The American Legion will present $30,000 worth of gifts from its Operation Comfort Warriors program this weekend to the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M.
OCW provides items to assist the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded military veterans in VA centers, military hospitals and similar facilities.
The American Legion delegation - including members of the Legion Riders and Auxiliary – will donate aquatic therapy equipment, several television and DVDs, video game consoles and more. The group will also deliver donations for a “clothes closet” at Henderson House, a shelter for homeless women veterans and their children.
During the presentation, which takes place on Pearl Harbor Day, a member of the Department of New Mexico is expected to speak about the Day of Infamy.
During Past National Commander Jim Koutz’s fundraising drive, more than $1.1 million was donated to the OCW program, which has been used to procure items to assist in troops’ physical recovery as well as recreational activities such as a family day at an amusement park. Koutz originally set a goal of raising $500,000 for OCW during his tenure as national commander from 2012-2013. That goal was easily met and doubled by the time his year as commander ended.
American Legion Post 555, located inside the Miami Correctional Facility in Bunker Hill, Ind., about 70 miles north of Indianapolis, is one of six prison Legion posts in the state of Indiana. Since it was chartered in 2009, Post 555’s more than 70 members have donated nearly $24,000 to their local community, including a $1,000 donation to Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program.
American Legion Past National Commander Jim Koutz visited Post 555 members in late July to personally accept the OCW donation.
"I was asked by many fellow Legionnaires, ‘Why would you want to have a Legion post in a prison?’ My answer, ‘Because they were veterans first,’" Koutz said.
Post 555 members are able to fundraise and give back to their community by hosting food drives within the correctional facility. Inmates there work for state prison pay, which is 12 to 20 cents an hour.
"Yes, these men are incarcerated, but they are veterans who were proud to serve their country and are now proud to serve their community," Koutz said.
Members of Post 555 and Miami Correctional Facility staff members recently shared their thoughts on the value of having a Legion post inside a prison. Watch the video here.
"There is pride in everything that they do," said Mark Sevier, superintendant of the Miami Correctional Facility. "Being a member of the Legion is part of their makeup in making them a better person."
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is adding a 224,000-square-foot building that will open in 2015.
The contract for the museum’s newest building, which will be similar in size and shape to its three existing hangars, was awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District, for $35.426 million, and is being privately financed by the Air Force Museum Foundation, a non-profit organization chartered to assist in the development and expansion of the museum’s facilities.
Construction is to begin in spring 2014 and finish in summer 2015 with a public opening is anticipated in late 2015, according to a press release.
The new building will provide more educational opportunities, increase visitor access to the presidential and research and development aircraft, and improve visitor experience with space exhibits and large aircraft, said Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jack Hudson, museum director.
"We’re extremely excited about the fourth building because this new facility will help us to further tell the Air Force story with much needed exhibit space and also provide dedicated educational areas for programs based in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)," said Hudson. "There will be opportunities for visitors of all ages, but a special emphasis will be placed on programs that inspire and motivate our youth toward an Air Force or STEM career."
The new addition will focus on four major elements of the Air Force story:
The Presidential Aircraft Gallery will allow the museum to relocate and expand one of its most popular galleries, currently located on a controlled-access portion of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and accessible by bus to a small percentage of museum visitors. The fourth building will provide all visitors the opportunity to view this historic collection of presidential aircraft, and walk through four of them, including aircraft used by Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower as well as the Boeing VC-137C used by President Kennedy, also known as SAM (Special Air Mission) 26000 which carried his body back to Washington, D.C. from Dallas after his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, and served as the location where President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the new president.
The Research and Development Gallery will also to be relocated from the base and offer visitors the opportunity to view the world’s only remaining XB-70 and other aerospace vehicles. The exotic XB-70 could fly three times the speed of sound and was used as a research aircraft for the advanced study of aerodynamics, propulsion and other subjects. Research and development aerospace vehicles represent advances in technological problem solving and will increase the museum’s opportunities to teach STEM themes and principles.
The new Space Gallery will showcase the space shuttle exhibit featuring NASA’s first Crew Compartment Trainer (CCT-1), a high-fidelity representation of a space shuttle crew station used primarily for on-orbit crew training and engineering evaluations. As a major exhibit component of that gallery, visitors will be able to walk onto a full-size representation of a NASA space shuttle payload bay and look inside the CCT-1 cockpit and mid-deck areas. Conceptual plans call for the gallery to also include a Titan IV space launch vehicle, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft and many NASA artifacts such as a nose cap assembly, landing gear strut and a variety of astronaut equipment. A range of satellites and related items will showcase the Air Force’s vast reconnaissance, early warning, communications and other space-based capabilities.
Providing airlift remains a major mission of the USAF, and it forms a critical part of the Air Force’s ability to maintain global reach. The Global Reach Gallery will give the opportunity to house large aircraft currently in the museum’s collection, such as the C-141 Hanoi Taxi, which airlifted the first American POWs to freedom from Hanoi, North Vietnam in 1973. The Air Force’s airlift, aeromedical and evacuation missions will also be explained in this gallery.
The Air Force Museum Foundation recently gifted the funds necessary to begin construction of the building and will continue fundraising toward its campaign goal of $46 million, which would provide additional options and amenities for the building.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, is the service’s national institution for preserving and presenting the Air Force story from the beginning of military flight to today’s war on terrorism. It is free to the public and features more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles and thousands of artifacts amid more than 17 acres of indoor exhibit space.
Q: Should I appeal the VA's decision on my claim?
A: I encourage claimants to appeal an unfavorable decision if their representing service officer identifies information that VA missed that could result in a definite grant of benefits. However, there are cases where there is no legal basis for either appeal or reopening of the claim.
An initial appeal is referred to as a Notice of Disagreement (NOD), and it is imperative that you have accredited representation when filing a NOD. If you file a NOD without a representative, you may not be able to gain representation once the appeal process has begun, resulting in you being responsible for self-representation in the hearing.
When filing the appeal form, the claimant must tell VA that they disagree with the decision, and they must state if the disagreement is regarding one contention or multiple contentions listed on the same written decision. The claimant must also provide a reason for disagreement and cite evidence which supports their position.
The NOD must take place within one year from receipt of rating decision. At this point, the claimant becomes the appellate. The appellate is encouraged to utilize VA Form 21-0958 or VA Form 21-4138 as a secondary option. A NOD does not have to be packaged in either one of these forms in order to be accepted by the VA regional office (VARO). The NOD could be written on paper as long as it fulfills the requirement of informing the VA of disagreement and what is disagreed upon.
After proper receipt of the NOD, VARO will send correspondence to the appellate to determine if he or she desires a hearing, or a De Novo Review, taking into account all evidence while giving no consideration to the previous decision.
The upside to a NOD is that it preserves the effective date of a claim, meaning if a grant of benefits is achieved on appeal the appellate will be paid retroactively back to the date the claim was originally filed.
Find a Legion service officer in your state: www.legion.org/serviceofficers
A bill crafted with the help of The American Legion would, if enacted, correct a “bureaucratic nightmare” that has caused some servicemembers’ children to be billed for thousands of dollars in educational benefits for which they were originally approved. The Legion-backed corrective legislation, “GI Education Benefits Fairness Act”, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 22 by Rep. Bill Foster, a Democrat, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. A letter of support for the bill has been signed by American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger.
In a conference call to members of the press on Nov. 26, Foster explained his legislation. “The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides education benefits to servicemembers who serve on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001,” he said. “Many of our active troops can transfer their benefits. Under current law, the Department of Defense includes wards and foster children in the definition of ‘eligible child’ who can receive their parents’ GI Bill education benefits. However, the Veterans Administration does not.
“This has led to a bureaucratic nightmare for members of the … services and their families. One hundred wards and foster children were initially approved by DoD for education benefits and money was paid out to their schools. Then, in mid semester, the VA revoked their benefits, and the students and their families were notified that they would have to pay back all the money.”
In his letter of support to Foster, Dellinger said, “According to The American Legion’s Resolution No. 27 …The American Legion seeks and supports any legislative or administrative proposal that improves GI Bill education benefits so servicemembers, veterans and their families can maximize its usage, This bill would do this ….”
Foster said the legislation was inspired by the case of one of his constituents, Army Sgt. 1st Class Angela Dees. Several years ago, Dees transferred her Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits to her legal ward, Christopher, so that he could attend the University of Illinois in Chicago. The benefits transfer was approved originally but later rescinded, leaving Dees and her ward with a bill exceeding $10,000.
“I had straight As,” Christopher said. “I graduated third in my class and I had no other funding available. I didn’t think that I would need it. So for that to be taken away after I was already in school is heartbreaking. I think this legislation is very important – not only to me, but to hundreds of other kids that have been or will be affected.”
The bill’s sponsors solicited the support and aid of The American Legion as the proposed law was being written.
American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger slammed a Department of Defense proposal to shut down all military-run grocery stores in the United States as just "another plan to punish veterans" for Washington’s inability to balance the budget.
"As we count our blessings on Thanksgiving, shouldn’t we remember that it is our veterans and our military that have kept us safe and free?" Dellinger said. "And shouldn’t that gratitude extend everyday and not just on holidays? Many military retirees are on fixed incomes and rely on these commissaries. They devoted a life of service to this nation. Their health insurance premiums are going up and the Pentagon openly considers cuts to pay and benefits for those still serving in harm’s way.
"Is it too much to ask that other areas of the federal government be cut and that the men and women, who have already sacrificed so much for this country, be allowed to keep the benefits that they have earned? They have already paid an enormous price to be eligible for these benefits, far more than what it is costing the treasury. Enough is enough. Veterans benefits are a cost of war and a free society."
Dellinger also pointed out that many military retirees have chosen to live in communities based on their proximity to commissaries and military exchanges. Delegates at The American Legion national convention in 2012 unanimously passed a resolution opposing any efforts "to dismantle or downsize the Defense Commissary Agency."
The American Legion and Soldier’s Wish teamed up earlier this month in Branson, Mo., for the "Branson Veterans Homecoming." The week-long celebration – considered to be the country’s largest Veterans Day celebration – was filled with events and activities honoring U.S. veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families. The Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall also made an appearance during the week.
More than 50,000 veterans and another 175,000 guests were in Branson during the week; many were briefed on the Legion-Soldier’s Wish relationship by Richard Smith, deputy director of the Legion’s Americanism Division. Smith shared the mission of both the Legion and Soldier’s Wish with visitors, as well as educated them about the needs of veterans and active-duty communities, encouraging the public to participate in meeting the needs of many through volunteerism and other means.
Smith also participated in Branson’s 78th Annual Veterans Day Parade which was sponsored by American Legion Post 220 in Branson. Later that evening, Tony Orlando provided a Yellow Ribbon Salute at the Welk Resort Branson. The Yellow Ribbon Salute is a concert that Orlando has performed for the past 20 years. It has always been free to all veterans, active-duty military and their family members; it was Orlando’s final such concert. Orlando presented Soldier’s Wish with a special award on stage and offered to help support the organization.
The Legion and Soldier’s Wish also had a 53-foot semi truck in Branson for the week. The semi had a prominent position near Walmart’s Tribute to Heroes, where more than 2,000 veterans received a free show from 17 Branson entertainers.
During the week, Smith also came across a despondent homeless veteran. Smith, who taught in the Military Sciences Department at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, drew from that experience when reaching out to the veteran.
"I often told my students to shake the hand of our military personnel and especially give thanks," Smith said. "In addition, I asked these students/cadets to listen. The veteran that I met that day just wanted someone to listen. After 20 minutes of meeting this gentleman, he conveyed to me that he was ready to let go of life. I asked him why and asked him to walk with me. Together, we walked, smiled and shed a tear. After two hours, the professional folks from the local VA hospital arrived to assist.
"We spent about two and a half hours together and never exchanged names. What I will always remember about that trip is that I have a brother who found the strength to live and fight another day. He figured it out – not me. All I did was listen."
The Legion’s mission to make it easier for servicemembers to obtain commercial drivers licenses (CDLs) started with passage of a single federal law. Now, it’s reached every state.
On Feb. 4, Alabama will officially pass a law that waives the skills test requirement for current and former servicemembers who gained sufficient truck-driving experience in the military, making it the 50th and final state to pass such legislation. The Alabama bill caps off a collaborative effort from the Legion, the U.S. departments of Defense and Transportation, and National Governors Association to persuade every state’s legislature to waive its skills test requirements for veterans looking to obtain a CDL.
The Military Commercial Drivers License Act of 2012, which allowed states to lift their residency requirements for veterans applying for CDLs, made way for state legislatures to act. The Legion was the only veterans service organization to back the original federal legislation.
"There was sentiment that it might not be possible to persuade every state to act in unison in easing CDL requirements for military, but thanks to hard work from our national staff, our partners and Legionnaires everywhere rallying support for these laws in their state legislatures, we were able to accomplish what we set out to do," said Steve Gonzalez, assistant director for the Legion’s Veterans Education and Employment Division. "It’s not just a victory for us – it’s a victory for veterans everywhere who can finally put their service-learned skills to use."
This isn’t the Legion’s first victory in the realm of credentialing legislation, as the organization has been lobbying lawmakers to allow military-earned skills to meet requirements for professional certifications and licenses since the mid-1990s. However, most of the legislation that has been passed helps veterans obtain federal licenses, not state licenses.
That trend has officially been bucked now that all 50 states have waived their CDL skills test requirements for veterans with applicable military experience. Gonzalez, however, urged that the Legion’s work is far from done in lobbying state legislatures.
"States still have plenty of room to act when it comes to easing their requirements for veterans looking to obtain professional licenses and certifications," Gonzalez said. "For example, states can offer temporary teaching licenses to veterans and their spouses who move states due to service obligations. In this area, the Legion’s work is far from done."
In the summer of 1951, The American Legion offered "the world to a bunch of 17-year-olds who lived and breathed baseball and wanted nothing else but to play for our love of the game," said Carl Paul Maggio in his new book "Swinging for the Fences: How American Legion Baseball Transformed a Group of Boys into a Team of Men."
"Swinging for the Fences" is a memoir about Los Angeles Crenshaw Post 715 players, their lives before Legion Baseball, how they beat 16,000 other teams to win the 1951 Legion World Series championship and the lasting bond that they shared. In his book, Maggio also shares humorous stories about the team during their travels to play other Legion teams, and photos of the players and their many reunions together.
The Post 715 Legion Baseball team was comprised of 16 young men who previously played together in the 1940s at Rancho La Cienaga playground. "We named our (playground) team the Terrors because we knew we would strike terror in the hearts of our opponents," Maggio said. "Playing baseball in California at that time was comparable to going to church. Everyone did it. We were living in an unworldly period in which people played an innocent game just for the love of it."
Both the playground and Legion Post 715 team included well-known Major League Baseball (MLB) professionals Billy Consolo and Hall of Famer George "Sparky" Anderson. Consolo played for five different MLB teams from 1953-1962, most notably the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. "There wasn’t anything average about him (Consolo)," Maggio said. "He was exceptionally skilled in every aspect of any game." Consolo passed away in March 2008.
Anderson played one season for the Philadelphia Phillies, managed the National League’s Cincinnati Reds from 1970-1978, managed the American League Detroit Tigers from 1979-1995 and captured three World Series titles. Anderson is the first manager in baseball history to win a World Series in both National and American Leagues. He passed away in November 2010.
"(Anderson) was a scrappy, fun-loving athlete who had the proverbial ‘fire in the belly’ attitude," Maggio said. "He was rarely called Sparky by his friends from the playground. In fact, the nickname Sparky never fit the incredibly classy person who George Anderson really was to us. In a crowded ballpark full of fans yelling ‘Sparky,’ if he heard someone holler ‘George,’ he would turn around and seek that person out because he knew that it was a friend from the old days."
The Crenshaw Post 715 players won the 1951 American Legion World Series at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, now called Tiger Stadium and home to the Detroit Tigers. They were the first Legion Baseball team to travel by airlines to the Major League World Series.
"This book is not about just one person or one team," Maggio said. "It’s about the great game of baseball and all those who played the game and learned its life lessons. I pray that this memoir will be a legacy, not only to the 16 players who played on our American Legion team, but to the game of baseball as it once was played – for the love of the game."
To purchase "Swinging for the Fences," click here.
The American Legion is sadly paying its respects today to Lou Brissie Jr., a war hero, Major League Baseball icon and former national Legion Baseball director. Brissie, 89, passed away Monday at the Augusta (Ga.) VA hospital.
Brissie was raised in Ware Shoals, S.C., where he pitched for a local baseball team before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1942, serving with the 88th Infantry Division in Italy. Brissie returned from war in late 1944 as a decorated war hero with shattered bones in his left leg and two broken ankles from a German artillery barrage. He received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal and the Combat Infantry Award. After 23 surgeries, Brissie returned to baseball in December 1946 as a pitcher for the Philadelphia A’s.
"Somebody said one time that great goals are not achieved over a period of time, it’s every day," Brissie told The Augusta Chronicle several years ago. "You just have little small victories each day that help you. It was one of those victories, but it was a pretty good-sized one, because a lot of folks never thought I would get that far."
Brissie was eventually traded to the Cleveland Indians in April 1951 and finished his career with the team in September 1953. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ira Berkow chronicled Brissie’s life of overcoming "incredible odds with his leg in a protective metal case to realize his dream of pitching in the major leagues" in the book "The Corporal Was a Pitcher: The Courage of Lou Brissie."
Following his professional baseball career, Brissie served as national director of The American Legion Baseball program from 1954-1961. During his time with the Legion, Brissie led a team of Legion players to play baseball in eight Latin American countries and traveled to Australia to better develop youth baseball. For his contribution to youth and baseball, Brissie was awarded the "Americanism Award" by the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.