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Legion, SVA discuss ways to improve Post-9/11 GI Bill

The American Legion, in tandem with Student Veterans of America (SVA), conducted a roundtable meeting May 18 at the Legion’s Washington, D.C., office to discuss how to improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill and better serve the veteran community.

More than 75 representatives from local veteran and military service organizations, as well as government and congressional offices, attended the meeting. John Kamin, assistant director of the Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Division, and SVA Government Affairs Vice President William Hubbard, led the discussion.

“There have been a lot of public disagreements over the past few weeks on how to improve the GI Bill,” Kamin said. “We felt it was important to work with Student Veterans of America to bring all of our veterans organizations together to discuss these challenges as a community.”

Although not every organization has a direct focus on veterans education, Kamin said their attendance sent a very powerful statement that improving the GI Bill is a national priority.

“I think this conversation, having 60-plus people in the room, made it real,” High Ground Veterans Advocacy Executive Director Kristofer Goldsmith said during a separate open press meeting. “This isn’t some Twitter spat – it’s not a hashtag war. We’re representatives of millions of veterans across the country and we all believe that the GI Bill needs to be improved.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website, “The Post-9/11 GI Bill is an education benefit program for individuals who served on active duty after September 10, 2001. For approved programs, this bill provides up to 36 months of education benefits, generally payable for 15 years following one’s release from active duty.” Veterans may be eligible for this VA-administered program if they:

1. Have at least 90 days of aggregate active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001, and are still on active duty;

2. Are an honorably discharged veteran; or

3. Were discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days.”

Aleks Morosky, legislative director for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said he’d like to see a change in the service requirement associated with Purple Heart recipients getting full benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

“(There are) currently about 1,500 post-9/11 Purple Heart recipients who receive less than the full benefit and we’d like to see that fixed,” said Morosky. “We think that if you’ve been wounded on the battlefield, then you’ve met the service requirement. I think we ought to give them the best educational opportunities we can.”

During the roundtable, Hubbard guided a discussion about the modernization of the GI Bill that included assessing priorities and reviewing several draft bills/policy proposals. Each organization was also given a sheet with a list of House resolution bills, asking whether they support, oppose, have a pending decision or no position at all on the bills.

“The purpose of this was to develop an understanding, identify areas where we had a consensus on, and then generally speaking, what we (want to have further discussions about which include) the Purple Heart recipients, the orders issue, the school closures and the Yellow Ribbon (Program),” said Hubbard. “I think the consensus was that we want to do something, 100 percent. I didn’t hear anyone say anything less than that. What that ends up looking like, and to the extent that we are able to address it, I think there’s some conversations still to be had there. The four items that we’re pushing on, every single one of those needed to happen yesterday. That’s the message we’ll be carrying to the Hill.”

For Goldsmith, the roundtable helped to establish a consensus around closing the current GI Bill loopholes. Better serving the veteran community entails changing the dialogue and not settling for the status quo, he said.

“We’re expanding the GI Bill. We’re continuing to move forward. We’re not settling for the status quo … and the plan is to stop doing just that,” said Goldsmith. “These vets can’t wait for Congress to get it done. The consensus that’s coming out of this room today is how are we going to result in a letter with a ton of cosigners, saying these are the priorities and these are what we need. We’re not giving (Congress) a deadline. It just needs to be done as soon as possible.”

Kamin said making sure veterans receive the full GI Bill benefits they deserve is a priority that the Legion and other veteran service organizations will stand behind. “We will not turn our backs on National Guard and reserve servicemembers who have been denied the GI Bill because they were on health care or 12304b deployment orders, or student veterans who have lost their GI Bill attending closed schools,” he said. “Making sure that they receive the full benefits of the GI Bill is more than a common-sense solution; it is a necessity we must ensure.”

 

Preparing for your 1st civilian interview

From Military.com

A job interview is your chance to shine to employers. When you interview with a civilian company you must be able to explain what you know about the company, the open position, and why you're the best for the job and their office. But, employers can spot an unprepared candidate a mile away, and you don't want to let your lack of readiness be your downfall.

If you're unsure of what to research or bring to your first interview, use this list of interview resources the Bureau of Labor Statistics developed to whip you into interview-ready shape.

Before the Interview

  • Learn about the organization. Don't just Google the company; try to look at Better Business Bureau ratings or Yelp reviews that rate your potential employer's customer service record.

  • Review your qualifications for the job. Try to match your skills as close to the requirements as possible. Employers want to know that your skills are a direct fit for the position.

  • Explain how your military experience would relate to the job. Use Military.com's Skills Translator to help you articulate how your MOS can be applied in this civilian job.

  • Prepare for questions. The most common ones are "Why should I hire you?" and "Why do you want this job?"

  • Practice interviewing. Ask a friend a friend or family member to mock interview you.

Refining Your Look

  • Be well groomed. Avoid dousing yourself in cologne or perfumes, and ensure that you're clean shaven and have a fresh hair cut.

  • Dress appropriately. If you can, buy an updated interview suit. Check out our slideshow for how to dress for the interview.

  • Don't smoke before the interview. You don't want to distract the interviewer with the stench of cigarettes.

The Day of the Interview

  • Bring the following items: Social Security card, Government-issued ID (such as a driver's license), at least five copies of your resume, and at three written references.

  • Be Early. Arrive about five minutes early. If you get there too early, say 15 to 30 minutes ahead of schedule, you could seem like you're rushing your interviewer.

  • Learn the name of your interviewer and greet them with a firm (but not bone crushing) hand shake.

  • Be polite. Be as courteous and professional with everyone you meet.

  • Don't use slang. Or worse, don't curse in your interview, even in jest.

  • Maintain eye contact and don't slouch. This doesn't mean that you stare a hole in your interviewer, but maintain eye contact when you're speaking to them, and be sure to sit up straight. It shows self-confidence and professionalism.

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions about the job. Also, ask questions about the company and your potential boss. However, don't ask questions that you know the answers to. For example, don't ask any questions that can be found on the company website.

After the Interview

Send a thank you note. You can send a thank you e-mail or hand-written letter to your interviewer. Be sure to thank them for taking the time to interview you, and reinforce why this is a good fit for you and the potential employer.

Delaware post spreading the word

Members of Richard C. DuPont American Legion Post 18 in Claymont, Del., will spend part of their Memorial Day weekend sharing information about the Legion with holiday travelers.

Legion family members from Post 18 will man a table at the Delaware House Travel Plaza on Interstate 95 near Newark, Del., from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend.

Lyman Brenner, the post’s membership chairman and past commander of the Department of Delaware, said the first-time event is designed to make The American Legion and Post 18 more visible to the general public.

The location is the only rest stop along I-95 in Delaware, so Legion family members are counting on plenty of travelers stopping by to receive American flags and information about the Legion.

Department Spotlight: Washington shares the holiday spirit

Editor’s note: This is a weekly series of Department Spotlight stories featuring unique programs and initiatives of departments throughout The American Legion. Department adjutants are invited to recommend subjects for their departments by emailing magazine@legion.org.

Each year around Christmas, The American Legion Department of Washington, led by The American Legion Auxiliary, conducts gift shops for the patients and residents at many of the state’s VA hospitals and soldiers/veterans homes.

The institutions provide space to set up displays of toys, clothes, jewelry and other items, and veterans are invited to “shop” for gifts for their loved ones.

There is never a cost to the veteran. Items are donated or purchased with monetary donations.

Once the veteran picks out gifts for his/her family, they are wrapped by Legion Family volunteers and mailed directly to the family members.

Department Adjutant Dale Davis said the feedback from veterans and their families is “heartwarming.”

“Some families called to say they had lost touch with the veteran for years, and he was found only through the receiving of the gifts sent from The American Legion gift shops,” Davis said.

New Jersey homeless veterans get help

An event to help homeless veterans in Atlantic City, N.J., drew 130 veterans plus family members.

The May 17 Stand Down event at Atlantic City’s All Wars Memorial Building offered an array of free services and assistance to the city’s homeless veterans, including VA benefits; medical, mental health and addiction counseling; welfare benefits; legal services; housing; employment; haircuts; and clothing provisions.

Jim Scanlon, vice chairman of the Department of New Jersey’s employment and education committee, presented the Stand Down idea last September. A survey of other veterans service organizations and regional service providers drew a resounding positive response, according to Bob Looby, the department’s employment and education chairman.

In addition to the Legion family, 38 other organizations participated with their services, and 92 volunteers were on hand to help.

Looby said that service officers at the event met with 30 veterans, 12 of whom filed claims with another five starting the application process. Also, 16 women veterans with four children visited the separate women’s area for clothing, products, games, toys, backpacks and services.

Approximately $4,900 was donated for the purchase of civilian clothing, gifts cards and other products.

Steering committee organizations and their responsibilities included:

• The Legion’s Employment & Education Committee – Project management; security both Atlantic City's police department and the National Guard; finance officer; quartermaster; and volunteers.

• The American Red Cross – Registration and hygiene kits.

• Department of New Jersey and VFW – Breakfast.

• Resorts Casino – Lunch, managed by Vice Chairman Jim Scanlon.

• The American Legion Auxiliary – Women veterans and signage.

• Catholic Charities – Civilian clothing.

• Department of New Jersey and DAV – Service officers.

• VA – Medical team and military clothing ordering.

• DMAVA – Medical team and National Guard.

An after action review is being prepared in the interest of continual improvement for next year’s event.

Alabama, Alaska veterans benefit from OCW grants

The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program has recently made a few grants to benefit veterans receiving care at VA medical centers in Alabama and Alaska.

The Central Alabama VA Health Care System received a $9,000 grant last month that was used to purchase 250 tickets for post-9/11 veterans to attend Military Appreciation Night during a Montgomery Biscuits minor league baseball game at Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium. Besides reserved seating, the veterans received an OCW-branded T-shirt and dinner at the stadium.

The Alaska VA Health Care System received a $10,000 grant on May 3 to purchase needed health and comfort items, clothing, musical instruments and newborn-baby baskets for veterans receiving care in VA facilities located in Anchorage, Juneau, Mat-Su/Wasilla and Fairbanks. The donation was during a System Worth Saving site visit by National Headquarters staff.

OCW grants help aid in the recovery of wounded veterans receiving care at warrior transition units or military hospitals by providing rehabilitation, recreational and comfort items. And 100 percent of donations to the OCW program is spent directly on the veterans; administrative and promotional costs for OCW is paid by The American Legion.

Learn more at www.legion.org/ocw.

Playing patriotism

Bruce Benson served his nation in World War II, flew as a commercial airplane pilot and owned a furniture store.

But musician is the title he cherishes the most. Music connected him to his wife, Jane, before, during and after their 68-year marriage.

To honor her memory, as well as his fellow military veterans, Benson emerges from his historic home in Webb City, Mo., every night at sunset to sound taps.

“Music was all over our relationship,” said Benson, 92, a member of American Legion Post 322 in Webb City. “She was a dancer. I was a musician. She ran a dance school. I wrote music for her dance school. Our two sons, Van and David, are both musically inclined. We had a little four-piece band and played for some of her recitals.”

In her final days, Jane wrote some notes, one of which inspired Benson’s nightly remembrance. “May our family stay strong in Christian faith, in family love and patriotism,” Jane wrote before she passed in December 2014.

Now, neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will keep Benson from performing his simple ceremony, across the street from the town post office. (However, when lightning crashes his party, Benson stays inside and plays a recording of taps instead.)

Benson is routinely accompanied by Dave Bergland, who served in the Marines. They often play the national anthem before taps during their warmup that lasts around 15 minutes.

“People ask us why we do this,” said Benson, who started his nightly routine more than two years ago. “It’s to commemorate our fallen heroes, other people who are still serving and because of what my wife wrote in her memoirs. My thoughts, as we finish playing taps, go to her presence here and completing what she wrote as one of her last thoughts she put on paper.”

Benson’s ritual attracts a range of onlookers. Kids disembark from their bicycles to salute the flag. Senior citizens pause and reflect.

After he finishes playing, Benson salutes the flag, greets his audience and retreats into his home — a converted theater built in 1937.

The Bensons moved into the home in 1990. Visitors see the building is still filled with beautiful lighting, ornate decorations, and original flooring and woodwork. Benson sees a home filled with memories of love, music and special moments with Jane.

They met at Fort Crowder in the early 1940s when he was in a 60-piece Army band and she was a dancer for the USO.

“I was sitting on the bandstand one night and she came over,” Benson remembered. “She looked up at me and said, ‘Could you play two courses of Southern Fried with a four-bar intro?’ She was so pretty and very sweet. I looked at her and said, ‘Yes, I think we can do that. Let’s talk about it.’ And that was the beginning of our romance,” said Benson, who accepted her invitation to dinner the following Sunday night.

They were married in March 1946 after Benson returned from the war. “She is still deep in my heart,” he says softly. “I have wonderful memories.”

Now, Jane is never far from Benson’s thoughts, whether he is at home or out playing one of his horns. Each Sunday he plays at their church, First Presbyterian of Webb City. He also performs at veterans’ funerals and other events when invited.

Post 322 Commander Donald Wooten said Benton performs at all the post’s ceremonies.

“We love him,” Wooten said. “The horn is his life. There should be more people doing this in our country. But there are few people like him.”

Bergland — a self-described “wingman” to Benson — reveres Benson.

Their friendship began shortly after Bergland heard taps as he drove past Benson’s home. By the time he turned his vehicle around, Benson had moved inside. “I walked up the alley and could not find him,” Bergland recalled. “How could he move that fast? He was an older gentleman.”

Undaunted, Bergland showed up the following night and the two musicians immediately hit it off. Bergland agreed to return the next evening with his horn.

“I told him it would not be an every night thing,” said Bergland, who is 53. “But it has turned out to be an every night thing. He is an amazing man. He is so encouraging. He is patient. His way about him. He is an incredible teacher.”

The two perform together at other events. Last Fourth of July, Benson arranged for them to play at five different ceremonies. “You can’t keep up with him,” Bergland said. “He’s incredible.”

 

Commander's fundraising goal still attainable

While Rachel’s husband was deployed for the second time, her only form of transportation for their three young children broke down. After making the costly repairs to the vehicle, little money was left at the end of the month to pay for household expenses. The American Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) program was there to support Rachel and her children, and honor her husband’s service by paying for their mortgage, electricity and gas bill.

Rachel is one of thousands of eligible military spouses, servicemembers and veterans with children who have benefited from the Legion’s TFA program. Since January, TFA has provided more than $238,000 in cash grants that have helped 158 families with 336 minor children maintain basic needs such as shelter, utilities, clothing, food and medical care. And since its inception 92 years ago, TFA has awarded more than $15 million in cash grants to aid veterans and their minor children.

American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt’s fundraising project is to raise $1 million for TFA during his tenure as national commander, which comes to a close in August during the organization’s 99th National Convention in Reno, Nev.

American Legion service officers are also part of Schmidt’s fundraising project, and his goal is to raise another $1 million for service officer training. Today, nearly 3,000 American Legion service officers help more than 700,000 veterans and their families file disability claims and apply for VA benefits and other forms of assistance, free of charge.

“Both programs depend on charitable contributions to offer the free assistance. That’s why I have made service officer training and TFA the focus of my fundraising project,” Schmidt said.

To support either of these great programs – TFA and service officer training – visit www.legion.org/donate and select “Commander’s Fund.” Then, under the "Program Designation" tab, select "Commander's Charity Fund."

Or send a check to American Legion Charities (put “Commander’s Fund” on the memo line) and mail it to The American Legion, 5745 Lee Road, Indianapolis, IN 46216. The fund has 501(c)(3) status and all money raised goes directly to the programs.

Support National Poppy Day on social media

This year The American Legion Family has called upon Congress to designate May 26, 2017, as National Poppy Day to expand awareness and provide support everywhere for all who have served and sacrificed in the U.S. armed forces. NALPA members are encouraged to help spread the message by wearing poppies and sharing on social media who they are wearing the poppy for.

When posting National Poppy Day support to social media, please use the hastags #PoppyDay and #LegionFamily.

Click here to see samples of National Poppy Day social media postings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legion Family to mark Memorial Day

From traditional ceremonies to new initiatives, The American Legion and Legion Family members across the country will spend the long weekend marking Memorial Day with events that honor the fallen.

The American Legion will once again have a float in the IPL 500 Festival Parade on Saturday, May 27, in the Legion’s National Headquarters city of Indianapolis. The Legion’s float traditionally includes Legion Family members walking alongside, and wounded warriors riding on the float. This year’s float will center on World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, including a reconstruction of one of his planes.

On Friday, May 26, members of the Department of Illinois will volunteer at the fourth annual Chicago Veterans: Ruck March. More than 1,500 veterans, their families and military supporters are expected to participate in the event, which raises awareness for PTSD and veteran suicide. Participants will wear a 20-pound ruck sack and walk 20 miles through the streets of Chicago to represent the number of veteran suicides daily, and to honor and remember servicemembers lost at home and on the battlefield. Legionnaires will have a tent at the lunch stop to pass out bananas, water and poppies in honor of that day’s National Poppy Day, as well as have a service officer on hand to answer questions and information on Legion membership and other available veteran resources.

Throughout Memorial Day weekend, Richard C. DuPont Post 18 of Claymont, Del., will be set up at a travel stop on I-95 to promote the Legion.

Bothun-Peterson Post 213 of Sherwood, N.D., will be celebrating the 80th anniversary of its remembrance event, exchanging colors with Canadian Legionnaires at the nearby border. A school program, march and wreath-laying is also included.

The American Legion Riders will conduct a weekend of commemorative activities that includes a National Poppy Day-themed ride to a candlelight vigil at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Friday, May 26; a wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday, May 27; and a group run to the Rolling Thunder event on Sunday, May 28. 

Also around the nation's capital, American Legion staff and leadership will lay wreaths on the organization's behalf: National Vice Commander Paul Espinoza at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Assistant Director for TBI/PTSD Cole Lyle at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Tell The American Legion how your post commemorates Memorial Day, by posting a description and photos to the Legiontown blog.

And make sure that war memorials or monuments (to any conflict) in your area are included in the Legion’s Veterans Memorial Identification Project. If they aren’t, it’s easy to add them.

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