utilize those post across this great country that are near U.S. citizenship and immigration service field offices to help in bringing legal immigrants to full citizenship. We were involved in this years ago and now is the time to renew our efforts.
I know the task ahead is full. We all know that it takes membership to do those things only we can do. Along with all you do in this area I am asking you to renew your efforts in renewals. We cannot grow as an organization if we recruit a new member and then fail to renew that member the following years. Right now we are losing at least 10 percent of our membership thru nonrenewal. This has to stop. Your department has a membership recruiting team. It is time to have a department, district and post retention team.
We continue to ask for a better reporting of our post activities. The percentage of posts making the Consolidated Post Report is increasing but we are still lacking a lot of reports. My department along with a few others have been hitting the 100 percent mark. Let’s make that a special effort this year. All district commanders should have that as a goal.
For the next year, you will hear a lot about my new favorite number —“Four.” And no, I am not referring to an errant drive on the golf course – a sport that I never had a passion for, so please don’t be offended if I decline to hit the links with you.
I’m talking about Four Million Dollars for programs that benefit our Four Pillars in all American Legion Family programs and charities. And we do this using a Four-by-Four. Not a truck, but the four wheels that keep The American Legion Family moving forward – that’s the Legion, The American Legion Auxiliary, the Sons of The American Legion, and, of course, our American Legion Riders. We are going to raise money - $4 million – for all of our charitable programs. And we are going to do this for God and country.
And yes, I also believe in a Four Million Member American Legion Family – and we can do it if we work on the 4 Rs – Recruiting, Revitalization, Renewals and Reconnecting.
First, look at our great programs. I have been involved in fundraising for so many different areas, I could not choose one “best” program. And I do believe in the family approach.
Operation Comfort Warriors provides direct support for wounded, injured and ill soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and coast guardsmen. Whether it’s an Amazon giftcard or a backpack full of DVDs, OCW is a great way for us to show our appreciation for those who have sacrificed on our behalf.
Our partnership with Soldier’s Wish also lends itself to great opportunities to tell our heroes how much we truly appreciate their service.
Let’s not forget the Child Welfare Foundation, the American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund, Temporary Financial Assistance and the Family Support Network.
Most veterans believe that the nicest thing you can do for them is to be kind to their families. The most common request of a soldier who is dying on the battlefield is “tell my wife I love her.” Nothing will be appreciated by a veteran more than taking care of his or her family. And that’s exactly what these programs are intended to do.
The American Legion Auxiliary Foundation supports America’s core values by providing additional resources necessary to ensure the success of Auxiliary programs and services, such as Spirit of Youth Scholarships, and Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation programs.
Just this week two hurricanes have formed – one in the Pacific and one in the Atlantic. Wildfires, tornadoes and earthquakes will continue to happen and affect our members and American Legion posts. Commander Dellinger has done a terrific job in increasing awareness about the National Emergency Fund, and I know that I can count on your continued generous support of that great program.
The Auxiliary Emergency Fund is a national grant assistance program that provides temporary emergency help to eligible members of the American Legion Auxiliary who have suffered a significant financial setback as the result of an act of nature or other personal crisis.
I am leaving the choice of fundraising to you. All I ask is that you give. We will track the fundraising throughout the family and I believe that we will see that total reach $4 million.
America is paying attention to The American Legion not just because we are right on the issues, but because we are doing these great things in our communities.
We will always be about service first – but, folks, we can’t provide the programs or the service without the membership. Practice those 4 Rs. Recruit every eligible veteran that you come in contact. Recruit their sons, grandsons, wives, daughters and granddaughters into the American Legion Family.
You don’t need to be near a military base to reconnect with servicemembers. Reserve and Guard units have deployed in record numbers since 9/11 and most are eligible for American Legion membership.
Renewal efforts shouldn’t just include those who left your post in the past year, but check back on those who might have left five or even 10 years ago. They might have had a change in heart or simply forgot to renew because nobody was pro-active enough to take an interest in them.
National Headquarters also offers plenty of resources available for posts that wish to revitalize. Think of it as a “Five-Hour-Energy Shot” for a tired post. Check out the resources available on the publications page of legion.org or call your membership division and National Headquarters.
We will have a banner ribbon for posts, units and squadrons that reach 100 percent membership as a family. Hopefully, each family member will help lift the other units of the family to that 100 percent level.
I think this American Legion Family approach to membership and giving will be a plus for everyone.
In closing, I’d like to again remind people to Stay the Course. But carry a four iron, even if I do hate golf!
God Bless you all, and God Bless America.
Department of Nebraska Legionnaire Mike Helm wants his fellow Legionnaires to “stay the course” this year. But don’t think for a minute that means maintain the status quo.
Helm, elected American Legion national commander Aug. 28 during the final day of the 96th Annual American Legion National Convention, said during his acceptance speech that he wants Legionnaires to stay true to the ideals of the organization’s founders and use them as a guide toward future progress.
“That is the plan for this year: stay the course,” Helm said. “And no, I do not mean that we shouldn’t raise the bar and constantly seek to improve. What I mean by ‘stay the course’ is to continue to live and honor the great traditions and values established by our founders nearly a century ago. These policies and traditions that got us here will continue to guide us forward.
We are a God and country organization, and we will not apologize for that. We know that a veteran is a citizen of this country who has offered his or her life to honor this nation’s commitment to justice freedom and democracy, and by that action has had his or her life radically and sometimes violently changed forever. We will not let this nation forget that we owe that individual respect and any help they need in making their lives whole again.”
Helm, a U.S. Army Rangers veteran and member of Jack Helt Post 313 in Lebanon, Neb., has served as post, county, district, department and national vice commander, and has chaired the National Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation and Foreign Relations commissions.
He will use his VA&R experience this year to focus on current issues with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Under the leadership of our (immediate Past National Commander Dan Dellinger), we have drawn the line in the sand,” Helm said. “We say now that the health-care needs of the individual veteran must be met in a timely manner. We say that the VA can do a better job in the claims and appeals process. At the same time, we will continue to seek out answers to what went wrong at the VA and why it went wrong." Those people involved in the scandals have to be held accountable, Helm said.
“We know that what happened wasn’t an accident or a circumstance. There is an entrenchment in VA that is not helpful to veterans’ health care or compensation. We will find it and get rid of it. At the same time, we will continue to support the VA as a national provider of veterans’ health care. We need our VA medical facilities because we know it can be and is the best care anywhere if administrated properly. "Those calling for the end of the VA and privatization of veterans health care are wrong. We continue to see The American Legion as partners and friends of the VA. We know they can and will do better."
National security also is on Helm’s radar. “We cannot continue to see the mounting crises erupting in the world and still think it is a prudent thing to reduce our military force and training,” he said. “Those forces of evil and hate are enemies of our way of life. This nation must be ready to answer that challenge.
“We will also continue our efforts to end illegal immigration. It is a national security issue of great importance. Fair and legal immigration is a good thing that has helped build this country into a great nation. We must continue that process. Anything else is a constant danger – especially amnesty proposals which seek to reward illegal behavior and penalize those who have waited patiently to immigrate the legal way.”
Helm said the Legion will continue to support its youth and Americanism programs, saying those programs “make up the fabric that keeps us strong as a nation.” And rather than focusing on a specific fundraising program, Helm has set a goal for the Legion family to raise a combined $4 million for the various Legion charitable programs.
“I am leaving the choice of fundraising to you,” he said. “All I ask is that you give. America is paying attention to The American Legion not just because we are right on the issues, but because we are doing these great things in our communities.”
Many of those charities benefit not only members of the military and veterans, but also their families – which matters, Helm said. “Most veterans believe that the nicest thing you can do for them is to be kind to their families,” he said. “The most common request of a soldier who is dying on the battlefield is ‘tell my wife I love her.’ Nothing will be appreciated by a veteran more than taking care of his or her family. And that’s exactly what these programs are intended to do.”
When it comes to membership growth, Helm said he wants Legionnaires to focus on the four Rs: recruiting, revitalization, renewals and reconnecting.
“We will always be about service first, but folks, we can’t provide the programs or the service without the membership,” Helm said. "Practice those four Rs. Recruit every eligible veteran that you come in contact. Recruit their sons, grandsons, wives, daughters and granddaughters into the American Legion family.
“You don’t need to be near a military base to reconnect with servicemembers. Reserve and Guard units have deployed in record numbers since 9/11, and most are eligible for American Legion membership.
“Renewal efforts shouldn’t just include those who left your post in the past year, but check back on those who might have left five or even 10 years ago. They might have had a change of heart or simply forgot to renew because nobody was pro-active enough to take an interest in them. And National Headquarters also offers plenty of resources available for posts that wish to revitalize. Think of it as a 5-Hour ENERGY Shot for a tired post."
Helm took time to honor Jerry Hedrick, the longtime National Executive Committeeman from North Carolina who passed away unexpectedly Aug. 25 during the convention. “Jerry Hedrick … was a presence in this organization for so many years that he has touched the lives of us all in a very good way,” Helm said. “Jerry was always positive. I don’t believe I ever heard Jerry say a harsh word about anyone. He would look at an issue and give you an honest course of action that he thought was best for you and best for the organization.”
Helm was surrounded by many members of his family on the stage – and by two others from more than 6,800 miles away. Helm’s son Aaron and his wife, Robie – both currently stationed at U.S. Army Camp Arifjan in Kuwait – were able to watch Helm be sworn in via Skype.
Elected as national vice commanders were Doug Haggan, Department of France; Paul O. Sanford, Department of Kansas; Richard W. Neville, Department of North Carolina; William R. Bryant, Department of Virginia; and Gerald L. Jacobs, of Wyoming.
Also appointed were National Historian Sue Mason, Department of California, National Sergeant-at-Arms Leon Hagan, Department of Nebraska; National Chaplain Randy Cash, Department of South Carolina.
The Home Depot Foundation, which has provided more than $81 million in grants for building projects that benefit veterans over the last three years, is dedicating $1 million for American Legion projects, working through Team Depot, an army of some 350,000 employees and volunteers throughout the country, the executive director of the company’s foundation announced Thursday.
“We do thousands of community service projects every year, and hundreds of them are at your posts,” Home Depot Foundation Executive Director Gaven Gregory said from the podium of the 96th National Convention of The American Legion, in Charlotte, N.C. “When we got involved in this relationship, a lot of it was because those folks in the field (Team Depot) had done projects with you and said, ‘Hey, look, The American Legion is important to us. It’s important to our communities. And we want to do more.’ We took that guidance and said, ‘OK, we’re going to do more.’”
Over the past three years, the foundation and Team Depot have helped transform more than 13,000 homes for veterans, he said. “Since the launch of our mission, our volunteers have touched the homes and lives of veterans in every state, in thousands of cities across the country. We’re pretty proud of that. We have developed a powerful alliance with The American Legion over the years. We’ve worked together across the country to improve the lives of our veterans, from touching up posts to repairing homes for Legion members in need.”
He said The Home Depot Foundation grants have grown from $140,000 in 2011, to over $450,000 in 2012 and nearly double that in 2013. “The more we worked together, the more we realized what a powerful force we can be,” Gregory said.
He showed the crowd examples of American Legion projects in Tybee Island, Ga.; Stickney, Ill.; Alpharetta, Ga.; and Phoenix. Many of the projects have included improvements at American Legion posts, themselves.
Gregory said Legionnaires are encouraged to contact their local Home Depot stores and ask for the Team Depot captains who can assist with grant applications. For more information, Legion members can also visit http://homedepotfoundation.org/ on the web.
“I’m so proud of this relationship and the amazing work we do together,” Gregory said. “That’s why we are incredibly proud to announce we are committing an investment of $1 million over the next year at American Legion posts and veterans across the country, in alliance with The American Legion. We know we’re going to be working together for a long time.”
Robert J. Dalessandro asked his fellow members of The American Legion to close their eyes Thursday morning and imagine for a moment the spirit of World War I, the veterans who founded what would become the nation’s largest veterans service organization, and their legacy.
“There’s a doughboy here today,” he told thousands gathered in Charlotte, N.C., for the 96th National Convention of The American Legion.
Chief of the U.S. Army Center for Military History and chairman of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, Dalessandro briefed those in attendance about a multi-year program to raise awareness of the World War I story, including ongoing Legion-supported efforts to memorialize the war in Washington, D.C. The commission supports the designation of the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City and redesignation of Pershing Park near the White House as the national World I Memorial, with enhancements, as U.S. entry into the war nears its 100th anniversary in 2017.
“At the commission, we have an ambitious multi-year program aimed at fostering awareness and educating the American public on the triumphs and the tragedies of this era,” said the member of American Legion Post 24 in Alexandria, Va. “Our goal is to commemorate the legacy of the mothers and the fathers – the parents who raised the Greatest Generation – the people who launched a new age and ultimately an American century.”
He explained that World War I claimed the lives of approximately 116,000 from the United States. “…more than Vietnam, more than Korea, more than Iraq, more than Afghanistan – all combined.”
The World War I veteran’s story needs to be told to new generations, he said. “There’s a doughboy here today, and he would ask that you take a moment for him. He would ask you to tell his story to your children and grandchildren. He would ask you to support a memorial in Washington, D.C., as the Legion already is, a place where you can take your children and grandchildren and share the doughboy’s story with them.
“If a doughboy were standing here today, he would ask you to support the World War I centennial. He would ask you to reach out to Congress and support the World War I Memorial in Pershing Park. He would ask you to support a World War I Centennial Coin Act. He would ask you to be involved through the centennial commission’s website.”
A Washington television station, a North Carolina newspaper and a five-part investigative report of a Washington-based “online news and opinion site” received The American Legion’s Fourth Estate Award during the 96th National Convention on Thursday.
The award has been presented annually by the Legion since 1958 for outstanding achievement in the field of journalism. Nominations were considered in three categories: print, broadcast and new media (Internet).
Taking the top honor in the print category was a series of three articles in The Daily News of Jacksonville, N.C., on the effects of government sequestration and its impact on the military mental health-care system. Reporter Thomas Brennan’s investigation found that the large number of government mental health-care workers furloughed was having a dramatic and harmful impact on servicemembers unable to receive adequate treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Following his exposé and attention from a member of Congress, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel exempted mental health workers from the furlough, returned them to work and restored treatment of personnel back to full capacity across the Department of Defense.
After getting repeated complaints from customers and a tip that problems inside a company went beyond local shops, WRC-TV News launched a one-year investigation which ultimately led to a five-part television report - “Under the Hood: The AAMCO Investigation” - which captured the top spot in the broadcast category. The WRC team of Tisha Thompson, Rick Yarborough, Jeff Piper and Mike Goldrick achieved results: AAMCO, the world’s largest transmission repair chain, pulled its multimillion dollar advertising campaign, retrained more than 700 franchise owners nationwide, conducted thousands of dollars worth of overdue repairs and now faces a class-action lawsuit. The team used nearly every investigative technique to expose “what really goes on behind garage doors when they think no one is looking.”
Senior Watchdog Reporter Mark Flatten of the Washington Examiner captured the award in the Internet (new media) category for his prescient investigative series, “Making America’s Heroes Wait.” Delving into the VA claims backlog, he found that veterans were dying, left to suffer with unhealed wounds – not on the battlefield but back at home, sometimes decades later. Much of the delay was of VA’s own making. As the result of his reporting, several investigative hearings were held, and public and congressional pressure forced VA to reprioritize resources to target disability claims that had dragged out far too long.
“These outstanding works of journalism not only stand far above the norm, but each of them has also resulted in an outcome that has positively impacted the lives of people. These committed journalists have devoted long, hard hours into investigating, researching, writing and producing masterful reports that have truly made a difference for the better in our world,” National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger. said.
Previous winners of the award include "Dateline NBC," C-SPAN, United Press International, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Indianapolis Star, the Detroit News, Fortune magazine, ABC News and Life magazine, among others.
The Department of Veteran Affairs has launched a new online platform - the "GI Bill Comparison Tool 1.5" - that helps student veterans make informed decisions about using their education benefits. The American Legion offered input and consultation in helping VA develop the tool to make it as useful as possible to academic-minded veterans.
Veterans use the tool by inputting the amount of time they spent on active duty, then selecting the institution or training provider which they wish to attend. The tool then returns an estimation of the percentage of tuition and fees that will be covered by their education benefits, and then lists a housing allowance and book stipend (if applicable) that they could expect to receive while enrolled.
The tool also provides other useful information and statistics about the institution, such as the number of GI Bill users attending, whether it participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, and if it has active student veterans groups. The tool also lists overall graduation rates for the institution, student loan default rates compared to the national average and the median borrowing amount for students at the institution.
The tool is a product of a recent intra-agency memorandum of understanding signed by VA and the Departments of Defense and Education to ensure that veterans, servicemembers and their beneficiaries are protected as they spend their education benefits at colleges, universities and other eligible training institutions.
"As an estimated 1.5 million active-duty servicemembers transition into civilian life, it's important that we help them make informed decisions about how and where to spend their GI Bill benefits," said Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the Legion's Veterans Employment & Education Division. "This tool accomplishes that by giving veterans a comprehensive picture of the value of their benefits and the return they can expect to receive on those benefits at schools and other eligible institutions."
The GI Bill Comparison Tool 1.5 can be found here: http://department-of-veterans-affairs.github.io/gi-bill-comparison-tool/
When the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal broke last spring – and grew as the summer progressed – two members of Congress acted in a way to both preserve VA and provide immediate care for America’s veterans. Their efforts earned them The American Legion’s Patriot Award Aug. 27 during the Legion’s 96th Annual National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., both were presented the award, given to recognize great deeds and exemplary acts of service. Sanders earned the award because his “dedication to those who have borne the battle and their families is unquestionable. When systemic problems plaguing the Veterans Health Administration were brought to your attention, you immediately ordered hearings and introduced legislation to improve the lives of patients and those trying to access care. While supportive of the temporary use of vouchers for veterans who live in remote areas or have waited too long to receive a VA medical appointment, you are a true champion of the need for a strong Veterans Affairs health-care system and have been a powerful critic of attempts to privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs and its essential services.”
The Vermont senator thanked the Legion for the award and praised the Legion for its work. “Your staff and volunteers do an extraordinary job assisting veterans all across this nation with disability claims, job searches and educational needs,” he said. “In Washington, The American Legion does outstanding work with the Senate and House (Committees on Veterans’ Affairs) on legislation and in helping us understand the needs and priorities facing millions of veterans.”
Sanders said it’s critical to figure into any conflict involving the U.S. military the funding necessary to care for those who fight in it. “The cost of war is much greater than most Americans perceive and … does not end when the last shots are fired or the last missiles are launched,” he said. “Let us all be very, very clear: The cost of war continues until the last veterans – and that could be 70 years after his or her services – the cost of war continues until that veteran receives all of the care and all of the benefits that he or she has earned.”
Miller’s citation praised the Florida representative for a “commitment to a strong national defense and your support for a constitutional amendment to protect the U.S. flag from desecration have earned you the appreciation and respect of many military veterans and their families. By calling for greater accountability, transparency and accessibility throughout the Veterans Health Administration during a time that VA faces unprecedented challenges, you are providing needed oversight and attention to make it a system truly worth saving.”
After receiving the award, Miller spoke briefly about the past and current situation at VA. He praised the Legion for stepping up when the crisis began and making its voice heard.
“Your organization, along with your commander, played a leading role in helping us to expose the problem that exists in (VA),” he said. “You leaned forward at a time when people did not want to step out, make comments, make recommendations – but that’s exactly what needed to happen in order to bring the problem to the forefront.”
Miller also said the selection of Bob McDonald as new VA secretary is a positive step for the department. “In conversations with the new secretary, I believe the curtain has been pulled back, transparency will be a cornerstone and accountability will be critical to saving the system that serves so many of you today,” he said. “(McDonald)understands what it means to be a veteran in this country, but he also understands, from being in business in the outside for 33 years, that business as usual will no longer be the watchword. People have to be held accountable, and there has to be transparency at the Department of Veterans Affairs."