The American Legion will conduct a two-day entrepreneurial course, “For Her Entrepreneurship – Resources, Opportunities, Experiences & Support (For HEROES),” in conjunction with its annual Washington Conference in the nation’s capital. The course is free, and is specifically designed for women military veterans and military spouses.
The two-day session intensive entrepreneurship course was created by the Legion in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. After completing this free course, participants will have the tools and knowledge they need to identify a business opportunity, draft a business plan and launch their enterprise.
“SBA is truly committed to help veteran women entrepreneurs succeed,” SBA Associate Administrator Rhett Jeppson said. “We know that more than 250,000 military servicemembers transition out of active duty each year, and that women are outpacing men with respect to starting new businesses. We provide these aspiring entrepreneurs support to launch their business, and that’s why we’re partnering with the Legion to provide this course.”
The training will be offered during The American Legion’s 96th Annual Washington Conference. The curriculum includes an introduction to entrepreneurship and skills training, plus detailed information on resources and support programs designed specifically to aid veterans working with the federal government. Business conceptualization, business plan formulation, financial planning, start-up funding, marketing and related topics will be explored as well.
“Entrepreneurship is the answer for many veterans who find the job market a particularly tough one these days,” said Joe Sharpe, director of the Legion’s Veterans Employment & Education Division. “That is one reason why, according to the SBA, veterans are more likely than non-veterans to start their own small businesses. Heretofore, however, the entrepreneurial interests of women veterans have been neglected. That is why this ground-breaking session will be so valuable.”
Participants who complete this course also will be provided access to an eight-week online Foundations of Entrepreneurship course offered by IVMF. Completion of the course will require approximately 10 hours of study each week and walk participants through the fundamentals of developing a business plan.
The March 2014 report of the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) Claims Backlog Working Group was released during today’s press conference in Washington conducted by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Bob Casey, D-Pa.
The working group, put together in July 2013 by Heller and Casey, proposed several improvements to VA’s claims process that could help to ensure more accurate and timely decision-making, thereby reducing the claims backlog.
Louis Celli, Legislative director of The American Legion, said, “It is especially important that the working group reached out to the veteran stakeholders from the very beginning.” With more than 2,900 accredited representatives working nationwide to help veterans receive their earned benefits, Celli said the Legion “has gained valuable insight into the claims process that can help to find solutions that will work.”
The working group’s report focused on three areas of improvement:
1. Veterans must be given every tool to understand the claims process and what they can do to provide information that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) needs. To help accomplish this, veterans need to be better educated about the claims process, they need direct access to veterans service organizations for assistance, and the submission of fully developed claims (FDCs) needs to be incentivized with monetary benefits.
The American Legion has played a leading role in VA’s FDC program and has helped to increase their numbers through the efforts of more than 2,900 accredited representatives nationwide who help veterans file their claims.
2. VBA and VA’s regional offices (VAROs) must make structural changes to ensure that claims are being processed accurately and efficiently, ensuring accountability and oversight of VARO management, efficient processing of claims electronically, and improvement of transparency to the public on the size and scope of the current backlog.
The American Legion passed Resolution 99 at its August 2012 national convention in Indianapolis, which calls on VBA to increase transparency in its claims processing.
3. The federal government must make veterans’ benefits claims a priority. Many delays in claims processing are created because VBA requires evidence to prove claims that are held by outside agencies. To improve the process, federal agencies need to transfer requested information more rapidly, and VBA employees must process that information in a timely fashion.
Heller has introduced legislation, the “21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act,” designed to improve the claims submission process, practices at VBA regional offices and federal agency responses to VA requests for information.
For an overview of the working group’s report, click here.
Throughout its history, the home for South Carolina Post 3 in Greenville has been used as a bomb shelter, USO club and a place for square dances.
But in 2002, the building transformed into a museum — educating residents, school students and others on military history — thanks to the vision and perseverance of Cecil Buchanan, a 45-year member of the post.
“Cecil is the catalyst that really got it going,” said Peter Butchart, volunteer director of the Cecil D. Buchanan War Museum. “He was quite a collector himself.”
The vision to turn the 1933 building into a post museum started when Buchanan visited the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla. The director there encouraged Buchanan to start a museum at his post. When he pitched the idea to the executive committee, the members approved the idea but told him, “It will never work.”
The post museum now averages 12,000 visitors a year from all 50 states and several foreign countries.
“It became Cecil’s passion, maybe obsession,” Butchart said. “He wanted this thing to be so good. He contacted people. He made phone calls. He asked for donations and got a lot of donations.”
The museum boasts thousands of artifacts, documenting each war era from the Spanish-American War through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Included among the interesting pieces of memorabilia that adorn the walls, floors, nooks and crannies of the post building are:
Each year, more than 100 school groups — from elementary through high school and even college — regularly visit the museum. During these visits, students hear from veterans from war eras that they are currently studying or researching. Earlier this month, for example, a homeschooled group listened to several World War II veterans talk about their experiences in the Pacific and European theaters.
“The military history is not being taught, especially in the public schools,” Butchart said. “We feel it’s important to teach this part of our country’s history. And we’re doing our part. And we do it not just with school groups, but everyone who walks in those doors gets a history lesson.”
It was a love of military history and teaching that drove Buchanan to create the museum.
“I saw that war history was not being caught,” said Buchanan, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran who also taught computer technology and computer science at nearby Greenville Technical College. “In my political science courses, I made them tie in with past war histories.”
The museum’s success would not possible without Buchanan, of course. And on June 23, 2013 — Buchanan’s 62nd wedding anniversary — the post officially renamed the museum after him. At the ceremony, Buchanan was surprised when he was presented with the Order of the Palmetto (the highest civilian award in South Carolina).
“I was thrilled to death,” Buchanan said. “I think anyone would be thrilled to death to receive such recognition.”
Butchart said that Buchanan leads by example. Even when Buchanan’s health began to fade, he would set up a work night at the museum.
“Cecil is very dedicated,” Butchart said. “He may not have been able to work more than an hour, but he worked hard and is fun to work with. He’s an enjoyable guy. He’s been a great example to all of us.”
The museum is located at Post 3, 430 N. Main St. in Greenville, S.C. Admission is free. Call (864) 271-2000 or visit www.americanlegionmuseum.weebly.com/ for more information.
The American Legion’s legislative advocates and staff experts in Washington rarely have to worry about filling up their to-do lists. Throughout the year, they write scores of letters and position papers in support of veteran-friendly legislation and against bills that defy Legion resolutions. They draft press releases and are interviewed by print, broadcast and digital media in the nation’s capital. They either stage or participate in national press conferences, testify in congressional hearings and exchange information with lawmakers and their staffs. A recent three-hour glimpse into the day-to-day activities of Legion staffers reveals how reaction to an unanticipated political event and a series of routine meetings on the Hill can turn into something more.
It is the afternoon of Feb. 26, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., has just released his “Tax Reform Act of 2014 Discussion Draft.” The document’s name matches its intent: to get the ball rolling on the creation of comprehensive federal tax reform legislation.
The table of contents prefacing Camp’s 194-page “let’s discuss” piece is 11 pages long. Much of the text is baffling to anyone other than legislative experts, tax attorneys and accountants. But, one section under the heading “Reform of Business Credits” is straightforward and clearly alarms the Legion staffers. Recommended is a repeal of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC - pronounced “WHAT-see” by Capitol Hill insiders), eliminating a tax break for employers who hired individuals from one or more targeted groups prior to 2014. Among those groups are military veterans.
Less than 24 hours after Camp’s discussion draft appeared, the Legion’s Davy Leghorn and Shaun Rieley were atop Capitol Hill meeting with members of the House Ways and Means Committee staff to protest the idea of killing the WOTC tax credit.
It is a peaceful, civil protest. Almost academic. There is no finger wagging or raised voices. This is really how it works behind the scenes in Washington. These particular meetings weren’t prompted by Camp’s proposal at all. The timing of his draft document’s release and the Legion-led conversations about it was, as Rieley put it, “serendipitous.”
The meetings between the Legion and Ways and Means Committee members had actually been arranged weeks earlier, long before the tax-reform proposal was even anticipated. Leghorn and Rieley had made the appointments to talk about something completely different -- H.R. 3395 and its identical Senate companionl, S. 1624, both called the “Vow to Hire Heroes Extension Act of 2013.” The bills, introduced at the end of October by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., were designed to prolong the provisions of the original American Legion-supported VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 that encouraged veteran employment.
The extension act has been of particular interest to The American Legion not only because of its purpose, but for its literal content. The common language of the House and Senate versions was crafted by Richard Jones, tax counsel for CBS Corp. in New York and a Paid Up for Life (PUFL) member of the Legion. A former Army Ranger, Jones frequently collaborates with the Legion’s Veterans Employment & Education Division.
The Legion-commissioned, Jones-written extension act specifically calls for a continuation of the WOTC for veterans through Dec. 31, 2016.
At their first appointment, Leghorn and Rieley are joined by Ryan Gallucci of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The three veterans advocates listened intently as experts from the office of the House Ways and Means Committee’s ranking minority member, Sander Levin, D-Mich., pore over the Legion bill and offer suggestions for improvement. The experts also advise Leghorn, Rieley and Gallucci to solicit additional veteran-friendly co-sponsors. The VSO reps make their case in favor of the Extension Act to pass along to committee members.
Next, Leghorn, Rieley and Gallucci visit the office of Rep. Erik Paulsen, a majority (Republican) member of the House Ways and Means Committee. There, they are met by a staff member who takes many notes as the VSO reps promote the extension bill, arguing strongly to keep the WOTC tax credit for veterans.
The final meeting of the afternoon is considered the most important by Leghorn, Rieley and Gallucci – a chat with a member of Camp’s staff, who needs to clearly understand the Legion’s disapproval of the WOTC repeal. By this time, Rich Jones, accompanied by CBS colleague and fellow former Ranger Joshua Brackett, arrives from New York. With a half hour to spare before appointment time, the quintet of veterans gather around a small, wobbly table in the Cannon House Office Building basement cafeteria. There, they discuss the presentation strategy, which will center on a rousing “we won’t take no for an answer” plea from Jones.
At appointment time, the group climbs upstairs to the building’s third floor and Camp’s office. They meet the congressman’s legislative assistant. Relegated to the hallway by a reported lack of meeting space, the group assembles, makes introductions and explains the Legion agenda.
“In light of Chairman Camp’s proposal yesterday,” Jones begins, “there are those who would say that championing the extension of a WOTC is a lost cause. However, nothing can be further from the truth. Why? This week, the DoD released their downsizing plan which drastically cuts troop strength, which will send millions of veterans into a slow-growth economy. On the heels of this, the House Ways and Means Committee responds by releasing a tax-reform proposal that wipes out the veterans’ hiring tax credit mechanism? At a time when veterans need federal employment assistance the most, our government should make sure that every possible incentive for hiring veterans is in place.”
Jones continues: “Removing the veteran hiring tax credit is not good fiscal or legislative policy and is certainly not a cost-saving measure. We believe (that) our bill extending the WOTC is a smarter approach. It will put veterans to work, make them contributing taxpayers and, most important of all, will help them and their families successfully reintegrate into the civilian economy.”
A short discussion of bill specifics ensues. Everyone promises to “keep touching base” on the issue. As Camp’s aide retires to her office, Jones, Brackett, Leghorn, Rieley and Gallucci step outside to reflect on what was certainly a productive afternoon on Capitol Hill. Jones and Brackett, travelling separately back to New York, say their good-byes and make for Reagan National Airport and Union Station, respectively, while the Legion and VFW advocates trek back toward their offices.
“It was a good afternoon,” Leghorn assesses. “But we still have a lot of stuff to do.”
So, what’s next?
“We’d better get some more co-sponsors.”
Thus, another day on the Hill – no two of which are alike -- is scheduled for Leghorn and Rieley, two American Legion staff members who fully understand that road to legislative success is rarely linear.
The Legion is giving veterans who are looking for work a new ally in their job search.
Launched last month, the organization’s Career Center Newsletter aims to help veteran job-seekers who are either looking for employment or just testing the job market. Mailing out at the beginning of each month, the newsletter provides subscribers with a comprehensive listing of veterans career fairs that are coming to every area of the country. These fairs host military-friendly employers from the public and private sectors who are looking for candidates with proficiencies in all fields.
Most importantly, the career fairs are exclusive to veterans, active-duty military and their families.
The Legion or one of its partners has a sponsorship role in each fair. Companies there are often looking to hire or interview for positions on the spot. The fairs are as good of an opportunity for employers because it allows them to connect with a diverse pool of candidates who have a wide range of skills and experiences, thanks to the special types of skills that the military teaches.
The Career Center Newsletter also provides general job-search help with feature articles written by hiring experts. Subjects include résumé-writing tips, ways to research an employer before an interview and nailing the ever-important ‘elevator pitch.’
Subscribe on Legion.org’s Newsletters page to receive the Career Center Newsletter at the beginning of each month.
The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) presented gifts to participants this week at the fourth annual Marine Corps Trials at Camp Pendelton, Calif.
The Marine Corps Trials is an eight-sport paralympic-style invitational made up of wounded Marines and international wounded warriors.
American Legion family members handed out about 300 OCW backpacks with water bottles and baseball caps on two nights preceding the opening ceremonies for the games, which run through March 12. Among the Legion posts and Auxiliary units participating were Post 310 in San Diego, Post 365 in Vista, Post 255 in National City, Post 434 in Chula Vista and Post 282 in La Mesa.
This was the second year that OCW was represented at the event. This year, more than $14,000 worth of donations was allocated for the wounded warriors for the gifts as well as medals, plaques and trophies that will be awarded this week.
For more information about the games, click here.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is asking Congress to approve a $163.9 billion budget in fiscal 2015, an increase of about $10.1 billion over the department’s fiscal 2014 funding.
The 2015 budget would provide $68.4 billion in discretionary funding, which includes $56 billion for VA medical care, about $1.6 billion to help end veterans’ homelessness, and $1 billion to create the Veterans Job Corps. The budget also includes $95.6 billion for VA’s mandatory programs, including disability compensation and pensions for veterans.
The funding would provide health care for 9.3 million enrolled veterans, 6.7 million patients, and about 97 million outpatient visits. It would also provide disability compensation for 1.5 million veterans or survivors, and vocational/educational benefits for another 1.2 million veterans.
In VA’s ongoing war against its disability claims backlog, $138.7 million would be allocated for the Veterans Claims Intake Program, which would continue to implement the paperless claims system and improve veterans’ access to benefits information.
Looking ahead to fiscal 2016, the budget is proposing $58.7 billion in advance appropriations for VA medical care programs.
American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said that advance appropriations need to be included for all VA programs. "We recognize the primary importance of VA’s health care for our veterans, but we want to see all VA programs protected by advance appropriations, including benefits payments," he said. "That way, if our federal government decides to shut down again, America’s veterans won’t be left to worry about whether their benefits checks will show up on time."
A bill introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the "Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013," would provide advance funding to all VA programs. The bill (H.R. 813) passed the House last September and awaits Senate action.
The total budget request of about $1 billion for VA major ($562 million) and minor ($495 million) construction falls far short of The American Legion’s recommendation of about $6 billion annually for a decade – based on the recommendation of VA’s own Strategic Capital Investment Planning program, which indicated that VA needed $53 to $65 billion for construction over a 10-year period.
Dellinger testified to Congress last year that The American Legion "is very concerned about the lack of funding in the Major and Minor Construction accounts.... Clearly, if this underfunding continues, VA will never fix its identified deficiencies within its ten-year plan."
More than $7 billion in the budget would be used to expand and improve mental-health services for veterans, including treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and military sexual trauma. The funding would allow VA to continue its collaborative work on mental health with the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Finding effective treatments for PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are a primary concern of The American Legion. It conducted a month-long survey in February for veterans suffering from one or both of these conditions. Results of this survey will be announced and discussed at a TBI/PTSD symposium the Legion is tentatively planning for the spring.
The $1.6 billion budgeted to help homeless veterans would include $500 million for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, and $321 million for the Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing program. This investment is intended to help achieve VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s goal of eliminating homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015.
Dellinger said he was encouraged by the overall increase in VA’s budget increase, but that he would be weighing in with specific recommendations when he testifies in Washington on March 26 before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees.
American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger spoke to a joint session of the South Carolina legislature today and called on lawmakers to ignore those who complain that military benefits are too generous.
"I can think of no other occupation where members are not allowed to quit on the spot," Dellinger told a packed statehouse. "Unlike civilians, military members are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and face prison if they disrespect their employers. The so-called generous benefits are available to anyone willing to enlist, uproot their children from their schools and friends every two or three years, live in undesired locations, frequently separate from family members for long periods of time and expect spouses to begin a new career with each change of duty station."
Introduced to lawmakers seated in the capitol rotunda by Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, Dellinger paid tribute to the 140 men and women from South Carolina who lost their lives while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
"They died for their country," Dellinger said. "They died for their family. They died for you and me. They bring to mind a famous definition that ‘a veteran is someone, who at one point in their life, wrote a blank check payable to the USA for an amount up to, an including their life.’"
Dellinger said that his organization is frustrated that the Obama administration is trying to cut defense. "At a press conference last week the Secretary of Defense warned against becoming a hollow force," he said. "The American Legion believes that the administration’s 2015 budget is leading us in that direction. Cutting forces to pre-World War II levels makes no sense in a world where countries such as North Korea, Iran and Pakistan could become viable nuclear threats to our very existence. Moreover, we do not know the exact nature of future wars and conflicts. The American Legion believes that we must be prepared for any scenario.
Dellinger praised South Carolina for the value the state puts on military service. "With about 413,000 military veterans in South Carolina, the people of the Palmetto State know all about patriotism and service," he said.
He also praised State Rep. Stephen Goldfinch for his work on the South Carolina Military Service Integrity and Preservation Act, which adds criminal penalties to those who fraudulently represents themselves as veterans to obtain financial benefits. He presented Sen. William O’Dell and Rep. William Hixon with awards as The American Legion Department of South Carolina Outstanding Members of the Legislature for 2014. The lawmakers were recognized for their work on veterans issues, such as the inclusion of veteran status on South Carolina drivers’ licenses.