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Legion News

McDonald confirmed as VA secretary

American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger today thanked the Senate for acting quickly today to confirm the nomination of former Procter & Gamble Chief Executive Officer Robert McDonald to become secretary of the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs. “The time to act is now,” Dellinger said. “Veterans are waiting for the care they earned and deserve.”

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted 14-0 July 23 in support of McDonald, 61, who would replace Eric Shinseki, who resigned in late May. Shinseki’s departure came after The American Legion called for urgent change, starting with new leadership at the top, to restore trust in the system after revelations that veterans had died waiting for VA doctor appointments that were never really scheduled and that executives received bonuses for falsified performance reports.

From McDonald, Dellinger said he looks for the kind of changes one would expect in the corporate world when a company is in trouble.

“The American Legion is confident that Robert McDonald will apply his experience leading big, complex business operations to the Department of Veterans Affairs, a complex operation that desperately needs a system-wide overhaul right now,” Dellinger said. “I am also confident Mr. McDonald will understand the importance of engaging the veteran stakeholders of the VA health-care system as reforms are adopted in the coming months.”

Dellinger said the incoming VA secretary must make patients his first priority and include them at the table as changes are planned and executed. “It’s time to put the veteran back into the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Dellinger said. “No more secret lists. No more bonuses for poor performance or unreasonably long waiting times for appointments. No more accuracy breakdowns in deciding benefits claims. In this equation, the veteran is the customer, and The American Legion represents that customer. We look forward to working with Mr. McDonald. Together, we can get VA back on track and restore trust among the patients it serves, as well as the public, which expects nothing less than timely, high-quality care for our nation’s veterans.”

 

Junior Shooting Sports gets under way Aug. 1

On Friday, 30 of the nation's best amateur shooters will descend on Colorado Springs, Colo., for the 24th annual American Legion Junior 3-Position Air Rifle National Championship. Hailing from air rifle clubs from across the nation, the group of high-school aged participants will compete for a pair of $2,500 scholarships, funded by the Sons of The American Legion.

Shooters are separated into two separate categories - sporter and precision - and will fire two rounds of 20 shots each in three different positions: standing, kneeling and prone. Each competitor in both categories will fire a .177 caliber air rifle.

The 30 finalists advanced from a pool of 1,500 participants in The American Legion's 2014 Junior Shooting Sports preliminary and qualification round to this weekend's championship final, held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The top eight shooters in each category from Friday's first round will advance to the championship's final round on Saturday.
A champion will be crowned in each category, and a $2,500 scholarship will be given to both.
The following is a list of the top 15 individuals who will be competing in both the precision and sporter category.

Precision:
1. Alec Patajo of Vashon, Wash.
2. Sierra Czap of Rocky Mount, Va.
3. Michael Steinel of New Philadelphia, Ohio
4. Brantley Santrock of Rocky Mount, Va.
5. Jonathan Gove of Rocky Mount, Va.
6. Cassandra Suter of Albuquerque, N.M.
7. Cathryn Papasodora of Anchorage, Alaska
8. Morgan Tritt of Dahlonega, Ga.
9. Kayla Gadeken of Seward, Neb.
10. Samantha Peterson of Buffalo, Minn.
11. Maneva Gill of Fortuna, Calif.
12. Luke Johnson of Palmyra, Penn.
13. Joshua Black of Hampton, Va.
14. Malgorzata Mical of Clearwater, Fla.
15. Cody Sanchez of Albuquerque, N.M.

Sporter:
1. Sergio Napoletano of Montgomery, N.Y.
2. David Trumbull of Frederick, Md.
3. Vanessa Brady of Laveen, Ariz.
4. John Williams of Lithia, Fla.
5. Madie Snyder of Kimball, Neb.
6. Andre Gross of Hilton, N.Y.
7. Matthew Velazquez of Buckeye, Ariz.
8. Ryan Lowe of Clearfied, Utah
9. Kamau Omawahleh of Selma, Calif.
10. Jessica Ebersole of Des Moines, Iowa
11. Jasmine Wiles of Lebanon, Ore.
12. Isela Velazquez of Fort Worth, Texas
13. Angel Reyes of Montgomery, N.Y.
14. Cassandra Rodriguez of Parlier, Calif.
15. Carrie Richbourg of King George, Va.

Baltimore vets weigh in on VA health care

Local veterans at a July 28 American Legion System Worth Saving town hall meeting in Baltimore painted a tale of two medical facilities as they commented on their experiences with the Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system.

About 70 people gathered at American Legion Post 109 in Arbutus, Md., to voice their complaints and praises. Attendees included Legion post and department officers, VA officials, and a representative of Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland.

While most VA enrollees seemed satisfied with their treatment at the Loch Raven VA Outpatient Clinic, few of them were impressed by service they received at the Baltimore VA Medical Center (commonly called "Greene Street," where it is located).

A veteran who has been getting VA medical care for about 12 years at both the Greene Street and Loch Raven facilities said, "It’s night and day between the two. Loch Raven is so much better organized than Greene Street. The wait time is nil over at Loch Raven, but at Greene Street, you’d better bring a lunch. The wait time down there is horrible." The veteran said had to wait about five months for an appointment to get a biopsy.

One veteran complained that when he had to cancel a July 25 appointment he was rescheduled for Oct. 10. Another patient claimed that whenever he arrived at the Greene Street facility for an appointment, he waited for hours.  

"There are a lot of problems at VA, like any other place, but not everything down there is bad," a veteran said. "I go to the women’s clinic and it’s wonderful. The care there is fantastic. You don’t have to wait for appointments, and they’re always checking up on you. For the most part, there are doctors and nurses (at the medical center) that really do care."

A patient getting his medical care from Loch Raven agreed with several others at the meeting that the medical care there was excellent. "The only trouble is, I’m afraid to say how good Loch Raven is because everybody will be at Loch Raven," he said. "Not everything is wrong" at the Greene Street facility, but it is "like going to Penn Station when five trains arrive, along with attitude. Loch Raven is like going to church, the atmosphere is quiet, they’re prompt, they’re courteous and are effective and business-like."

Another veteran, a nurse who served in the Army and retired from the VA, had positive things to say about VA health-care quality in Baltimore. She worked for 21 years at seven different VA facilities and received "fabulous treatment at both Greene Street and at Loch Raven," she said. "It was better than I got at the local (private) hospital."

The VA’s specialty care clinics are exceptional, one veteran said, "when you finally get to see them. The problem is at the clerk and attendant level – sometimes communication gets lost in the system."

The American Legion is setting up a Veterans Crisis Command Center this week at Post 109 with help from VA staff, Legion volunteers, the American Red Cross and other organizations. Services provided to veterans and family members include assistance with VA appointment scheduling, grief counseling, benefits claims, and help with enrollment in VA health care.

"Our partnership with the VA at these crisis centers has been really important," said Verna Jones, who moderated the meeting and director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division.

Jones told the attendees that the Legion has operated crisis centers for veterans across the country where a few thousand veterans and family members have "received some great assistance," she said. "If you need some help, if you have questions or concerns, if you want to come in and just see what you may be entitled to, come down to the crisis center – and tell other people."

Operating hours for the Post 109 crisis center in Arbutus 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.

Legion to set up veterans crisis center in West Virginia

The American Legion is sending a team of its experts to West Virginia to assist veterans in filing benefits claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and in gaining access to medical care at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, W.Va. Clarksburg's VAMC had a new-patient specialist care average wait time of 86 days and a new patient mental health care average wait time of 96 days according to an audit in early June.
Members of The American Legion’s System Worth Saving Task Force will hold a town hall meeting and set up a Veterans Crisis Command Center for local veterans and family members affected by delays in getting access to VA health care, or in getting their benefits claims adjudication.
The town hall meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 4, at American Legion Post 31, 76 Bridge St., Shinnston, W.Va. 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 31 on Aug. 5-6. 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 31 are noon to 8 p.m. on Aug. 5 and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Aug. 6.
The American Legion, with help from 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.; another crisis center will open this week in Baltimore. The Legion plans to operate such centers throughout the summer in several other cities.

Legion: Compromise bill is ‘critical component’ for VA improvement

The American Legion welcomed the introduction of a bill in Congress that would fix longstanding, widespread problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs, which have impaired its ability to deliver timely health care and benefits to America’s veterans.
At a news conference today, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., discussed their joint sponsorship of the Veterans Access to Care Act of 2014, a compromise measure that emerged from previous bills introduced in the House and Senate.
“This measure is a critical component in developing a long-term solution to problems that have dogged the VA for years,” National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said. “We know that Sen. Sanders and Rep. Miller have labored diligently to reach bipartisan consensus. But it would be a great mistake to see this legislation as a one-time fix for all the woes that have been hobbling VA’s performance and credibility.”
Sanders, chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said at the news conference that the bill “makes certain that we will address the immediate crisis of veterans being forced onto long waiting lines for health care. It strengthens the VA so that it will be able to hire the doctors, nurses and other medical personnel it needs, so that we can put a permanent end to long waiting lists.
“It addresses the very serious problems of accountability and makes certain that dishonest and incompetent senior officials at the VA do not remain employed there….”
Sanders said funding for veterans’ needs must be considered “a cost of war.”
Miller, who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said, “We have a VA that is in crisis today. This agreement will go a long way to helping resolve the crisis that exists out there today. Helping to get veterans off of waiting lists is extremely important and this bill does that.”
The VA reform bill, Miller said, “starts a conversation, I think, about VA for the future. Sen. Sanders and I differ about certain things but one thing that we do agree about is that the veterans of this country deserve the best-quality health care that they can get, in a timely fashion – and that has not been the case as of late …. The VA is not sacred, the veteran is.”
Major provisions of the bill include:
• Authorization and funding for VA to contract with community providers to help get veterans immediate care for those who had to wait, or would have to travel excessive distances to VA facilities.
• Authorization of 27 Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs), which is one more than the number authorized by the Senate bill
• Increased authority for the VA Secretary to manage senior personnel. Expedited authority to move or fire SES and other senior-grade executives.
• Extension of the traumatic brain injury (TBI) resident pilot program.
• $5 billion to help VA to hire more physicians.
• $10B to help VA reduced the benefits claims backlog.
• Continued VA development of an upgraded IT patient-scheduling system.
The bill would also require the establishment of a Commission on Capital Planning for VA medical facilities, in order to improve VA’s capital asset processes -- from facility planning and individual project management to managing the multi-billion dollar backlog of facility construction and maintenance projects.
At his congressional testimony last September, Dellinger addressed The American Legion’s concerns over VA’s chronic cost-overruns and construction delays for new medical centers.
“We hope this commission, after thoroughly examining the way VA builds facilities, will have some useful recommendations to make. In any case, we appreciate Congress’s interest in taking a very close look at the department’s construction process.”
 The bill would also establish another commission to examine VA health-care access issues and recommend actions to bolster capacity. A report to the president would be required within 90 days of the commission’s first meeting.

Legion: Compromise bill ‘critical component’ for VA improvement

The American Legion welcomed the introduction of a bill in Congress that would fix longstanding, widespread problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs, which have impaired its ability to deliver timely health care and benefits to America’s veterans.
At a news conference today, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., discussed their joint sponsorship of the Veterans Access to Care Act of 2014, a compromise measure that emerged from previous bills introduced in the House and Senate.
“This measure is a critical component in developing a long-term solution to problems that have dogged the VA for years,” National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said. “We know that Sen. Sanders and Rep. Miller have labored diligently to reach bipartisan consensus. But it would be a great mistake to see this legislation as a one-time fix for all the woes that have been hobbling VA’s performance and credibility.”
Sanders, chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said at the news conference that the bill “makes certain that we will address the immediate crisis of veterans being forced onto long waiting lines for health care. It strengthens the VA so that it will be able to hire the doctors, nurses and other medical personnel it needs, so that we can put a permanent end to long waiting lists.
“It addresses the very serious problems of accountability and makes certain that dishonest and incompetent senior officials at the VA do not remain employed there….”
Sanders said funding for veterans’ needs must be considered “a cost of war.”
Miller, who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said, “We have a VA that is in crisis today. This agreement will go a long way to helping resolve the crisis that exists out there today. Helping to get veterans off of waiting lists is extremely important and this bill does that.”
The VA reform bill, Miller said, “starts a conversation, I think, about VA for the future. Sen. Sanders and I differ about certain things but one thing that we do agree about is that the veterans of this country deserve the best-quality health care that they can get, in a timely fashion – and that has not been the case as of late …. The VA is not sacred, the veteran is.”
Major provisions of the bill include:
• Authorization and funding for VA to contract with community providers to help get veterans immediate care for those who had to wait, or would have to travel excessive distances to VA facilities.
• Authorization of 27 Community-Based Outpatient Clinics, which is one more than the number authorized by the Senate bill
• Increased authority for the VA Secretary to manage senior personnel. Expedited authority to move or fire SES and other senior-grade executives.
• Extension of the traumatic brain injury (TBI) resident pilot program.
• $5 billion to help VA to hire more physicians.
• $10 billion to help VA reduced the benefits claims backlog.
• Continued VA development of an upgraded IT patient-scheduling system.
The bill would also require the establishment of a Commission on Capital Planning for VA medical facilities, in order to improve VA’s capital asset processes from facility planning and individual project management to managing the multi-billion dollar backlog of facility construction and maintenance projects.
At his congressional testimony last September, Dellinger addressed The American Legion’s concerns over VA’s chronic cost-overruns and construction delays for new medical centers.
“We hope this commission, after thoroughly examining the way VA builds facilities, will have some useful recommendations to make. In any case, we appreciate Congress’s interest in taking a very close look at the department’s construction process.”
 The bill would also establish another commission to examine VA health-care access issues and recommend actions to bolster capacity. A report to the president would be required within 90 days of the commission’s first meeting.

Boys Nation Class of 2014 graduates

The graduation assembly for the Boys Nation Class of 2014 featured two guest speakers: Richard Anderson, chairman of The American Legion’s National Americanism Commission, and Joe Gladden, national commander of the Sons of The American Legion (SAL).

Earlier in the day, the 98 senators held their final Senate session, passing bills on issues that ranged from the development of a national policy to relying less on fossil fuels, to providing funds for the National Cancer Institute.

In his remarks, Anderson referred to Resolution No. 8, passed at the May 2013 meeting of the National Executive Committee. It authorized recognition of a Boys Nation graduate, who had also contributed three years of service as a junior counselor, with a $1,000 scholarship. This year’s recipient was Jacob Meade.

Anderson told the senators that since 9/11, “thousands of our patriots have been killed. We cannot hear their voices, we cannot hear their footsteps. They are silent. You do not know what their dreams were, but you can know one thing: their spirit is within each and every one of you.

“And now, you have a responsibility. Your responsibility is to be their footsteps, to be their voice, to be their dream. I ask you to accept that responsibility with deep devotion.”

Anderson closed with a quote from David Brinkley, the journalist who co-anchored a national evening news broadcast with Chet Huntley. The “Huntley-Brinkley Report” was a dominant force in news coverage throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. “The successful man,” Brinkley said, “is one who can lay a sound foundation with the bricks that others have thrown at him.”

“Don’t ever forget The American Legion,” Anderson said, “and the love that we have for each and every one of you.”

Gladden said he joined the SAL because of friendships “just like the friendships you’re developing here this week. I’ve traveled around, and I’ve talked to men that have gone through Boys State and they’ll say, ‘Joe, you know what? This is a program that changed my life forever.’ And it’s amazing how that (experience) will change your futures.

“That’s what The American Legion does. It reaches out to the children of our community, the young men of our community, and makes sure that they’re taken care of.”

Gladden said a number of Boys Nation participants had told him they were not eligible to join SAL because their families had only recently immigrated to America. “You don’t have to join The American Legion or the Sons of The American Legion to make a difference in your community," he said. "All you have to do is decide that this is the greatest country in the world, and you want to make it even better.”

Two $1,000 scholarships sponsored by the SAL were then presented to Boys Nation President Pro Tempore David Enriquez of Tampa, Fla., and Secretary of the Senate Olulani Oisaghie of Brentwood, Calif.

The president and vice president of Boys Nation, Matthew Ellow of Lacey’s Spring, Ala., and Louis Lombardo of Arlington, Texas, also received $1,000 scholarships, sponsored by the Legion’s Americanism Commission.

Each Boys Nation senator was then presented with a certificate of graduation, a Boys Nation challenge coin and lapel pin. The young men also received a copy of the letter written to their class by Class of 1963 alumnus Bill Clinton, and a commemorative pen from American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger.

Program Director Michael Buss addressed the senators. “We have seen your intense desire to excel and be the best that you can be," he said. "We have also seen your love of country and your God. After this amazing week, we ask you now to go forth and make us, your families and yourselves proud. We have every confidence you will, regardless of the path you choose in life. For you carry with you the legacy and the honor that is American Legion Boys Nation.”

The two senators from Virginia, Michael of Spotsylvania and Harris LaTeef from Great Falls, then made a special presentation to Bob Turner, past national commander and director of Boys Nation activities. They produced a large red and white crown, and administered the following “oath” to him:

“I do solemnly swear that I will be the best king ever, that I will be a fair king, and I will represent my people well.” Turner was then crowned “King Bob the First” to tumultuous applause from the senators.

Turner called Boys Nation from their auditorium seats to join him at the front of the stage; each man had with him a small U.S. flag. Quoting Shakespeare’s line that “all the world’s a stage,” he reminded the senators that “from this day forward, you’re going to be on a stage” and that parents, friends and The American Legion will be watching. He wished each senator “the very best” and led them in a final round of songs.

Turner replaced his crown with his American Legion cap and, with flags raised and their arms around each other, the young men began to sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Their week was over, their lives had been changed, and The American Legion had added 98 more Boys Nation alumni to the leadership pool of America.

Singing for the Commander-in-Chief

Members of The American Legion’s Boys Nation and The American Legion Auxiliary’s Girls Nation showcased their singing talents at a July 25 visit to the White House for a photo opportunity with President Barack Obama.

While waiting for about an hour for the president to arrive, the Legion Nation – already positioned on risers for group photos – briefly turned the West Wing into a concert hall. Led by Past National Commander Bob Turner, the high-school students sang impressively, filling the air with renditions of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “This Land is Your Land” and other patriotic favorites.

The White House’s official videographer, Hope Hall, asked the Nation for some musical assistance for “West Wing Week,” the White House’s web-based program that recaps the week’s events concerning President Obama.

Hall asked the students if they could come up with a musical chant of the program’s title that she could use as the intro for the next episode. The Nation obliged her, spontaneously – and collectively – improvising a three-note “West Wing Week” chant accompanied by rhythmic hand-clapping.

Hall taped their performance and was so impressed that she put down her camera and bowed to them. The Nation’s chant should be part of the Aug. 1 episode of “West Wing Week,” available online.

When President Obama did arrive, he received thunderous applause from the 196 young men and women, along with staff members of the Boys and Girls Nation programs.

“First of all, I’m sorry I’m a little late,” the president said. “I had three presidents from other countries here. Those things usually go long.” In fact, Obama had just finished meeting with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, working with them to find ways to deter the continuing influx of Latin American children into the U.S. border.

Obama said it was “wonderful” to be with Boys and Girls Nation again. “I want to thank The American Legion for all the great work that you do every single day, and this is always a wonderful occasion, just because we have such impressive young people, and all of you I know are from all across the country.”

The president told the young men and women they were already using their leadership skills in their schools and their communities.

“It gives me great confidence when I meet all of you,” the president said, “because I know the country’s going to be in good hands in the future … and I expect to see a whole bunch of you doing all kinds of great things in various capacities in the future.

“Even if you don’t end up being active in politics and government, you’re still going to be citizens, and if you’re in business, or you’re in a profession, or some other type of work … make sure that you’re well informed and that you’re participating in our democracy ….

“That makes the country better … I know that we are always very proud of what you do and I want to thank all the older adults. They obviously make enormous sacrifices as well, to help ensure that this is a great experience for you. So thank you all for the wonderful work that you do.

Then the president posed for photos, joking with Boys Nation that he did not want to see any “rabbit ears” behind his head. Then he said, ““You guys always do a great job on the songs. I’ve got to hear my birthday song.”

The nearly 200-voice-strong choir their Commander-in-Chief, singing “Happy Birthday, dear Mr. President….”

Because of his earlier meeting, Obama was pressed for time and could only shake hands with the Boys and Girls Nation staff. But the young men and women hid their disappointment well, and the president left the West Wing the same way he had entered – with thunderous applause.

Register now for 100th Anniversary Workshop

Hundreds of American Legion posts have already fulfilled centennial profile pages on the Centennial Celebration website at and hundreds more are expected to add to the organization’s new platform celebrating 100 years of legacy and vision.

The American Legion 100th Anniversary Observance Committee is offering a free workshop Aug. 25 at the 96th National Convention in Charlotte to help members get involved in the coming celebration. The workshop will be held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Room 203, Sections A & B, Charlotte Convention Center. All Legionnaires and Legion family members are welcome to participate. Pre-registration is not required but is recommended.

Register for the 100th Anniversary Workshop online here.

Among the facilitators of the workshop is Robert Ferrebee of Post 41 in Berryville, Va., who will discuss how he assembled and shared his post’s centennial profile, and the ways in which an exciting centennial program can build awareness and membership in The American Legion. See his story here.

The workshop and the centennial profiles are early steps in a commemoration program that will build momentum in the coming years, as the Legion nears its 2018-2019 centennial window. Dozens of activities, products, events and media opportunities are scheduled in a five-year strategic plan that kicks off in earnest in 2015.

American Legion, AMVETS and CVA Joint Statement on $17.6 Billion VA Spending Request

Today, The American Legion, AMVETS (American Veterans), and Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) released the following statement regarding congressional posturing resulting from a request made by acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson for an additional $17.6 billion in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs:

“Regardless of the merits, a last-minute VA request for $17.6 billion dollars in additional spending only hampers an already difficult VA conference committee negotiating process. Both the House and Senate VA reform bills that passed were centered on two things – accountability and access. It is disgraceful and utterly painful to see bipartisan efforts erode and lawmakers lose sight of what’s important. Negotiations, which should happen in public, not behind closed doors, must stay focused on ensuring VA leadership is held accountable and veterans have timely access to care. All other discussions only undermine a critically important process.

“We urge Congress to take immediate action to regain its focus on ensuring the VA Secretary exercises his authority to hold management and staff accountable for their inappropriate behavior, and immediately stop the corruption and mismanagement within the VA. Before asking for more money, the VA must start making good on the nation’s promise to its honored veterans.”

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