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Arizona putting together veterans command center

The American Legion Department of Arizona is conducting a Veterans Command Center (VCCC) at Post 26 in Mesa on July 24, the first of what the department said will be several similar centers.

Department officials said that with the success of the Legion’s Veterans Crisis Command Center conducted in Phoenix in June, the department learned the great benefit of pulling together resources from the Department of Veterans Affairs and other community providers to reach out to Arizona veterans with help for their needs.

“We’re going to keep building on the collaboration that we enjoyed with (VA) during the Veterans Crisis Command Center in June,” Arizona Department Commander Andy Jaime said.

The Mesa center will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Post 26, 505 W 2nd Ave. VA outreach teams and other community providers will be available on site.The contact number for the post event is (480) 213-6277.

Marymount University offers senators a $10,000 scholarship

Marymount University President Matthew D. Shank offered the Boys Nation Class of 2014 nearly $1 million in scholarships – $10,000 for each of the 98 senators – if they applied and were accepted to the university.

Shank made his offer after Boys Nation President Matthew Ellow and Vice President Louis Lombardo were inaugurated during the July 23 ceremony. The oath of office was administered by Joe Bishop, senate and party counselor for Boys Nation.

Introducing Shank as guest speaker, Past National Commander Bob Turner noted that Boys Nation was celebrating its 29th year at Marymount “and there’s one person that we kind of look up to because he has to sign off on everything … and that’s the president of Marymount University.”

Turner told the senators he wasn’t sure if Shank was “going to announce this morning that he’s going to give you (each) a $5,000 scholarship if you come back to school here, but it would be nice.”

Shank then took the stage and said, “I will make that commitment right now. Anybody that would like to come to Marymount, you all are such outstanding people to be in this program, I’ll go $10,000.”

The reason why he was so quick to make such an offer, Shank said, is because he is so impressed by the Boys Nation program. “It is outstanding and, of course, we’ve hosted it for 29 years and we want to host it for another 50 years, well after I’m gone and well after you all are successful in whatever endeavors you choose to be in. We very much consider ourselves a family when we talk about Marymount, and you’re very much part of that family. So I hope you’ve been treated well … please consider yourself part of Marymount now and forever, whether you go to school here or not.”

Shank said that several Boys Nation alumni have attended Marymount, which has about 3,700 students, and the last one to do so became president of the university’s Student Government Association. “We have had some successes out of this program, but I know you all will be successful wherever you go,” Shank said.

Shank answered a few questions from the senators. Graye Miller of Canton, Ohio, asked what Marymount “brings to the table” compared with other universities in the Washington area. Shank replied that the university is the only Catholic-based school in the Commonwealth of Virginia “and so faith is very much part of what we do. And before you say, ‘Wait, I’m not Catholic – I can’t come to Marymount,’ there's only about 15 percent of the students that are Catholic. We have students here from every denomination, so one of the differentiators is the fact that we’re a faith-based institution.”

Shank also pointed to a strong liberal arts core curriculum as an important distinction, as well as the school’s location that is just a few minutes away from the nation’s capital.

Joseph Walker from Anchorage, Ala., asked, “How much does it cost to eat here?”

Shank chuckled and said, “That’s a great question.” He said the school’s undergraduate tuition rate is currently about $27,000 per academic year. “You might say that’s a lot, but for a private institution, actually, we’re at the lower tier in terms of the amount that we charge. Room and board is about $12,000 a year.”

Shank asked the senators if they liked the food here, and he received affirmative shouts and a round of applause. He joked that he “does the desserts.”

Stephen Patrick of Charlotte, N.C., asked Shank about security at the campus, especially since it is right across the Potomac River from Washington.

“We pride ourselves on security, as any university would," he said. "We have a very safe campus.” He mentioned that special protection is afforded when high-profile people visit the campus or enroll as students. For example, first lady Michelle Obama brought her two daughters to basketball camp last year and the year before two women graduated who were the granddaughters of the King of Saudi Arabia.

“There’s only one way in and out, and it’s not a large campus, so it’s easy to secure the grounds," Shank said. "But during the normal school year, we don’t have any special security needs.”

Ian Descamps from Missoula, Mont., asked what traits should be found in “a quality professor.”

Shank said that every professor is bound to have “a lot of content knowledge” about their fields of expertise. "But what I look for, beyond that," he said, "is do they have the right character? Do they care about the same things that we care about at Marymount? Do they have the same values? Again, they don’t have to be Catholic, but they have to understand they’re entering into a Catholic university. So they have to understand what we value, like respect for the dignity of all. Everybody in this room would have that same value. So we look for the intangibles.”

Shank thanked the senators and then received a special Boys Nation pin and shirt. Afterward, the senators left to join their committees and consider legislation they will be introducing into the senate over the next few days.

Visit www.legion.org/legiontv/boysnation for more videos or www.legion.org/photos/boysnation for more photo galleries from Boys Nation.

 

'We did it together'

Former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts doesn’t like to use the word hero in reference to himself. But he freely used it to describe others July 22 when Pitts was honored for being just that – a hero.

During his induction ceremony into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes – which came less than 24 hours after he received the Medal of Honor – Pitts praised those who fought alongside him in 2008’s Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan, the families of those who lost their lives during that battle, and former and current members of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, aka the “Chosen Few.”

Nine U.S. servicemembers died during the battle when Pitts and his fellow paratroopers held off a force of more than 200 enemy fighters attacking Observation Post Topside and Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler. During the attack, Pitts took shrapnel in his arms and legs but continued to lob grenades at the enemy before firing a machine gun from his knees.

With the support of four other soldiers who helped hold the position, Pitts was able to call for air support that would repel the attackers. Had the attack been successful, the enemy would have been on high ground and able to inflict heavier casualties on the vehicle patrol base.

Those who gave their lives that day are the true heroes, Pitts told a packed Pentagon Auditorium audience that included family members of the servicemembers killed in the line of duty at Wanat.

“Our fallen … fought to their last breathes to ensure the rest of us could return home,” Pitts said. “They are the real heroes. These men and so many others displayed extraordinary acts of valor that day. No one man carried the fight. We did it together.”

Pitts told the KIA’s families in attendance that he thinks about his former comrades daily. “I will for the rest of my life, and I am not alone,” he said. “You raised, molded and loved incredible men. Many of the men present in this room are here because of their actions – actions that changed the course of history for us, actions that gave the rest of us a second chance.

"My son Lucas exists because of them, as do many other men's children. I promise that my son will grow up appreciating the actions of these men he never knew. I will spend a lifetime telling their stories to honor their heroic deeds. This is a responsibility that accompanies the award.”

Then, addressing those at the ceremony who fought alongside him that day, Pitts said, “I owe you a debt I can never repay.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odiermo said that Pitts’ respect for others, along with his gallantry, courage and determination, make the Medal of Honor recipient stand out. “His lasting legacy will be of all those he has influenced by his actions,” Odiermo said. “We honor Staff Sgt. Pitts … but by honoring him, we also honor those heroes who fought so selflessly by his side.”

Army Secretary John McHugh talked about the bond between Pitts and those who fought alongside him. He spoke of Pitts holding the hand of his dying friend, Sgt. Israel Garcia. The two talked for awhile. Garcia asked Pitts to tell his mother and wife that he loved them.

“Ryan later honored that commitment,” McHugh said. “So, through all of the chaos, through all of the destruction, we can clearly see that love, even in the face of such tragedy, bonds these men and their families. And believe it or not, just as it is on the home front, love and trust are the foundations of this incredible professional American Army.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work said Pitts and his fellow soldiers’ “dedication to duty, regardless of personal safety, embodies the very best traditions of the American military. This generation of American fighting men and women have demonstrated by their actions that they are, in fact, a truly great generation.”

New York Auxiliary raises $72,199 for OCW

The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program received a donation of more than $70,000 from the American Legion Auxiliary Department of New York this past weekend.

Barbara Corker, 2013-2014 New York Auxiliary president, said she was inspired to promote OCW as her fundraising program because of all the wounded servicemembers returning from war with needs. “This was a way for us to give our thanks to them,” she said.

One hundred percent of donations to OCW are turned into gifts for wounded servicemembers and those transitioning back to civilian life. Past gifts have included equipment for adaptive sports therapy programs, basic kitchen supplies for soldiers’ rooms at military hospitals, and recreational outings for the veterans and their families.

Corker presented James Ellison, program manager at national headquarters for OCW, with a check for $72,199, which included $1,000 raised by the participants at Empire Girls State.

During the 2014 Empire State Girls State session, the participants scrounged for pennies and other change over three days to donate to the OCW drive.

“I was more than satisfied,” Corker said. “I set a goal of $50,000. I was speechless when the final tally was made. And that’s the dedication of The American Legion Family of New York.”

Alabama youth elected Boys Nation president

By a vote of 52 to 46, Matthew Ellow of Lacey’s Spring, Ala., was elected Boys Nation president for the Class of 2014, narrowly defeating his opponent Joshua Cook from Knoxville, Tenn.

Louis Lombardo of Arlington, Texas, was elected Boys Nation vice president, beating out Michael Hill of Broken Arrow, Okla., by a 73 to 24 vote with one abstention.

Before elections, the platforms of the Nationalist and Federalist parties were presented to the senators gathered at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. Ellow and Cook then made their final campaign speeches to the Boys Nation senators.

Ellow spoke about the need to restore belief in each other, our Constitution, Americanism and patriotism. Cook said that America needs more than politicians – it needs leaders who will re-establish America as a global powerhouse.

The votes were then cast, with senators approaching the microphone two by two, brandishing placards from their home states. The senators took the time to thank American Legion posts who sponsored them before casting their votes. Many of them also thanked their father, mother and other relatives for their service in the Armed Forces.

The Boys Nation senators from Oregon put Ellow over the top, giving him two votes for a total of 50. Ellow said he felt “surprised” after being elected because he didn’t feel like he was going to win.

Ellow said he did not do well in the presidential debate held earlier in the day. “Josh Cook was obviously more knowledgeable and clearly better at speaking in a situation such as that, and in addressing the rules of the debate … 99 percent of the time the winner of the debate wins the election.”

After the debate, Ellow felt that Cook had won “a clear victory, I knew Josh had it.” But he said one of his friends spoke with him during dinner and said, “Listen, we’ve got you. We’re going to get you in. Don’t worry, don’t stress.”

At that moment, Ellow said that shivers went down his spine. “That was the shining moment of my quote-unquote career as a leader. Just knowing that all the work I gave back, all the help I’ve given people this week – and I think that, for once, it finally paid off and they put me before them, regardless of the circumstances.”

Ellow said the election was a humbling experience, knowing that “97of the brightest, most brilliant, most creative, overwhelmingly intelligent minds in the United States vested in me their confidence to lead them to a better America.”

In the months ahead, Ellow plans to campaign at his school to get people to go to Boys State and Boys Nation, “and I’m not going to have to do much campaigning. It took me nine or 10 hours to realize this was going to be the week that shapes who I am as a person.

“The American Legion, in and of itself, is an absolutely wonderful program to help veterans. I got involved with The American Legion in ninth grade, and I stay involved with them. It’s a great civic and patriotic training program that I believe all of the youth needs to be involved in – all of them.”

In the vote for vice president, President Ellow and his Alabama colleague cast the first two votes for Lombardo, who took an early lead. By the time Oklahoma stepped up to vote, Lombardo needed only one vote to win. His opponent, Hill, actually cast the vote that put Lombardo over the top. Later on in the balloting, Lombardo and his Texas colleague cast their votes for Hill.

Over the next few days, Lombardo said he wants to focus on “efficiency but also on just having fun and making sure this is a learning environment the rest of the week. Obviously, with a working Senate, things can get heated sometimes. But I want every single person that’s out there, all 98 of us, to be able to leave and say it was the greatest week of our lives and that every second we had, we took the most out of it.”

Boys Nation, Lombardo said, is “an incredible program run by a bunch of incredible people and definitely something you should take advantage of if you have the opportunity. The more effort that you put into the program, the more you get out of it. Not only are you getting something out of the program, but you’re also bringing that back to your community and improving it as a whole.”

In the presidential debate, Ellow and Cook answered questions submitted by the senators and posed alternately by Federalist Party Advisor Dale Barnett and Nationalist Party Advisor Joe McCraith.

The debate included questions about tensions with Russia, illegal immigration, minimum wage, gun control, the cost of higher education, and the state of the Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system.

While the two candidates agreed on several issues, Cook maintained that minimum wage increases should be the responsibility of state and local governments. Ellow believed that any wage increase should be left up to the private sector.

On the topic of VA health care, Cook had a more personal response. Noting that his grandfather had to wait three years to see a VA neurologist, he would “get rid of VA leadership and start from scratch.” Ellow added that average wait times for some veterans seeking health care sometimes lasted many months. He recommended removing VA leadership that was causing all the problems and “appoint those who are trustworthy, who can go in and do the dirty work.”

When asked about their vision of the country’s future, Cook said he wanted to see America become once again a powerhouse for innovation with a strong economy. Ellow said his vision was simple: “We want to be free, prosperous and work together – live in peace and security.”

The vice presidential candidates, Hill and Lombardo, also debated earlier in the day. They fielded questions on topics that included the legalization of marijuana, gay marriage, the national debt, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and how to make Congress more cooperative.

Lombardo drew applause from the senators when he said that people like to point fingers at Congress, but Congress “is a collection of voices from voters. Speak to your congressmen and tell them you do not approve.” Hill said he completely agreed that Congress “needs to make some compromises. If this doesn’t happen, then Congress will shatter.”

Visit www.legion.org/legiontv/boysnation for more videos or www.legion.org/photos/boysnation for more photo galleries from Boys Nation.

 

Legion to set up veterans crisis center in Baltimore

The American Legion is sending a team of its experts to Baltimore in response to a recent Department of Veterans Affairs internal investigation that showed long wait times for veterans seeking treatment at the local VA medical center.

The VA investigation showed that of the more than 55,000 medical appointment scheduled at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, 6,500 were scheduled more than 30 days ago and nearly 2,000 of them were scheduled 61 to 90 days ago.

Members of The American Legion’s System Worth Saving Task Force will hold a town hall meeting and operate a crisis center for local veterans and family members affected by delays in getting access to their health care at the Baltimore VA Medical Center.

The town hall meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on July 28 at American Legion Post 109 on 1610 Sulphur Spring Rd. in Arbutus, Md. The meeting is open to the general public and local veterans are encouraged to attend, especially those affected by wait-time delays.

The American Legion will also set up a Veterans Crisis Command Center at Post 109 from July 29-Aug. 1. Members of the Legion’s national staff, along with local Legionnaires, staff from VA facilities and volunteers from other organizations will be on hand to assist veterans and their families. Services provided will include assistance in filing for VA appointment scheduling, grief counseling, benefits claims, and help with enrollment in VA health care.

Operating hours for the crisis center at Post 109 are noon to 8 p.m. on July 29, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the 30th, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the 31st, and 8 a.m. to noon on Aug. 1.

The American Legion, with help from the VA and other organizations, has been operating week-long crisis centers for veterans and family members since early June in Phoenix, Fayetteville, N.C., El Paso, Texas, St. Louis and Fort Collins, Colo. The Legion plans to operate such centers throughout the summer in several cities affected by delayed VA health care.

Boys Nation parties nominate president, vice president candidates

Casting multiple ballots on the evening of July 21, the Federalist and Nationalist parties of The American Legion’s Boys Nation chose their candidates to run in the upcoming election for Boys Nation president and vice president this evening.

The Federalist Party candidate for president is Matthew Ellow of Lacey Spring, Ala., and vice president is Louis Lombardo of Arlington, Texas. The Nationalist Party candidate for president is Joshua Cook of Knoxville,Tenn., and vice president is Michael Hill of Broken Arrow, Okla.

Ellow said he had planned to run for Boys Nation president, “but after I got here, I was humbled by the presence and intellect of everybody here. Quite honestly, I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

During his campaign speech, Ellow spoke about what he felt is "one of the greatest problems in America – a lack of belief in one another, in citizenship, patriotism and just working together. I did not want that to happen in our party.” Gun control is one of Ellow’s main concerns; he wants to regulate guns, not ban them.

"Ban is out of the question, it’s a Second Amendment right," he said. "I believe in gun regulation.” His belief, he says, falls in line with the policy that the majority of Alabama citizens would want him to pursue.

Ellow said the main point of the Federalist Party’s platform is that the power of government “comes from the people, from the Constitution – free rights and free rein to govern ourselves. It’s simple – rights for every human, every American, everyone around the world.”

Boys Nation has allowed Ellow to meet “the best and the brightest from across the nation. These are just the smartest young minds from around the states. For them to nominate me as the presidential candidate for the Federalist party, it’s an honor, it’s a privilege, and I look forward to serving.”

Ellow said he has appreciated The American Legion since his freshman year in high school “when my Army instructor introduced the organization to me, and every year, I’ve just grown to become more appreciative of the Legion. When this is all said and done, no matter what the outcome, I can’t wait to go back home and support my post, and support the Legion across the United States.”

Ellow's running mate Lombardo added that immigration and the decriminalization of marijuana are other issues that will probably be debated later today. “Education is also an issue that we hit hard, as well as the economy and foreign policy," he said. "We’re looking at the countries that are in the spotlight today, and we’ve been talking quite a bit about China – mainly the economics” and how the United States can create a more favorable balance of trade.

Calling the Boys Nation experience “fantastic,” Lombardo said he’s met friends here “that I will carry on for the rest of my life. And I know that every single one of these 98 (senators) here are going to be doing big things later on in life.

“I definitely want to thank The American Legion for providing this for us,” Lombardo said. “I know we cannot thank those veterans enough. It’s been an amazing experience and, no matter what happens in the election, this will be one of the best weeks in my life.”

Ellow's opponent Cook said his election strategy “was pretty simple. I came in here, I had a goal in mind, I knew I wanted to be president. So when I first started, I began making friends and that was the important thing. I really focused on making friends because I knew friends would back me up no matter what deals people would try to make in the background. These guys I’m loyal to, these guys are loyal to me and that’s the real reward here.”

Quality education is a priority issue for Cook, as is gun control or “gun awareness is what we’re going to call it," he said. "We were afraid that if we called it gun control, as soon as we said those words, somebody was going to be turned off, and we didn’t want that.

“We’re also going to focus on immigration because that’s a big issue now, and we’re going to have a strong middle-of-the-aisle platform that’s going to win us the general election.” Cook said he and his party members had heard the news that the Texas National Guard has been called out to help secure the border with Mexico.

“As far as our platform goes, we are pro-securing the border," he said. "I believe that is the first step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how the (Texas decision) develops.”

To win the election, Cook said he will “focus on rallying my guys in the Nationalist Party, and then I’m going to talk to friends that I have in the Federalist Party, and work across the aisle – something I wish would happen more with the real Congress.”

Cook thanked The American Legion for sending him to Boys Nation and to Boys State in Tennessee. “I want to say a humble ‘thank you’ to my opponents who graciously accepted the fact that our party had chosen me."

Cook's running mate Hill promised if elected, he will run the Senate “with a fair and unbiased hand. I’m going to use the Constitution and Declaration of Independence as my philosophy. It’s the voice of the Senate and the voice of the people that matters – I’ll be just the chair.”

Hill said his party has a strong platform, and “we have a brotherhood, and I want to extend that to the Federalists. I don’t just want to limit it to one party. Bipartisanship is great, but I want to unify – a voice of one. It’s the voice of the American people.”

Important issues for Hill include de-emphasizing ethnic background as a criterion for acceptance into colleges and universities. “I am Hispanic-American and I’ve noticed that special treatment is given to me because of that," he said. "But I don’t want a college to accept me because I’m Hispanic; I don’t want them to use that as a qualification. I want everyone to be on a level playing field – what you’ve done, what you’ve worked at, and what you put into your life – not fate. But how you handle blood, sweat and tears.”

Hill thanked his parents, his friends, The American Legion, and his Boy Scout troop. “Anyone who’s affected my life is the only reason I’m here.”

The four candidates will debate this afternoon at 3 p.m. (EDT) and elections will follow at 6:30 p.m. Both events will be streamed live on www.legiontv.org.

Visit www.legion.org/legiontv/boysnation for more videos or www.legion.org/photos/boysnation for more photo galleries from Boys Nation.

 

 

Legion veteran centers providing help, answers

Ronnie Jackson had run out of hope numerous times since the mid-1970s when he first started trying to receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Jackson, an Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War, said he had tried to get help at multiple VA hospitals for his injuries ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to a bum ankle.

Jackson said he moved around, hoping that a new VA hospital would be better in a new community. He did not find that to be the case.

But last week he heard about The American Legion’s Veterans Command Crisis Center (VCCC) in St. Louis, where Jackson has lived for the past three years. The Legion hosted week-long VCCCs in St. Louis and Fort Collins, Colo., last week, fully staffed with VA health-care and benefits representatives, benefits claims experts, counselors and others to help veterans get the assistance they require.

“As I was watching the news last night, I saw it (the Legion's VCCC) and thought that’s where I need to get my answers,” he said. “And today I am so happy. I got my answers, got what I needed to know and where to start to make that first step again. I am so happy that (The American Legion) is here to sponsor this. Otherwise, I would still be in confusion and not knowing where to go to start.”

During the VCCCs, there were 178 veterans helped in St. Louis and 119 in Fort Collins, Colo. The numbers are fewer than those helped at previous crisis centers in Phoenix, Fayetteville, N.C., and El Paso, Texas. But Verna Jones, director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, says what’s more important is the individuals who receive the assistance.

Jones cites as an example a veteran who attended the St. Louis VCCC after working on his claim since 1969. “He just didn’t know where to go,” she said. “And he came in today and when he left, he said, ‘If nothing else happens, I feel happy that The American Legion was here and that VA sat and talked to me today.’ He felt like someone cared, listened and someone would help him.”

Stories such as that one are a common thread through the first five VCCCs, and that’s how their success will be measured, Jones said.

“We cannot base our successes on how many people show up,” Jones said. “There were people that were there last night who had a great deal of need. There were people who had gone to their VA for help and were not helped.

“We have a great impact on veterans. Every veteran’s need is different. Some of them are here because they want specific things, others just want to be heard. And the fact that we’re here makes all the difference in the world.”

It was the same at American Legion Post 4 in Fort Collins where veterans in the rural area came away feeling they were actually heard by Legion and VA reps. Veterans also were able to get enrolled, file claims and learn about some VA services they were possibly eligible for but hadn’t known they existed.

Some veterans were desperate. David Hunter, a Navy veteran, had been homeless for two years. He used his last $40 on a cab ride to the center and then slept outside the night before he came into the center. Legion and VA reps were able to get Hunter into the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program.

“For me, I’m 68 years old, and I don’t know how much longer I’ll physically be able to be (homeless),” Hunter said. “If I didn’t get indoors, I don’t know if I could have made it another winter out there.”

James Murphy, a supervisor for Ambulatory Care and Processing at the Cheyenne (Wy.) VA Medical Center, was at the center all week. On Thursday, an OEF-OIF veteran came to the center seeking help. He had enrolled in VA and talked to VA staff previously but hadn’t gotten any answers.

Murphy was able to get the veteran, who had been injured by an IED while serving, scheduled for a traumatic brain injury evaluation and then connected him with Veterans Benefits Administration staff to look at possibly getting him service connected for up to eight conditions.

“He told me that he’d gotten more information in 20 minutes here than he’d ever gotten before talking with VA,” Murphy said. “That one guy made our whole week. We’re going to get him the care and the disability rating he deserves.”

Department of Colorado Service Officer Dean Casey got power-of-attorney on nearly 40 VA claims during the week. Some were seeking physical health care, while others needed mental health help.

“I can see four veterans that we were instrumental in getting the help they needed immediately from the (VA) Vet Center,” Casey said. “There’s a lot of them who were having issues and we got them over to the (VA reps) and got them taken care of. You could see the relief in them when they got that help.”

One of those Casey worked with, Air Force veteran Ryan Parr, said he developed a skin condition and other symptoms after a series of vaccination shots while serving in the Air Force from 1998-2003. Parr said he’s been misdiagnosed and hasn’t felt “anyone cared.” But coming to the VCCC was a very positive experience.

“Dean was to the point,” Parr said. “He clearly has done this before, and that’s all you want. I just wanted to feel justified. At the end of the day, I feel 100 percent OK coming here and asking for help.”

The Fort Collins effort meant even more to Ralph Bozella, chairman of both the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission and System Worth Saving Task Force. Bozella is a member of Post 32 in Longmont, Colo., and has served in leadership positions at every level within the department.

Bozella said his department has plans to conduct similar centers on its own.

“We know we’re helping those closest to home,” Bozella said. “And what I’m really happy about is department leadership being here and seeing this model work. They’re feeling the same excitement that I am because they know one thing: this model helps veterans, and it helps them now. I believe this is the greatest program The American Legion has yet come up with to help veterans in the most timely manner.

“The success we’ve seen in Phoenix, Fayetteville, El Paso and what we’re seeing right here in this smaller community – it works.”

Two Boys Nation senators place wreath at Arlington

Two Boys Nation senators placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns during a July 21 ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. The young men, Connor Knudsen of North Dakota and Jeremy Price of Maryland, were accompanied by American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger and American Legion National Chaplain Dr. Daniel McClure.

The senators also viewed two changing-of-the-guard ceremonies at the Tomb. Later, they paid a visit to the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial is a sculpture based on the famous photo of five Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman raising the U.S. Flag on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945.

The previous evening, on July 20, Boys Nation senators toured the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Monument, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. They also attended a dinner hosted by American Legion Post 136 in Greenbelt, Md. They ate in a hall named after veteran and Legionnaire Samuel M. Hofberg.

Hofberg, who served in the Marine Corps during World War II and in the Navy during the Korean War, was there at the post to greet the young men and staff as they came through the door.

Dellinger and Richard W. Anderson, chairman of the Legion’s National Americanism Commission, were guest speakers for the dinner. Two past national commanders also attended, Bob Turner of Georgia (also director of activities for Boys Nation) and Clarence Bacon of Maryland, as well as McClure.

Noting that The American Legion Auxiliary’s Girls Nation program was posting “selfies” on Facebook, Dellinger asked the senators to pose with him after dinner for a Boys Nation “selfie.” The photo was soon taken outside the post building.

Anderson said the Americanism Commission was “extremely proud” of the Boys Nation program, and he wished the 98 senators well not only during their week in Washington, but “in your journey through life. I believe that I speak on behalf of every American Legionnaire across our great nation.”

On July 22, the Boys Nation will head to The American Legion’s Washington Office for a briefing by several national staff members. In the afternoon, they will conduct a candidates debate at 3 p.m. and elections at 6:30 p.m.; both events will be webcast live on www.legiontv.org.

Visit www.legion.org/legiontv/boysnation for more videos and www.legion.org/photos/boysnation for more photo galleries of 2014 Boys Nation.

 

USS Indianapolis survivors to reunite again

Survivors of the USS Indianapolis disaster will reunite in Indianapolis July 24 to 27 for the 69th anniversary reunion. An estimated 13 of the three dozen remaining survivors will attend the reunion, along with Lost At Sea family members, survivor family members and rescuers.

There will be education programs open to the public including survivor Edgar Harrell’s presentation, “Out of the Depths-A Survivors Story,” July 25 at 7 p.m. Kim Neilson- Roller will present “Remembering the USS Indianapolis” at 1:30 p.m. July 26. All events will be downtown Indianapolis at the Hyatt Regency, One South Capitol Avenue.

A Japanese sub torpedoed the USS Indianapolis a few minutes past midnight on July 30, 1945, which led to the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy. The Indianapolis had just delivered critical parts for the first atomic bomb to be used in combat. Of the 1,197 crewmen aboard, approximately 300 went down with the ship.

Only 317 survived the next four days in the shark-infested and oil-slicked waters. In the disaster’s aftermath, Capt. Charles McVay was court-martialed by the Navy for negligence. For years, survivors and others - including The American Legion - fought to set the record straight and exonerate McVay, who committed suicide in November 1968. His exoneration came decades later, thanks to Hunter Scott, a curious 11-year-old boy whose determination helped set the record straight.

The public is invited to attend a solemn memorial service at 9 a.m. July 27, which will conclude the reunion. This service will also be at the Hyatt Regency.

For more information, visit the reunion website: www.ussindyreunion.com.

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