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American Legion News

Kentucky Legion post looking to expand its Be the One outreach

After returning to Kentucky from the 2023 American Legion National Convention, Sons of The American Legion National Executive Committeeman Brandon Curry approached Hardin Post 113 Legionnaire Tom Folsom about getting more involved in the Legion's Be the One suicide-prevention program.

"The post really hadn't done anything with it, so Tom and I took it upon ourselves to get this mission and the awareness out there," said Curry, commander of Squadron 113 in Elizabethtown. "And then Tom reached out to someone from (the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)."

The result is Post 113 will host VA S.A.V.E. Training at 6 p.m. on Dec. 5 that is open to the community. The training will focus on reducing the stigma about asking for mental health help, how to talk to the person and ask tough questions, and provide information on where to get help. 

"(S.A.V.E. Training) and Be the One are very, very close," said Folsom, the safety director for the Department of Kentucky American Legion Riders. "This was an opportunity to get a professional to come down and teach this. And then he'll stay around and answer questions if people have them, which is huge. Brandon and I, we're not professionals, but we'll have someone on hand who is."

In October during the Legion's Fall Meetings in Indianapolis, the organization' National Executive Committee passed Resolution No. 9, which 9 strongly encourages American Legion posts to host VA S.A.V.E. training classes and to invite local community, government agencies, not-for-profits and businesses to participate in the training. 

S.A.V.E. Training focus on four key facets:

·       S - Signs of suicidal thinking should be recognized.

·       A - Ask the most important question of all, "Are you thinking of killing yourself?"

·       V - Validate the veteran's experience.

·       E - Encourage treatment and expedite getting help.

"Hardin County and Elizabethtown, we're right there in Fort Knox's backyard, so we're a very veteran-friendly community," Curry said. "A lot of people who were stationed at Fort Knox … will come back after they retire and stay in Hardin County. We want to be able to get our folks – our post members and our veterans in the community – and let them know, ‘Hey, there is something out there. There is assistance. There are programs if you know of somebody who needs assistance."

American Legion posts interested in hosting a VA S.A.V.E. training class can facilitate it through their local VA Medical Center's suicide-prevention team. A post can locate contact information for their local suicide prevention team through the Veterans Crisis Line Resource using this link. Once on the website, enter a ZIP code and press search. Then select the box next to Suicide Prevention Coordinators and press search again. Once completed, you will be provided with the closest suicide prevention coordinator and their contact information.

VA exceeds goal of permanently housing homeless veterans two months early

Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it has permanently housed 38,847 homeless veterans through October of 2023 — surpassing the calendar year goal to house 38,000 Veterans two months early. 

Through October, VA has also engaged with 34,498 unsheltered veterans to connect them with the housing and resources they need, exceeding the Department's calendar year goal by 123%; ensured that 96.2% of veterans housed have remained in housing, exceeding the department's calendar year goal by 1.2%; and ensured that 93.1% of the veterans who returned to homelessness have been rehoused or are on a pathway to rehousing, exceeding the Department's calendar year goal by 3.1%.

Ending veteran homelessness is a top priority of VA. In 2022 alone, VA housed more than 40,000 formerly homeless veterans, prevented more than 17,700 veterans and their families from falling into homelessness, and helped nearly 191,700 additional veteran families who were experiencing financial difficulties to retain their homes or avoid foreclosure. Thanks in part to these efforts, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness has fallen by 11% since early 2020 and by more than 55% since 2010. 

VA's efforts to combat veteran homelessness are grounded in reaching out to homeless veterans, understanding their unique needs, and addressing them. These efforts are built on the evidence-based "Housing First" approach, which prioritizes getting a veteran into housing, then providing them with the wraparound support they need to stay housed, including health care, job training, legal and education assistance, and more. This initiative is part of the Biden-Harris Administration's broader efforts to reduce homelessness.

VA has also made progress in combating veteran homelessness in the Greater Los Angeles area, providing 1,464 homeless Veterans with permanent housing thus far this year — which is the most of any city in America and on pace to exceed VA's calendar year goal for 2023. Last year, VA provided 1,301 permanent housing placements to formerly homeless Veterans in LA, the most of any city in America.

VA staff and its community partners nationwide help veterans find permanent housing such as apartments or houses to rent or own, often with subsidies to help make the housing affordable. In some cases, VA staff and partners help Veterans end their homelessness by reuniting them with family and friends.

For more information about VA's comprehensive efforts to end Veteran homelessness, visit VA.gov/homeless.

If you are a veteran who is experiencing homelessness or at risk for homelessness, call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838). Visit the VA Homeless Programs website to learn about housing initiatives and other programs for veterans exiting homelessness.

Personal insight into resolution writing  

Sarah Tobin of Colorado is a 2023 National American Legion College (NALC) graduate. She attended the 2023 NALC session Nov. 12-14 in Indianapolis at American Legion National Headquarters.

While everyone selected to attend National American Legion College should feel very lucky to have been chosen, I felt especially blessed since I am from the state of Colorado.

I was so excited to write my first resolution as part of my pre-arrival homework, that I wrote three. I found the development process quite appealing to me.  I started with defining the problem I was trying to rectify, which would later become my resolve clause. Then, thoroughly searched through the Legion Digital Archives to ensure the issue has not previously been addressed. Finally, I poured through the source documents from the agency I was compelling to take corrective action to find corroborating statistics and research to build out my whereas clauses.

Within my (assigned) district (at NALC), I volunteered to be the resolution chair so that I could learn as much as possible about this newly discovered passion of mine. Although my resolution wasn't chosen to represent my district, I thoroughly enjoyed researching and debunking our sister district's resolution and defending our own with lock tight provenance. Much to our chagrin, our resolution to "Commend the Reverend George L. Fox Memorial Chapel" was defeated by the Student Executive Committee. On the upside, the Departments of France and Vermont both agreed to sponsor the resolution, and I expect that it will pass before summer.

I plan to work with the Department of Oklahoma to elevate my resolution on expanding research and treatment plans for veterans with multiple unexplained symptoms. Isn't it amazing what you can do if you don't care if you get credit for it?  There are so many amazing Legionnaires out there willing to assist you when you are unable to do it yourself.

I loved listening to how each department is just a bit different in their construct. My classmates have some brilliant marketing and fundraising ideas which need to be codified and widely disseminated. I came in as a very enthusiastic sponge and left full of great ideas on how I can assist my department to rebuild over the next few years.

To be perfectly honest, I could have stayed another week, soaking up even more knowledge about the broader construct of the Legion outside of the elected positions, and more importantly, getting to know more folks outside of my district and hearing what they have to share about their respective departments. I am proud to say I leave the NALC Class of 2023 a better Legionnaire, but no better than anyone else.

Sarah "Smash" Barry Tobin

Commander, District 7

Legion Family delivers Thanksgiving meals to communities, soon-to-be servicemembers

Across the nation, members of the American Legion Family led efforts to bring Thanksgiving meals to members of their communities.

And, in some cases, they also provided a holiday experience for future U.S. servicemembers.

American Legion posts in Illinois opened their facilities to recruits going through basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes. Similar efforts took place in Florida with Navy recruits and in New Jersey with U.S. Coast Guard recruits.

In the Chicago area, American Legion Post 208 (Arlington Heights), Post 525 (Mount Prospect) and Post 974 (Franklin Park) all hosted Navy recruits, bussing them in from their training facility for a break from basic training. The recruits were provided with multi-course Thanksgiving meals, entertainment, games and an opportunity to call family and friends back home.

Post 208 has hosted the recruits for 23 years. One of this year's guests, Indianapolis native Jason Webb, appreciated the chance to call home. "I got to hear my mother's voice, she was happy," Webb said. "I told her I was going to see her soon. She knows I'm almost done."

In Pensacola, Fla., 25 sailors from NAS Pensacola Corry Station received a Thanksgiving meal from American Legion Post 340.

"I'm sure they are really missing their family. This is their first time away," Post 340 Legion Family member Mary Willemstein said. "They miss being around their family and we try to be a family to them."

And in New Jersey, 50 cadets from the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May were Thanksgiving guests of American Legion Clark-Eliason Post 352 in Somers Point. The post provided lunch and dinner, including a traditional Thanksgiving meal, while the recruits also were able to play games and watch football. It was the 15th year Post 352 has hosted the recruits.

Recruits arrived at the American Legion at 11:30 a.m. sharp and were planning to stick around into the evening enjoying food, mingling with veterans, playing games and watching the NFL on the three TVs behind the bar.

"Because they are away from home, we can feed them like they're family, because we're the closest thing to family," Post 352 Commander Robert Frolow said. "It's nice. It lets them be much more comfortable. You're away from home, but you're really not away from home."

The following are a few other examples of how the Legion Family stepped up to assist others over Thanksgiving. Posts are urged to share their stories and pictures at www.legiontown.org.

Arizona

In Safford, Swift-Murphy Post 32 continued its more than 40-year tradition of hosting a community Thanksgiving dinner. The post prepared 30 turkeys and 22 hams, serving more than 500 meals. Of those, 200 were delivered to homebound seniors, as well as first responders working on Thanksgiving.

California

In Salinas, American Legion Post 31 served more than 800 meals to the community, as well as provided to-go meals. More than 30 volunteers contributed to the effort.

Colorado

In Fountain, American Legion Post 38 hosted a free Thanksgiving dinner for the public. And earlier in the month, members of American Legion Riders Chapter 38 delivered Thanksgiving baskets to families in need.

Delaware

In Lewes, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 17 provided gift cards to 30 families in need identified by local schools.

Florida

In Delray Beach, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 65 donated five Thanksgiving dinner baskets to families in need.

Illinois

In Worth, Marrs-Meyer Post 991's Legion Family provided 43 homes with Thanksgiving baskets that included a frozen turkey, ground beef, chicken and non-perishables.

Iowa

In Polk City, American Legion Riders Chapter 232's 12th annual Holiday for Heroes event delivered 450 meal boxes to local veterans. The boxes included turkeys, potatoes, vegetables, rolls and pies.

Maryland

In Cambridge, Dorchester Auxiliary Unit 91's annual Thanksgiving dinner provided 200 dinners to post members, as well as local first responders. The unit also delivered meals to Legion Family members and other veterans who were homebound, ill or in a nursing home.

Massachusetts

In Gloucester, Capt. Lester S. Wass American Legion Post 3 prepared its annual Thanksgiving dinner that provided nearly 700 delivered meals to residents of Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester, Essex, Ipswich, Wenham and Hamilton.

New York

In Pleasant Valley, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 789 donated 25 pies to the Village Ecumenical Ministries Food Pantry to use in the pantry's Thanksgiving basket giveaway.

Pennsylvania

In Erie, American Legion Post 571 and the Wesleyville Hose Company teamed up to provide a free Thanksgiving Day dinner to members of the community. The idea for the meal was a collaboration between Post 571 Legionnaire Frank Hall and Wesleyville Hose Company Fire Chief Pete Kloszewski.

"We have been both been deployed, and sometimes you just do not have somewhere to go, and it sure beats having to sit down and have a Hungry-Man Dinner while sitting by yourself," Hall said. "We need to have comradeship and that is what the purpose of this is."

Hall also praised all those who helped make the meal possible. "The community response has been amazing, the response by the American Legion Family, Wesleyville Hose Company, the entire Borough of Wesleyville, Harborcreek and Lawrence Park has been unbelievable," he said. "I could not be more proud of the community right now."

Texas

In Spring Branch, American Legion Post 654 was one of four locations taking part in Operation Turkey. In less than two hours, the post facilitated the delivery of more than 2,700 to area residents in need and first responders who worked on Thanksgiving Day.

West Virginia

In Williamstown, American Legion Post 159 hosted its 18th free Thanksgiving dinner, as well as delivered meals to Williamstown and Waverly residents.

"It feels really heartwarming, and it feels amazing to touch so many people in the community," Post 159 Legion Family member Darla Van Horn said. "I said earlier this year that donations this year have been immense from all the sports teams, local businesses, families have just turned out in droves to turn them in. And we really feel it's important to share this Thanksgiving with so many people in any way we can coming in, having them pick up meals, or delivering something to their area locally."

Wyoming

In Saratoga, members of American Legion Post 54 staged its fourth late-day free potluck buffet dinner that was open to members, friends and the public. The post provided five turkeys and one ham, while Legion Family members and others were invited to bring in a side dish. More than 60 people attended the meal.   

Comedy is the best medicine for veterans

What happens when two comedians walk into a virtual podcast studio?

Hilarity ensues as it does when professional comedian and Air Force veteran PT Bratton appears as the special guest on this week's episode of The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast. Bratton joins fellow comedian and podcast co-host Ashley Gutermuth and co-host Amy Forsythe.

It's not all jokes, however, as the discussion also includes talk of using comedy to improve mental wellness. Bratton and Gutermuth support The American Legion Be the One mission to end veteran suicide.

"The mission by The American Legion to get behind veteran suicide is one I wholeheartedly support," he said. "There's purpose in us being here. And sometimes we lose sight of that. Not everyone is going to be a professional comedian. But I found my purpose in making people laugh."

They are inspired by the feedback they receive from veterans at their shows. 

"If we can help just a little bit to give people hope, to give them enough to make it another day, I think we're making a positive impact," Bratton said. "That's what keeps me going."

As founder and CEO of Clean Comedy Connection, Bratton combines his advocacy for comedy as a mental health wellness strategy with producing clean comedy experiences all over the country. He also serves as a comedy instructor with Armed Services Arts Partnership, where he learned the ropes as a comedian 

Just before he was about to get laid off, he went to a comedy show and met a newly minted comedian who went through a comedy boot camp for veterans. 

"It gave me the foundation of joke telling and joke writing," he said. "It's been an amazing ride. I've even done comedy at the White House. It's been a blessing."

Bratton served more than 10 years in the Air Force as a military policeman and special agent with the Office of Special Investigations. He recalled time he spent serving in Japan during the winter.

"They don't shovel the streets," he said. "You know how we shovel and put chemicals down to break down the ice? They may shovel it. But if they do, they leave a thin layer of ice. It adds to the adventure."

While in the Air Force, Bratton was among those who shined a positive light no matter the circumstances. "Sometimes things go wrong and you need someone on the team to help you power through it."

Additionally, Gutermuth and Forsythe also discuss:

• The importance of employing military spouses.

• The role of influencers as a way to boost recruiting efforts.

The American Legion Blood Donor program, which has been in existence since 1946.

Check out this week's episode, which is among more than 210 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion's YouTube channel.

 

We oppose the PLUS Act because we stand for veterans

Dear American Legion Family and Friends,

Let me say this in the clearest terms possible: Veterans should feel safe and confident when filing for claims, knowing that no matter who they choose for representation, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has reviewed, approved and accredited that party. 

That is why The American Legion opposes the PLUS (Preserving Lawful Utilization of Services for Veterans) Act. If enacted, the PLUS Act would transition our system of securing benefits for disabled veterans to an unregulated profit-driven industry.

Currently, there are unaccredited third parties that present themselves to veterans as legitimate claims service companies to assist veterans in obtaining their earned benefits. The PLUS Act aims to legalize these companies by allowing automatic accreditation after 90 days regardless of whether VA has completed its verification process. The VA-accreditation program exists to ensure that veterans and their family members receive appropriate representation on their VA benefits claims. The American Legion wants to hold bad actors accountable, not give them a free pass to prey on veterans.

Our team is working hard to protect all veterans from the PLUS Act. In September 2023, The American Legion sent a letter of opposition to the congressional representatives sponsoring the Plus Act and I personally voiced our opposition during my congressional visits just last month.

However, there is legislation that would help veterans elude the clutches of bad actors. In an effort to protect our nation's veterans, The American Legion supports the Governing Unaccredited Representatives Defrauding (GUARD) VA Benefits Act. The legislation would reinstate criminal penalties for unaccredited claim representatives who charge unauthorized fees while assisting veterans with filing a claim for VA disability compensation benefits.

The American Legion continues to muster support to protect all veterans and their families from claims sharks. Join us in telling Congress to support the GUARD Act.

Daniel J. Seehafer

National Commander

The American Legion

 

Wisconsin posts help fully fund service dog for local veteran

Wisconsin nonprofit Custom Canines trains and provides service dogs to veterans at no charge. With the cost of training a service dog reaching upwards of $26,000, the nonprofit asked The American Legion in La Crosse County if they could help in funding.

The seven Legion posts in the county got behind the mission and made a competition out of it. The post that raised the most money for Custom Canines would win naming rights for the next service dog and present the canine to the recipient veteran during a ceremony at the respective post. Fundraising efforts got underway over the summer and ended this past Veterans Day.

The Legion posts in La Crosse County fully funded a service dog with $30,000 raised. And American Legion Post 51 in West Salem, Wis., won the competition with the largest donation of $13,000.

Post 51 Commander Benjamin VanHorn said it was easy for everyone to get behind Custom Canines' ask. "It's a local Wisconsin nonprofit trying to help local veterans. And that's our post. If we are going to help, there's no questions asked from the Auxiliary or Sons of The American Legion."

VanHorn added that the post has honorary members who are ineligible for membership in the Legion but still support Post 51's missions. "We treat them like family. And when you tell them that, ‘Hey, we are going to raise money to support the fully funding of a dog to help a local veteran,' there's no question involved. They are all in. They're behind the mission 100 percent, and it makes fundraising much easier."

Post 51 held dinners every Monday evening to raise funds for the service dog that were spearheaded by Jim Gilbertson, the post service officer. When VanHorn presented the fundraising effort to post members, Gilbertson "loved it. He took that and ran," VanHorn said. Gilbertson passed away unexpectedly in September. But the dinners continued in his honor.

"We all pitched in and kept those dinners going," VanHorn said.

Post 51 presented Custom Canines with a check on Nov. 20 during a ceremony held at the post. During the presentation, post members announced that they are going to name the service dog Gilby in honor of their friend and service officer, Jim Gilbertson.

"I think he (Gilbertson) would be proud," VanHorn said.

VanHorn is appreciative of the fundraising success that was made possible by Post 51's Legion Family and community. The success "boils down to the four pillars" of The American Legion, he said. "If you have the four pillars of The American Legion in place, the community involvement and membership will be there. And the post has been very good about pushing the pillars and that's the reason why we have such good community support."

And now, a financial burden has been lifted off Custom Canines thanks to the La Crosse County American Legion and its community. The $30,000 donation "was pretty amazing. It was a big thing," VanHorn said.

 

 

Host a holiday blood drive

The American Legion's annual Holiday Blood Donor Drive is currently underway and runs through Dec. 31. During this time, American Legion Family members are encouraged to give blood and host blood drives as part of the American Legion Blood Donor Program – an organizational effort that has existed since 1946 to help a lifesaving cause. Learn more at legion.org/security/blood.

In 2022, American Legion posts had 59,835 donors donate 100,786 pints of blood. 

If your American Legion post, district or department is interested in hosting a blood drive in your community, the American Red Cross recommends visiting this link to learn more about how to start the process. Additional information about blood donations can also be found at:

- American Red Cross, redcrossblood.org

- American Association of Blood Banks, aabb.org

- Council of Community Blood Centers, givingblood.org

The American Legion Blood Donor Program recognizes departments in two areas for blood donation efforts: post participation and individual Legionnaire participation. Post participation awards are given to departments with the highest number of participating posts. Individual participation awards are given to departments with the highest percentage of individuals giving blood to the program.

 

 

 

 

 

Nebraska squadron shares flag etiquette with fifth-graders

In his role as national chairman of the Sons of The American Legion's Americanism Commission, Chris Casey challenged the SAL National Executive Committee to take the commission's goals back to their respective detachments.

It's a challenge Casey and the rest of the Legion Family at Benson (Neb.) Post 112 is meeting.

Members of SAL Squadron 112 led a flag etiquette ceremony at Pawnee Elementary School on Nov. 18. The event allowed fifth-graders at the school to learn how to properly fold a flag as well as what the American flag represents.

"These classes assist in driving home Americanism for these young people," said Casey, who is also adjutant for Squadron 112 and the Detachment of Nebraska.

"The American Legion has urged Congress to approve an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow Congress to prohibit the physical desecration of the U.S. flag. That amendment has not progressed and may never do so in today's political climate," Casey added. "These classes help shape the view of young people and develop their reverence for the flag. When these young students become the elected representatives of the people, they will get a flag protection amendment passed. They will do so because of the great respect that was instilled in them by The American Legion."

"We have had our security officer working with our students to raise and lower the flag each day, but I don't think that our students truly understood the significance and the meaning behind the raising and lowering of the flag, and how we fold and store the flag," Pawnee Elementary Principal Cheryl Prine told KMTV. "… This opportunity not only educates the students but will bring about some reverence and respect for what they are doing."

 

Linus Lundqvist to drive No. 8 American Legion Honda in 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES

Chip Ganassi Racing announced today that Linus Lundqvist will pilot the No. 8 American Legion Honda throughout the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.

Lundqvist, 24, signed a multi-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing on Aug. 31 after setting the fastest lap times in two of his first three INDYCAR races. Officially embarking on the 2024 season as a rookie, he is set to take on the full calendar primarily sporting The American Legion's red, white and blue Be The One livery, including the historic 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500.  

"We are thrilled to build off the championship season with Chip Ganassi Racing and form this new relationship with a talented young driver in Linus Lundqvist," American Legion Chief Marketing Officer Dean Kessel said. "Linus' enthusiasm and personality stood out to our team since day one, and I am confident that he will be a quality ambassador for our organization and the Be The One platform. Our collective focus continues to extend beyond the racetrack, and we will continue to lead the charge to end veteran suicide."

"I'm incredibly excited to be partnering with The American Legion for the 2024 INDYCAR season," Linus Lundqvist said. "To move on to the next chapter and to be connected to the veteran community makes it even more special. A major thank you to Dean and The American Legion for this opportunity. I am privileged to be able to represent such an impactful organization and I am looking forward to our work together with Be The One."

"I am very much looking forward to Linus getting on the track to show the kind of driver that we all believe he will be," Chip Ganassi said. "In addition, I believe Linus' off-track presence will match well with the strong partnership we have with The American Legion. Over the last three seasons it has been a tremendous honor to work alongside The American Legion in our shared mission to save veteran lives. So, stepping into 2024 with Linus piloting the 8 car our expectations are rather high and I am very much looking forward to our first official race together in March."

The number one issue facing the veteran community is suicide, according to the National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. It is estimated that 17 veterans take their lives each day. The American Legion instituted the Be The One initiative to activate a national platform aimed at reducing the rate of veteran suicide. Be The One is focused on destigmatizing asking for mental health support and providing peer-to-peer support and resources in local communities.

The American Legion and Chip Ganassi Racing have maintained a partnership since 2021. The team has presented The American Legion primary livery for 28 races in that span accounting for 12 podiums and four wins. Lundqvist will join a worldclass roster of drivers to have represented The American Legion behind the wheel, including defending Rookie of the Year Marcus Armstrong, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, Indianapolis 500 Winner Tony Kanaan and two-time INDYCAR champion Alex Palou. 

The 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship was won by Alex Palou last season, capturing his second Astor Cup adorned in The American Legion branding. "They (Chip Ganassi Racing) have rallied behind our mission, launching not only a brand last year, but also our Be The One platform, which is all about destigmatizing veterans asking for help," said Kessel after the Astor Cup was secured. "The visibility is off the chart and for our 1.6 million members across the country, this is amazing."

The American Legion and Chip Ganassi Racing also are teaming up for Giving Tuesday, a global generosity movement to help transform communities across the world on Nov. 28. Chip Ganassi Racing encourages you to think about The American Legion as your preferred charity during this season of generosity.

Chip Ganassi Racing and The American Legion will be launching their "12 Days of #VetsGiving" on Giving Tuesday, where 12 unique prize packages will be listed for auction with a buy-it-now option, as well. #VetsGiving was first launched by the team in 2022, where nearly $40,000 was raised. All proceeds will go directly to The American Legion.

Click here to watch Linus Lundqvist's recent visit to American Legion National Headquarters.