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Legion News

Legion to participate in VA's small biz engagement

The American Legion will attend and man an outreach table at the Department of Veterans Affair’s 2014 National Veterans Small Business Engagement Dec. 9-11 in Atlanta. This event will expand opportunities for veteran-owned small businesses (VOSBs) to build partnerships and maximize opportunities in the federal and commercial marketplace.

The American Legion provides training and VA verification counseling services to veteran small business owners. During the event, Legion representatives will be onsite to promote the organization's programs and services.

Attendees will have opportutnites to network, helping small businesses build partnerships, maximize opportunities in the federal and commercial marketplace, and successfully compete for and win small business contracts. This premier event connects small businesses with government and commercial procurement decision makers interested in working with veterans. The VA recognizes how vital it is for VOSBs to have access to the right contracting officers and program managers. VA’s goal for the 2014 NVSBE is to expand that access.

The largest of its kind, NVSBE provides exceptional opportunities for VOSBs to build, network, and market their small business.

Here’s how:

• Engage with PDMs from federal and commercial customers to build relationships to enhance chances of winning procurement contracts.

• Learn about industry-specific federal and commercial opportunities at Business Requirement Sessions led by PDMs.

• Take part in networking roundtables to personally demonstrate and pitch business capabilities to PDMs from federal agencies and commercial customers.

• Network with other businesses to discover subcontracting and teaming opportunities.

• Attend learning sessions highlighting business-building topics such as Competitive Strategies for Winning Federal Business, Building Strong Corporate Relationships and Marketing Your Small Business Capabilities.

For more information about NVSBE or to register, click here.

Feel free to email any feedback and questions to NVSBE@va.gov.

Antique tractor owners raising money for OCW

A group of antique tractor owners in Nebraska will again drive across the state to raise funds for Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW).

In June 2014, the nine-day, 425-mile Tractor Relay Across Nebraska generated $4,300 for The American Legion’s OCW program. That was the group’s third annual trek across Nebraska and the first time they raised money for a specific charity.

During the trip last June, it became clear the participants wanted to support OCW again. The farmers appreciated the fact that 100 percent of donations to OCW go toward gifts or recreational activities for wounded servicemembers and their family members.

“It was very important for us to know this money was going to the vets and their families,” said Donelle Moormeier, who was among 10 drivers who went the entire route last summer. In all, 165 drivers participated last year.

Details on the 2015 relay are still being worked out, but a schedule is available on the group’s website.

Veterans food convoy delivers gratitude

Over the past 32 years, the Department of Idaho American Legion family has provided three state veterans homes with nearly $1.5 million in food and monetary donations. The longstanding tradition started in 1982 when then department commander Frank Dalton declared the “Veterans Food Convoy” his commander’s project, donating $8,000 in food in its first year to the Idaho State Veterans Home in Boise.

The success of the food convoy grew to include two more Idaho state veterans homes in Lewiston and Pocatello where a convoy of trucks and cars filled with canned, boxed and frozen food parades to the homes every year after Veterans Day.

“This has been a Legion family event since its first year, and it’s a tradition that’s looked forward to,” said Idaho Department Commander Michael Thurlow, who has been involved with the convoy for the past 18 years. “We are very proud of this event; this is how we in Idaho choose to take care of our veterans.”

Thurlow added that at 73 years old, Frank Dalton still attends every Boise food convoy in the rain or snow. “He lines all those vehicles up; he is like the conductor of the orchestra," Thurlow said. "That is special.”

Planning for the food convoy begins after the Department of Idaho’s convention in July. Posts are tasked with working with food distributors in their area, as well as promoting the food convoy through radio and newspaper announcements, telling local residents where to drop food or monetary donations off. Schools, farms and businesses also support the food convoy by donating and collecting food.

For example, Wada Farms and Liberty Gold Potatoe Co., provide potatoes year-round for the three state veterans home – 9,000 pounds of potatoes was delivered to the Boise veterans home during the food convoy. And D.L. Evans Bank, which has branches in 12 Idaho cities, puts food donation boxes at all of their locations. Additionally, several elementary and middle schools in Pocatello donated 2,011 cans of food for the convoy by hosting a food drive on Veterans Day.

Between the three Idaho state veterans homes, the food convoy delivered $63,000 in food and cash donations in early November to feed the 280 veterans living in the homes.

“It’s awesome to see the support from the community, and it’s great for the veterans to see and feel that the service they provided to their country was not in vain,” said Josiah Dahlstrom, administrator for the Idaho State Veterans Home in Pocatello. “We will definitely take advantage of the kindness and generosity of others and let that roll into our veterans so they can feel the love this holiday season.”

When Lynne Jones, food service operations manager for the Pocatello veterans home, reaches for a can of food from the pantry, she will oftentimes find small handprints cut out of construction paper. The schools that participate in the food drive tape students’ handprints to the cans and write messages on them, such as “Thank you for keeping me safe.”

“When you walk into the front doors you are so humbled because this isn’t just another place, this is where are veterans are so we try to make sure that their meals are outstanding,” Jones said. “The American Legion food convoy is an answer to prayers. America’s finest are here, and it’s our privilege to take care of them and with the Legion’s help, we can make sure that they are fed well.”

Jones said one veteran she was taking care of was so ill that the only thing he could eat was bean and bacon soup. “And the food convoy came up and they had bean and bacon soup,” she said. “When I served the soup to the veteran, he would touch my hand, a tear would fall, and he would say, ‘Thank you.’ The American Legion food convoy is making an impact on our veterans and their wants and needs.”

The food and monetary donations also help the veterans’ homes budget by allowing the staff to provide special meals and ensuring that the veterans enjoy activities away from the facility. The three Idaho veterans home will serve prime rib on Veterans Day and take the veterans to local fairs and on fishing trips.

“It’s the most exciting and wonderful thing that The American Legion does this for us,” said Phil Hawkins, activities coordinator for the Idaho State Veterans Home in Boise and a member of Post 151 at the veterans home. “Serving prime rib would never happen if it wasn’t for the food convoy. The food convoy allows us to take care of our veterans.”

Currently, Idaho is the only department to conduct a veterans food convoy, but Legion family members from Idaho hope the idea of feeding veterans will spread into other departments.

“When you come to the food convoy and see the camaraderie, it’s the Legion family at work,” said Ron Adams, past department commander of Idaho. “It’s veterans helping veterans.”

Refinance your VA home loan

Many American families are still struggling to afford home loans made at the peak of the housing bubble. The good news, for veterans with VA home loans, is that relief is available through the VA.

The VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL) allows homeowners with mortgages through the VA to refinance their mortgage to a lower fixed interest rate with no out-of-pocket expense. The IRRRL doesn’t require a new appraisal, so even if your home is “underwater,” – meaning that you owe more on your mortgage than your house is presently worth – your loan could still eligible for a refinance.

Additionally, the IRRRL does not require a minimum credit score. So even if your credit has taken a hit due to the recession, you can still qualify for a new loan. In fact, there is no minimum credit score for the program at all.

Not only can the IRRRL be used to reduce your interest rate, but you can also use it to refinance out of an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) into a secure fixed rate. Or you could use the loan to change the term of your mortgage from 30 to 15 years. Either of these options could result in an increase to your mortgage payment, but may be a wise decision, depending on your individual financial needs and goals.

An IRRRL can also be utilized for a property which you no longer occupy. You simply must certify that you previously occupied the home. So if you moved to a new location but still own a home with a VA mortgage on it, or if you’re using a home you once lived in as an investment property, you may still be able to refinance the property with an IRRRL.

The VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan is an excellent benefit that could substantially improve the financial situation of many veterans. So if you’re looking to make your monthly mortgage payment more manageable, or are seeking to restructure your loan to better achieve long term goals, talk to a lender about your options through the IRRRL.

More details on the program can be found on the VA website at: http://www.benefits.va.gov/homeloans/irrrl.asp. Or simply contact a lender experienced in VA programs.

Nate Shultz is the director of Business Development for Montage Mortgage, LLC. He is an expert in the areas of VA lending programs, Federal Housing Administration programs and conventional mortgage programs.

Seven steps to finding a better job

From Military.com

Suppose "David" - not a real person - was a project manager for a hardware manufacturer on the California Peninsula when he was laid off in July 2010. He was relieved, because he wasn't sure he wanted to spend the rest of his life in high tech. But when David, 37, entered my office 18 months later, he was still unemployed - and now scared.

To help David find a job he truly wanted, I took him through my Seven Steps.

Step 1: Decide if you are willing to embrace a simpler lifestyle to increase your career options.

David's wife wanted to buy a home, and David wanted a new SUV. I told him that if he were willing to forego the Bay Area home, he would have more career options to explore. He said he wanted to consider those options.

Step 2: Identify your career nonnegotiables.

David decided that the things he absolutely needed in a job were working for a good cause, the opportunity to be persuasive and a short commute.

I told David to convey his nonnegotiables to everyone, from his parents' friends to his college alumni. One of the alums suggested he become a fund-raising specialist. David liked the idea.

Step 3: Use time effectively to train for your new job or career.

The alum suggested that David get a master's in public administration. However, I urged him to consider foregoing State U for what I call "You U," where you select one or two experts in the field and ask, "What should I read? What workshops should I attend? Would you mind if I watched you work?"

Step 4: Do an intense, two-week job search.

Most people who do their job searches sporadically, perhaps answering one ad per week and telling close friends they're looking, are unlikely to succeed.

By compressing your job search into two weeks, you're more likely to:

  • Implement it, since you can endure almost anything that will be over in two weeks.

  • Receive encouragement within the first few days, because you're making many more inquiries.

  • Receive multiple job offers at the same time.

In Week 1, I asked David to apply for 10 jobs for which he was qualified. I also asked him to tell his networking contacts that he was looking for a fund-raising job in the East Bay and to ask if they knew someone he should talk with.

Finally, I asked David to identify 20 East Bay nonprofits he'd be excited to work for, email them a cover letter and then follow up with a phone call.

Within a month of his two-week job search, he received two job offers.

Step 5: Negotiate wisely.

When David got an offer to upgrade the fund-raising operation of a small East Bay private school, I told him to delay negotiating and say, "I'm pleased you're offering me the job. Can we set up an appointment to discuss terms in a few days? In the meantime, I'm fortunate enough to have another job offer, so can I speak with a prospective coworker or two? I want to get a better feel for the position."

This approach strengthened David's position and gave him a chance to get a sense of the most he could reasonably negotiate for and to gauge whether he even wanted the job.

Step 6: Make the job fit you.

For a career to really work, you must tailor and accessorize it as you would a suit.

We next determined how David could tailor this job to his strengths. While he had database skills, he preferred the one-on-one work of cultivating donors. He got the school's head to agree to outsource the database work so he could spend more time with potential donors.

Step 7: Always look forward.

Despite landing a better-fitting job, David still resented being laid off. I told David about my father, a Holocaust survivor. My father rarely discussed the Holocaust and never with bitterness. When I asked him why, he said, "The Nazis took five years from me. They won't get one minute more."

If he can resist looking back bitterly, we all can.

Dr. Marty Nemko is a career coach in private practice and coauthor of Cool Careers for Dummies. Look for 200-plus of his articles on Marty Nemko's website

Legion: VA director’s overdue firing applauded

Monday’s termination of embattled Phoenix VA Healthcare System Director Sharon Helman is “a long-awaited step along the road to restored trust between veterans and their federal health-care system,” American Legion National Commander Michael D. Helm said.

Helman had been on paid administrative leave for nearly six months since whistleblowers told national media that Arizona veterans had died waiting on secret lists for medical appointments that were never scheduled. That revelation last spring was followed by more than 20 additional allegations of falsified records and other problems in VA leadership, including financial bonuses paid to directors on the basis of the falsified records, at facilities throughout the country.

“Since it came to light that as many as 40 veterans in Phoenix lost their lives while their names languished on secret lists, The American Legion has been demanding accountability from those responsible,” Helm said. “This is one long-overdue step in a journey that is far from over. Unfortunately, as we all soon discovered after the story broke last April, this problem was not isolated to Phoenix. It was widespread, and we expect to see additional consequences, even criminal charges if they are warranted, for anyone who knowingly misled veterans and denied them access to medical services. The termination of one director does not end this scandal, but it is a step.”

The American Legion called for the resignations of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey after the allegations of falsified appointment documentation came to light in May. Petzel and Shinseki both resigned before June 1, but Hickey remains at her post. “We are closely monitoring the backlog of VA benefits claims as well because, like delayed appointments, they are a barrier to care,” Helm said.

The American Legion has conducted a series of Veterans Crisis Command Centers and town hall Meetings nationwide since June where thousands of veterans and their families received assistance speeding up appointment times, getting decisions on long-undecided benefits claims and help breaking down other barriers to care and service from VA. The first of those events, June 9-13, was provided in Phoenix where The American Legion gave firsthand assistance to no fewer than 590 veterans. In late October, the events were renamed Veterans Benefits Centers, and they are scheduled to continue into 2015.

“These events were renamed because we are now making progress, working with VA and veterans in affected areas, because we fully believe that trust can be restored,” Helm said. “It is no longer a crisis, by definition. But it is a process, and VA has a long way to go. Today’s decision, and the additional consequences we expect to come sooner rather than later, advanced the process.”

Legionnaire to Philippines: ‘Veterans Cannot Suspend Death’

A unique interpretation of a 2013 memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines and a Filipino government agency has led to a controversial suspension of burials at the Clark Veterans Cemetery (CVC) in Angeles City.

The cemetery is located on the now-closed Clark Air Base and is the resting place for more than 8,600 U.S. military veterans and dependents.

Although the U.S. government allocated $5 million to maintain the cemetery, Arnel Casonova – head of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), the Philippine agency with jurisdiction on the matter – stopped accepting burials because “guidelines on the maintenance and use of CVC have to first be made.” Casonova would not elaborate how long the suspension will be in effect, but the policy has left American Legion family members and U.S. government officials fuming.

“Veterans, like other members of any society, cannot suspend death while politicians prepare a restoration plan,” Edward J. Craft wrote to American Legion National Commander Michael D. Helm. “There are cases where families are incurring huge financial debts, preserving loved ones bodies at funeral homes or making decisions against family wishes to cremate remains of veterans while these agencies prepare their ‘restoration plans.’ This is not the way to treat a veteran, who has given so much for his country.”

Helm was clearly moved by the plight of these veterans. “This has gone on entirely too long,” he said. “Grieving families need closure, and these delays must end now. The U.S. government must use every diplomatic tool at its disposal to convince the Philippine government to lift the suspension.”

U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip S. Goldberg shares the Legion’s concerns. He told Craft the situation is not due to any decision by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) or his office. “It is due solely to BCDA deciding unilaterally to reinterpret a signed agreement between the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines…The United States Embassy is making every effort to rectify this unjust situation as soon as possible,” said Goldberg.

Goldberg believes Casonova is the chief cause of the problem. Casanova, he said, “has interpreted the agreement, which he himself signed on behalf of the government of the Philippines, in a manner wholly inconsistent with both the purpose and intent of the document, and at odds with the intent of the United States Congress when they appropriated $5 million to restore and maintain Clark Cemetery. The Embassy has made its dissatisfaction with the actions of Mr. Casanova clear to him both in writing and in person as well as with the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, and I have raised this issue personally with various government officials. Furthermore, the United States Department of State in Washington has also registered its concern with the Embassy of the Philippines to honor the agreement of Clark Veterans Cemetery and we continue to call for the resumption of burials immediately.”

The agreement, Goldberg told Craft, “explicitly calls for Clark to be an ‘open cemetery,’ that continues to conduct new burials for those who qualify through honorable service in the Armed Forces of the United States of America or through prior service in the Philippine Scouts.”

Meanwhile, deceased veterans like John Fortune must wait to have their remains interred. “This is an absolute disgrace,” said American Legion Department of the Philippines Commander Gordon G. Grubb. “John Fortune’s son, Army Sgt. Maurice Fortune, died in Iraq in 2004. He is the only Iraq War veteran buried at the cemetery. Now, his dad, a Vietnam veteran, cannot join him. His ashes remain on hold until they settle this thing.”

The cemetery’s superintendent, Larry Atkison, works for the ABMC and assured The American Legion that his office is doing everything it can to resume burials. “The effort to get the suspension lifted is still being worked," he said. "We are continuing to engage the Philippine government at different levels. Hopefully soon, I will have good news for you.”

Schedule set for Oak Ridge Boys Christmas special

"The American Legion Christmas Special" - with The Oak Ridge Boys and other performers - is slated to air on individual stations across the country from late November through Christmas. The Grammy-winning group – who share the Legion's passion to help veterans and their families – recently teamed up with the Legion for a series of direct-response TV ads that invite viewers to join the effort to assist those who served our nation in uniform by pledging $19 per month or more to The American Legion.

The schedule of airdates is as follows:

"The American Legion Christmas Special" - with The Oak Ridge Boys and other performers - is slated to air on individual stations across the country from late November through Christmas. The Grammy-winning group – who share the Legion's passion to help veterans and their families – recently teamed up with the Legion for a series of direct-response TV ads that invite viewers to join the effort to assist those who served our nation in uniform by pledging $19 per month or more to The American Legion. The schedule of airdates is as follows:

KOZL - KOZL Springfield (Mo.) INDIE - 11/27, 5 p.m. CST; 11/28, 9 p.m. CST

KOLR - KOLR Springfield (Mo.) ABC - 11/27, 5 p.m. CST; 11/28, 9 p.m. CST

WHME - 46 South Bend (Ind.) - 11/30, 1 p.m. CST; 12/22, 8 p.m. CST

KWHE - 14 Honolulu - 12/1, 9 a.m. HAST

RFDTV - (all 10 p.m. EST, 12/4) DirecTV 345; Dish Network 231, 9398, 231 HD; AT&T U-verse 568; Cox 145; Verizon FIOS - Channel 247; Mediacom; Bright House; Suddenlink; Comcast; Time Warner Cable; Cable One; Skyangel; Optimum; Charter

Sky Angel 2 - DISH - 12/6, 6 p.m. EST

KWHB - 47 Tulsa - 8 p.m. CST, 12/6; and 1 p.m. CST, 12/20

GEB - DirecTV 363, KGEB TV 53 Tulsa, KUGB TV 28.1 Houston - 11 p.m. EST, 12/6; and 11 p.m. CST, 12/23

KWHS - 51 Colorado Springs - 12/7, 5 p.m. MST; 12/13, 10 p.m. MST

KETD.2 - 53.2 Denver - 5 p.m. MST, 2/7; and 10 p.m. MST, 12/13

14 Honolulu - 9 a.m. HAST, 12/8; and 8 p.m. HAST, 12/15

WHMB - 40 Indianapolis - 12/19, 9 p.m. CST

WHT - DirecTV 367 - 12/22, 4 p.m. EST

Family Entertainment TV - Dish Network 82 - 12/20, 9 a.m. EST

AT&T U-verse 578 - 12/20, 9 a.m. EST

WHAG - Hagerstown, Frederick, Cumberland, Md.; Chambersburg, Pa.; Winchester, Va.; Matinsburg, W.Va. - 12/20, 7 p.m. EST

TLN (Total Living Network) - DISH - 12/23, 9 p.m. EST; 12/26, 9 p.m. EST

TLN Locals - Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas - 12/23, 9 p.m. EST; 12/26, 9 p.m. EST

WHBF - Rock Island, Moline, Ill.; Davenport, Betterndorf, Iowa (CBS) - 12/24, 11:35 p.m.

WROC - Rochester, N.Y. (CBS) - 12/25, 6 a.m. EST

WHNO - 20 New Orleans - TBD

DVDs of the Christmas special are available at www.legionchristmasdvd.com or by calling (888) 982-2256.

Radiothon raises nearly $20,000 for TFA

The American Legion Department of Iowa recently showed how building relationships with community businesses can financially impact veterans and their families in a positive way at the local and national level.

Thanks to years of establishing a strong relationship with Des Moines, Iowa, radio station 93.3 KIOA, the department and KIOA held a radiothon on Veterans Day to support The American Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) program, raising $18,465. KIOA titled the radiothon “Vets of Valor,” and the local First Class Credit Union and Prairie Meadows Racetrack Casino Hotel partnered for the drive.

The radiothon was held in the lobby of the casino, and five staff members from First Class Credit Union manned the phones for eight hours. KIOA on-air personalities conducted challenges with listeners and advertisers, while 15 Iowa Legionnaires accepted in-person donations.

“It was so much fun,” said Kathy Nees, Department of Iowa programs director. “The number of veterans and their families that will be assisted with the funds we raised is why the program is so important, and it’s why KIOA said ‘yes’ to hosting the radiothon on a special day — Veterans Day.”

Department of Iowa leadership provided on-air interviews to KIOA’s six sister stations the week prior to the radiothon, explaining the impact TFA has had locally. Since Sept. 11, 2001, TFA has provided more than $200,000 in grants, benefitting 190 Iowa veterans and their families.

“The impact TFA has made locally really struck KIOA as an opportunity where they could continue to make a big difference in the state for veterans’ families,” Nees said.

During the radiothon, a few TFA recipient families from Iowa spoke on air about their struggles financially and how the Legion’s TFA program came to their aid in a time of need. One recipient even received his check while on air, which Nees believes empowered more people to call in and donate.

Following the radiothon, additional funding came in through donation boxes placed at First Class Credit Union’s two locations in Des Moines and KIOA challenge donations, bringing the TFA donation total to $19,854.

“Iowans have made great sacrifices to keep our country free and safe, from the warfront to the home front,” said Tim Fox, KIOA’s brand manager. “We wanted to do something that showed just how much that sacrifice means to us, and to make things a little easier for the servicemembers who are struggling.”

The Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance program is funded through The American Legion Endowment Fund, which was established in the 1920s. Through TFA, a local post can request cash assistance to help maintain the basic needs of veterans’ children. The fund helps families meet the costs of shelter, food, utilities and health expenses when parents are unable, thereby keeping the minor child or children in a more stable home environment. Since Jan. 2014, TFA has disbursed grants totaling more than $584,902, benefiting 564 families with 1,265 children.

For TFA eligibility information, click here. To donate to TFA through the Endowment Fund, click here.

DoE wants feedback from veterans working in the industry

The Department of Energy (DoE) wants to identify the military skills that lead to careers in the energy industry. As part of that initiative, DoE is asking for feedback from veterans who have held or currently hold positions as building engineers, energy auditors, energy managers or commissioning agents.

Veterans with experience in those professions are asked to email econ@legion.org or maureen.roskoski@feapc.com to be directed to DoE for a brief interview about their military experience, barriers they faced in entering the energy industry and how they were able to use their service skills to help them in their careers.

DoE's efforts are part of a larger initiative that aims to help veterans find work in the energy industry. DoE is hoping to identify the military skills that make a veteran successful in an energy career, and then use their findings to facilitate veterans into the industry through programs and informational campaigns.

The American Legion's Veterans Employment & Education Division is providing feedback in an advisory role.

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