Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Pistols to support OCW program

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American Legion Past National Commander Jim Koutz not only delivered checks from the Legion family worth $66,000 for Operation Comfort Warriors during the Legion's Spring Meetings Thursday morning, he also announced the creation of a pistol to support the Legion's flagship wounded warrior support program.

A&A Engraving – who also created the Legion's Centennial Celebration pistol – has created 15 OCW pistols for departments to purchase and raffle off during fundraising events for the program. The OCW pistol is finished with 24-karat gold, antique gold, high polished nickel and black chrome. The Legion emblem is engraved in the custom metal grip, as well as a 50-star U.S. flag, the words "For God and Country," and the OCW logo.

Departments are limited to the purchase of one pistol. Cost is $2,895; a $1,000 deposit is required. Purchase price includes personalized engraving, a certificate of authenticity and a solid oak display case. It does not include sales tax or shipping and handling.

The OCW pistols can be ordered by calling Mark Smith with A&A Engraving at (605) 430-4238 or by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Production time for the pistols is 12 weeks after receipt of deposit.

Koutz's home post, Post 200 in Boonville, Ind., will raffle off a pistol in support of OCW. During his year as national commander (2012-2013), Koutz raised more than $1 million for the program.

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Legion to return medals, beret to veteran’s widow

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The American Legion’s Department of Virginia commander is hand-delivering combat medals and the green beret of a deceased Vietnam War veteran to his family in Los Angeles Monday. The items, which belonged to two-tour U.S. Special Forces soldier Richard Keener, who passed away in 1988, were discovered in a Goodwill Store in Vinton, Va., in April.

The veteran’s widow, Pat Keener, and family members will be at Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in Los Angeles to receive the medals and beret Monday at 10 a.m. Los Angeles-area American Legion members are coordinating a reunion ceremony there.

“I’ve been grieving for my husband 28 years, since his death,” Pat Keener said. “He was suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).” His death was also presumably connected to wartime exposure to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange, explained James Chapman, Virginia American Legion department commander.

Chapman said the medals and beret were discovered by Goodwill Store manager Charlene Allen, a U.S. Navy veteran. Among the decorations were a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. When she saw the contents of the donated box, Allen immediately contacted American Legion Post 3 Commander Roy Carpenter in Salem, Va. Carpenter then showed the discovery to Chapman and American Legion National Vice Commander Jim Lane during a post revitalization effort in Roanoke, Va.

Lane and Chapman, having seen the name Richard Keener etched on the back of one of the medals, each spent more than 10 hours searching the web for information. They found Keener’s obituary. They made more than 20 phone calls to locate family. “Lane looked up potential relatives’ phone numbers, and I placed the calls,” Chapman said. “I left messages. No response.”

The next morning, Pat Keener called Chapman and tearfully thanked him and The American Legion for finding a way to reconnect her late husband’s war medals and beret with the family. “She said she had not heard a word about Richard in 28 years,” said Chapman, who then reached out to Los Angeles Legionnaires to set up Monday’s ceremony at Patriotic Hall.

“A gracious thank you to those that turned the items over from the thrift store,” Pat Keener explained to Chapman in an e-mail. “I’m so glad they knew they were of great worth to the family.”

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Legion leadership challenged to educate department wide

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When members of The American Legion National Executive Committee arrived to the NEC Room at National Headquarters Thursday morning in preparation for Spring Meetings to resume, a homework assignment was waiting for them from National Commander Dale Barnett.

“The teacher came out in me this morning,” Barnett said in response to the homework, which listed key topics that were discussed during the meetings that he wants the NECman to share when they return to their respective departments.

First on the list was the passing of Resolution No. 1, which allows children of post-9/11 veterans with a VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher to apply for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship, which will also now award up to $20,000 in aid. As it currently stands, the scholarship is available for children whose parents died while on active-duty military service on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The changes to the scholarship will go into effect in 2017.

The passing of this resolution “fills a void (for military children) that currently exists,” Barnett said. “I want you to be my deputies and go out and educate on what happened here this morning with Resolution 1.”

Next was a validation for the $5 membership dues increase. “We can’t continue to lose members and balance a budget,” Barnett said. “If we don’t meet our membership goals we are going to be sitting here five years from now, and we are going to have the same discussion (on increasing dues).”

Barnett reiterated the need for educating members, and potential new members, on what membership dues pay for – “it goes to our (youth and veterans) programs and all of these great things that the commission chairman have shared that we’ve done; and it goes to the operating expenses of running the national organization.”

Lastly, Barnett called for the NECman to take an assessment on the success of their department’s strategic plan for membership growth.

“We have to inculcate a culture of growth in this organization,” he said. “Everyone can make a difference in this room. You’re my varsity; you’re my A team. You need to leave here and take this homework back and give your department a grade. Then you need to educate your department about what we’re going to do as an organization of The American Legion. And you need to implement an aggressive and forward looking plan that inculcates a culture of growth.”

Before the close of the NEC meetings, Past National Commander Jim Koutz delivered donation checks worth more than $66,000 for the Operation Comfort Warriors program from Indiana Legion posts, Auxiliary units, Sons of The American Legion squadrons and Legion Riders. Donations of nearly $4,000 for the Child Welfare Foundation were also delivered from several departments, as well as a check for $101,613 from the SAL.



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Legion Baseball to create department website network

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Members of The American Legion National Executive Committee passed three Legion Baseball resolutions Thursday morning during the organizations' annual Spring Meetings. The resolutions included the creation of a national Legion Baseball department website network, naming of the 2017 and 2018 regional tournament sites and dates, and the commendation of the Taylor Hooton Foundation.

Baseball website

The approval of Resolution No. 5, which is the creation of a national American Legion Baseball department website network, will give all 50 departments the ability to have a new, powerful and mobile-friendly baseball-specific website on one single hub. Currently, each department creates its baseball website independently. The new format will allow the departments to utilize one template which will have a similar look and feel across the platform. Each department will have the ability to opt-in and participate, with the majority of states expected to join prior to the 2017 season.

Targeted for a release in the fall of 2016, the website network will feature powerful tools, including scheduling, standings, statistics and social media integration. The ability to create team-specific and zone-specific pages is also expected.

“This is a terrific proposal to help continue to capitalize on our strong registration numbers and continue moving the program forward,” said Baseball Committee Chairman Gary Stone. “Sites that are more interactive and easier to use for the general public will be tremendously helpful and will help solidify our strong brand. We are excited to be able to reach out to more potential players and coaches to join in the great tradition of American Legion Baseball.”

In collaboration with the Legion's Media, Marketing and Communications Division staff, Legion Baseball staff has been working with multiple content management system vendors with significant experience in creating website networks for governing bodies. Legion Baseball will select a proposal from the technology providers in the near future.

Regional tournaments

The approval of Resolution No. 9 names the Legion Baseball regional tournament sites and dates for 2017 and 2018. The road to Shelby, N.C., for The American Legion World Series goes through eight eight-team regional tournaments each year. The champions from each of the regional tournaments will go on to participate in the American Legion World Series, which has continued to grow with record-breaking attendance in 2015 and with games streamed live on ESPN3 and aired on ESPNU.

“It is great to see how much our national tournament is growing,” Stone said. “We are excited to be able to host regional tournaments in these tradition-rich communities with the wonderful support of the local Legion posts, Legionnaires and volunteers.”

The dates for regional tournaments will be Aug. 2-6, 2017, and Aug. 8-12, 2018 in the locations listed below:

Region 1 – To be determined

Region 2 – To be determined

Region 3 – Asheboro, N.C.

Region 4 – New Orleans

Region 5 – Napoleon, Ohio

Region 6 – Dickinson, N.D.

Region 7 - Missoula, Mont.

Region 8 – Denver

Taylor Hooton Foundation

The Taylor Hooton Foundation (THF) was formed in 2004 in memory of Taylor E. Hooton, a 17-year-old high school athlete from Plano, Texas, who played American Legion Baseball and took his own life on July 15, 2003, after using anabolic steroids.

Taylor Hooton’s parents, family and friends founded the THF after learning of the growing number of middle school, high school and college students illegally using and abusing anabolic steroids, Human Growth Hormone (HGH), unregulated dietary supplements, and other appearance and performance enhancing drugs (APEDs).

As two tenants of The American Legion Baseball Code of Sportsmanship are “keep myself fit” and “keep a sound soul, a clean mind, and a healthy body,” the THF is widely recognized as a leader in education on the topic of youth APEDs in the United States, Canada and Latin America. With the passing of Resolution No. 12, The American Legion commends the Taylor Hooton Foundation for its efforts in providing parents, coaches and other adult influencers with knowledge and tools to help raise awareness about the dangers of appearance and performance enhancing drugs by making the right choices with respect to healthy lifestyle.

For more information on the Taylor Hooton Foundation, visit

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Riders with a cause

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Three Department of California American Legion Riders will head out May 10 from Oxnard, Calif., and attempt to do something only a handful of other motorcycle enthusiasts have done: travel 1,500 miles in 24 hours on the back of a motorcycle. And in doing so, they’ll also benefit a critical American Legion program.

Mick Sobczak, James Adames and Ronnie Womble will depart Oxnard at 2 a.m. May 10 and spend the next day riding through Arizona and New Mexico before ending up at the Gas Monkey Garage in Dallas. Sobczak, president of the Department of California Legion Riders and a member of J. B. Clark Post 149 in Escondido, said – according to the Iron Butt Association – only 3,673 other individuals throughout the world have traveled that many miles in 24 hours or less.

Sobczak said the idea for the ride came when he was with Adames and Womble, both members of Post 48 in Oxnard, during the 2016 California ALR state convention. The three wanted to do an “Iron Butt” ride of 1,000 miles or more; Sobczak suggested they turn it into a fundraiser for the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation program.

“Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation is one area where people don’t concentrate their donations,” Sobczak said. “They donate to all of the other funds in the Legion. Without our service officers, the Legion can’t do the job it does for veterans. Choosing that as our fundraiser has helped this thing take off like a wildfire.”

After Sobczak gave a presentation about the ride to the state convention, Rider delegates there passed the hat and raised $2,300. Since then, donations from chapters throughout the department have raised that total to more than $15,000. The goal is $20,000.

A chase vehicle will follow the three Riders and will be manned by California District 10 Legionnaire Monique Clemons, a lieutenant colonel in the Navy Reserve who also doubles as an EMT and flight nurse, and Ray Ficek, vice president of Riders Chapter 434 in Chula Vista.

And along the way, the group will be met and escorted by Riders chapters in every state. “What they’re going to be doing to keep us alert and awake is priceless,” Sobczak said. “The brotherhood and sisterhood they’re showing, dropping everything they’re doing to support us, is incredible. They don’t know us, but they know the cause.”

For more information about the ride, email Sobczak at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or click here.

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Did you know?

The issuance or replacement of military service medals, awards and decorations must be requested in writing.

Requests should be submitted in writing to the appropriate military service branch division of the NPRC. Standard form (SF 180), available through the VA, is recommended to submit your request. Generally, there is no charge for medal or award replacements. For more information, or for the mailing address of the military branch office to submit your request to, call 1-86-NARA-NARA (1-866-272-6272) or visit the NPRC website at