In an unprecedented year, The American Legion’s national commander has testified four times before Congress. Most notably was National Commander Dan Dellinger’s testimony on May 15 alongside former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki only 10 days after The American Legion’s call for his resignation. Dellinger said the testimonies before Congress and the hundreds of media interviews conducted by national staff and himself regarding Shinseki’s resignation and the VA scandal that plagued several facilities put the Legion’s name at the top.
“Our name right now is at the forefront of all veterans service organizations,” Dellinger told attendees of the Legion’s 51st annual National Membership Workshop in Indianapolis on Aug. 1. “We’ve been given an opportunity, and it’s up to us to capitalize on that now. If we want to keep a place at that table in front of Congress to make sure our veterans are taken care of, it’s called (membership) numbers.”
The calling for Shinseki’s resignation and the Legion’s fight to assist veterans that have been affected by delayed access to VA health care has resulted in an increase in membership.
“I had a gentleman walk up to me in Wisconsin who said he hadn’t paid his membership dues in five years,” Dellinger said. “But after what we did to stand up for our veterans, he was going to pay his dues. That’s what I’m hearing around the country.”
However, the call for Shinseki’s resignation also created some pushback from members. “The Legion has been trying to figure out ways to stay relevant and this year has been a shining example of what The American Legion represents,” Louis Celli, director of The American Legion’s Legislative Division, said to attendees at the workshop. “For those members who threaten to drop their membership (due to the calling of Shinseki's resignation), I would say to them, ‘We’re not asking you to join for you, we’re asking you to join and remain a member for those men and women who are coming home today who need our assistance. We’re asking you to support this organization so we can continue to support our returning veterans, our aging veterans, and our veterans of all wars. We’re asking you to remain a member so we can continue to be relevant.’”
Dellinger asked all district commanders in the room to stand and said that they were the ones to “make or break this membership year. It’s up to you to motivate your posts and to be that liaison between you and your department.” He also reminded all Legionnaires in attendance that they have a responsibility to talk to new members, assist them with their needs and provide institutional knowledge.
“It comes down to two words: just ask,” Dellinger said. “If we don’t continue to grow our membership, who is going to take care of our veterans? We have a big responsibility. It isn’t the cost of war, but it’s that 50 years of care for our veterans afterward. That’s our charge.”
American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger described a $16.3 billion Department of Veterans Affairs health-care reform package, passed 91-3 by the Senate Thursday, as "an important step" but "only one step, and only a beginning" in a journey just getting under way to repair problems in VA. The measure, in part, provides funds for VA patients to receive care outside the system, which Dellinger said must be a temporary response until a permanent solution can be reached.
"The VA reform package that passed overwhelmingly in the Senate Thursday night is an important step in the process to begin repairing systemic problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs," Dellinger said. "But it is only one step, and only a beginning. The American Legion applauds efforts by both the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs this week to reach an agreement to provide funds that will get veterans the health care they need as quickly as possible. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders and House Committee on Veterans’ Chairman Jeff Miller showed great leadership in carving through political differences and putting the needs of veterans first. The American Legion is confident President Obama will sign this measure into law so we can all continue working together toward a lasting solution to ensure reasonable access to VA health care and restore trust among veterans who depend on the system."
The reform legislation was introduced after whistleblowers across the country came forward to report that medical appointment records had been falsified in many VA health-care facilities. The American Legion has conducted, and continues to conduct, town hall meetings and Veterans Crisis Command Centers in those communities to provide direct assistance for veterans whose appointments and benefits applications have been delayed.
Founding Fathers Brewing Co., which recently teamed up with The American Legion to support military families, will sponsor a party after the Legion’s 96th National Convention Parade in Charlotte, N.C., on Aug. 24, brought to attendees by the Department of North Carolina.
The party is from 5-8 p.m. in the parking lot across from the Charlotte Convention Center – adjacent to the endpoint of the parade at North Tryon and Stonewall streets. Live entertainment will be provided by The Hickabillies, a band formed by servicemembers during their deployment to Iraq. Several area food trucks will also be available to purchase items from.
Founding Fathers will have a booth in the Charlotte Convention Center Exhibit Hall (Hall B), with chances to win a coupon for a Founding Fathers beer redeemable at the party Sunday evening.
Details of the party are subject to change.
The American Legion’s 51st annual National Membership Workshop, Aug. 1-2, will get underway in downtown Indianapolis at the Sheraton Indianapolis City Centre Hotel. Hundreds of Legionnaires will be in attendance for the workshop to discuss membership strategies, share membership success stories and hear from distinguished guests.
National Commander Daniel Dellinger, National Adjutant Daniel Wheeler and National Membership & Post Activities Committee Chairman Ken Orrock will address the attendees, as well as special guests Mike Helm — leading candidate for 2014-2015 national commander.
Visit www.legion.org for coverage of the workshop.
For American Legion family members unable to attend the Legion’s 96th National Convention, Aug. 22-28, in Charlotte, N.C, several events will be streamed live on www.legiontv.org.
The live streaming events include:
Color Guard Competition – Aug. 22, 5 p.m.
Memorial Service – Aug. 24, 11 a.m.
General Session Day 1 – Aug. 26, 8 a.m.
General Session Day 2 – Aug. 27, 9 a.m.
General Session Day 3 – Aug. 28, 9 a.m.
All times are Eastern Standard Time, and are tentative and/or subject to change.
Visit www.legion.org/convention for stories, videos and photos during the national convention.
The American Legion wants an investigation of all DoE-contracted student loan servicers that have lent to servicemembers, not just the servicer that is known to have violated federal law.
In letters written to House and Senate leaders, the Legion has requested that both chambers of Congress implore the Department of Education to audit all of its contracted private lenders that have lent to servicemembers for potential violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The Legion's request is spurred by the May 14 settlement between the Department of Justice and Navient (formerly Sallie Mae) in which Navient acknowledged that it violated the SCRA in lending to servicemembers.
The SCRA gives servicemembers who are on active duty certain benefits when borrowing private and federal student loans, including an interest rate of no more than 6 percent. Sallie Mae is alleged to have made the verification process of servicemembers' active-duty status excessively burdensome, including a practice of requiring the servicemember to submit paperwork to prove he or she is on active duty. This violates the SCRA, which requires that loan servicers verify a servicemember's active-duty status themselves.
Amid reports that many other loan servicers had similar practices in place, the Legion wants DoE to investigate all of the other 11 loan servicers that have had contracts with DoE for student lending. These contracts require the servicers to follow all federal laws.
The Legion stated this request in a letter written to Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., of the Senate's Health, Education, Pension, and Labor Committee. A similar letter was sent to Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., and Ranking Member George Miller, D-Calif., of the House's Committee on Education and the Workforce.
The Legion's support of this issue is embodied in Resolution No. 72: Support and Strengthen the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
Weeks before the settlement, Sallie Mae separated into two companies - Navient, which services loans the company issued as Sallie Mae and collects on debts - and Sallie Mae, a bank that focuses on originating private student loans. The companies have set aside a reported $173 million to fund settlements with borrowers for violations of federal laws.
Opportunities for veterans, servicemembers and their spouses to find meaningful employment are abound in August.
The American Legion and its partners will sponsor 25 veterans career fairs next month through the national Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) program and initiatives at the post and department level. Through HOH, a military employment program created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, fairs will reach rural areas, such as North Platte, Neb., and also extend to metropolitan areas, such as Tampa, Fla.
The American Legion has been an official strateic partner of HOH since its launch in 2010, often providing Legion posts as hosting sites for the fairs. The U.S. Chamber reports that, as of March 31, 255,000 hires have been made at their career fairs. The organization's goal is to hire 500,000.
This month, HOH will also host two career fairs exclusively for military spouses, welcoming them to Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Aug. 19 and Fort Polk, La., on Aug. 26-27. Other notable venues include Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, on Aug. 28, and a two-day "jobs summit" at Fort Bragg on Aug. 12-13 which will feature employment workshops and opportunities to network with senior officials from companies and government agencies.
The month will cap off with the Legion's signature organizational job fair on Aug. 26 in Charlotte, N.C. - the site of its national convention. Last year, at the Legion's 95th National Convention, 80 employers were on hand, looking to hire veterans, servicemembers and their spouses.
Prior to attending an HOH career fair, attendees are encouraged to pre-register through the job fair's page on the U.S. Chamber's website and upload their resumes to allow easy access for employers on hand. Attendees are also encouraged to take advantage of the employment workshops usually held before the career fairs, which often include personal resume reviews, interview exercises and general job-search help.
Veterans, servicemembers and their spouses are invited to attend all HOH job fairs. For a complete listing of this month's Legion-sponsored job fairs, visit the Legion's job fair calendar on Legion.org.
Four years ago, The American Legion searched for a permanent American Legion Baseball World Series site. And during the Legion's National Executive Committee's Spring Meetings in May 2010, it was announced that Shelby, N.C., won the bid.
Since Shelby, N.C., became the permanent home of the American Legion Baseball World Series in 2011, records have been set annually with paid attendance and ESPN3.com viewership. Now, starting with the 2014 ALWS, viewership will reach 80 million over the next five years – the championship game will be televised live for the first time in 35 years, by ESPNU. This deal is a result of the perseverance and commitment of all involved to maintain American Legion Baseball’s reputation as one of the most successful and tradition-rich amateur baseball programs in the world.
Viewership of the World Series has expanded in recent years thanks to ESPN3.com live‑streaming all games and having the Series played at a permanent site. Total paid attendance for the 15‑game 2013 ALWS was 104,726, eclipsing the 2012 record of 101,925 and the 2011 record of 86,000.
North Carolina resident Carl White produced a video on how Shelby became the permanent home of the American Legion Baseball World Series. Watch the video here.
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.”