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Centennial chronology on display at historic San Francisco War Memorial Veterans Building

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The American Legion’s first century is on display through Dec. 20 inside one of the organization’s most historic local venues, the War Memorial Veterans Building in San Francisco.

“It’s more than an inspiration,” American Legion District 8 Commander Nelson Lum said after the 100th Anniversary Observance Committee’s 160-foot traveling chronology was installed in the recently restored structure across from city hall. “It’s a responsibility.”

Lum, vice chair of the American Legion War Memorial Commission, said it’s important to show the city the role the organization has played, and continues to play, in U.S. society. The Legion’s place in the 1932-dedicated structure faced a court challenge four years ago after the city completed a $250 million retrofit/renovation of the War Memorial Complex’s historic structure, the Veterans Building and adjacent War Memorial Opera House which was renovated 10 years earlier. As named beneficiary of the original trust that governs the operation of the complex, The American Legion won its case to continue accommodating groups that support and provide services to veterans and offering programs to showcase the area’s military history and culture. The city’s court challenge, Lum said, was a strong reminder to not take for granted the opportunity The American Legion has with the building. “We’re not doing a dance in the end zone,” he said. “We are cooperating with the city. It’s important to work at it and show that we belong here.”

The city owns and maintains the properties on the complex, which includes a 2014-dedicated memorial monument and reflecting pool containing soil from U.S. military battlefields around the world.

The American Legion War Memorial Commission manages offices and schedules activities inside the Veterans Building used by 11 American Legion posts, the district, American Legion Auxiliary units, Sons of The American Legion, the Department of California American Legion Auxiliary and 17 other organizations that provide services for veterans. Veteran career-development classes are provided there, as is service officer training. The American Legion also operates one of two main-floor museum galleries, where the centennial chronology is now on display, and schedules programs, including a forthcoming display of work for judging in the VA Creative Arts Festival and a Violins of Hope appearance in January – a traveling collection of restored orchestral instruments that were made and played by concentration camp prisoners during the Holocaust.

Lum said the American Legion’s veterans gallery had become little more than a storage unit for military artifacts until the big renovation. “There was no theme or anything,” he said. “At one point, we had over 100 rifles that were just tossed in there. About four or five years ago, it was recognized that we couldn’t leave it the way it was.” He said the American Legion War Memorial Commission made a concerted effort at that time, as its status inside the building was being tested, to transform the gallery into a carefully curated museum space.

To learn more about the American Legion War Memorial Commission and Veterans Building, visit https://alwmcsf.org/ on the web.


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Veterans outreach effort headed to Massachusetts

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Department of Massachusetts Legionnaires are conducting a district revitalization and veterans outreach effort in and around Berkshire, Franklin-Hampshire and Hampden counties. American Legion staff will be on hand to discuss veterans benefits, the Legion’s legislative efforts, membership opportunities and service to the community.

All veterans in the area are invited to the event, which will take place from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 27-28 at American Legion Post 185, 478 Springfield St., Feeding Hills. A veterans service officer will be available to discuss claims and other Department of Veterans Affairs benefits-related questions.


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Groundbreaking set for National Native American Veterans Memorial

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The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., will host a day of events on Sept. 21 in conjunction with groundbreaking of the National Native American Veterans Memorial.

The events include a webcast interview with Harvey Pratt, whose design concept for the new memorial was selected last year. Pratt is a Cheyenne and Arapaho artist based in Guthrie, Okla., and a member of Cheyenne and Arapaho American Legion Post 401 in Clinton, Okla.

The memorial, located on the National Mall in Washington, will consist of an elevated stainless steel circle balanced on an intricately carved stone drum. The design incorporates water for sacred ceremonies, benches for gathering and reflection, and four lances where veterans, family members, tribal leaders, and others can tie cloths for prayers and healing.

The memorial is scheduled to open in November 2020.

Saturday’s schedule of events at the National Museum of the American Indian, Fourth Street & Independence Avenue, SW, include children’s activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center; a hands-on replica of the memorial on display in the Potomac Atrium from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1:30-4 p.m.; a live webcast of The Cheyenne and Arapaho Singers drum group at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the atrium; a tour of the museum’s traveling exhibition “Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces” at noon; and the conversation between Pratt and museum director Kevin Gover, which will be webcast from the Rasmuson Theater at 2:30 p.m.

For more information and links to the webcast, click here.


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'Suicide prevention must start before crisis intervention'

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Suicide. It’s becoming America’s largest epidemic, cutting a swath of pain and suffering to young and old alike. It’s wreaking havoc on active duty military personnel, veterans and their families. It’s stealing hearts, futures and hope.

The American Legion hosted a Preventing Suicide: Educate, Inspire, Mobilize discussion in its Washington, D.C., office Sept. 12, in conjunction with National Suicide Prevention Week. A panel of speakers discussed this crisis with guests who must face the ghosts personally and professionally.

“We are in the midst of a crisis that is assaulting our veterans and active duty servicemembers where they are fighting battles here at home,” said George Mitchell, American Legion deputy director of health policy, in his opening remarks. “We are in the midst of a crisis that is devastating families and the communities across our nation.”

Preventing suicides is not an easy task. It is a task that can be complex, hard to detect and quixotic. Suicide can be an ongoing underlying fight, or a sudden decision that can leave survivors and those who have attempted suicide bewildered and confused.

Chief Warrant Officer Cliff Bauman attested to this personally during his remarks. He is a survivor of an attempted suicide.

Bauman was a first responder after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon. He internalized his experiences on that fateful day – the impact to his senses, smell and touch – and those that followed. He knows today that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was stalking him. It started with alcohol, as well as with nightmares of what he saw and what he did.

Bauman said his work suffered, he denied he was dealing with a crisis, and he refused help. All classic symptoms of suicide. Compounding his crisis is that suicide was treated negatively by the military. It was different, a very different time for treating PTSD and a suicidal person.

Bauman’s life changed forever in 2002, when he attempted to end his life at his brother’s house in Kansas City, Mo. “I don’t quite know what triggered me that night,” Bauman said. “With a bottle of pills and drinks on the table, I wrote a suicide note. I wrote I was tired of the guilt of not finding anyone else alive, from the attack at the Pentagon, and I took over 20 Ambien pills and I laid on the couch.”

Bauman’s brother, a nurse at the Truman Medical Center nearby, had an unsettling feeling about his brother while at work and called the house. No answer. His brother rushed home and found Bauman near death.

Unfortunately, the story of Daniel Somers had to be told to the panel by his surviving parents.

Daniel served as a sergeant in the California Army National Guard and was married to his high school sweetheart. He was federalized for active duty in 2004, sent to Iraq and participated in 400 combat missions. Daniel refused to accept two Purple Hearts for his combat service, and suffered from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury (TBI). His parents shared with the panel via teleconference how Daniel grasped for peace from the nightmares, guilt of war, frustrations with the system and hopelessness.

In 2013, Daniel ended his life by a single shot to his head in the parking lot of the Phoenix VA medical center.

“There was and remains a huge shortage of mental health providers not only in the VA but the community at large,” said Dr. Howard Somers, father of Daniel. “We still have the need to educate our community providers about military culture.”

At the time of Daniel’s death and even today, his parents believe the VA is reluctant to refer veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI to outside providers during a crisis situation. Furthermore, Howard said the VA did not share with them the knowledge of other programs available to those facing this type of crisis.

“VA was not in compliance with their own regulation to make a bed available to a veteran needing urgent treatment within the VA facility or the private community,” Howard said. “There is a huge need for a community support network … and that the VA should transition to centers of excellence for service-related injuries. As some people say, VA should do what VA does best.”

Dr. Mathew Miller is a psychologist and acting national director for suicide prevention at the VA. He pointed out the need for hope for those contemplating suicide, and for families either trying to help the suicidal veteran or have to deal with the aftermath of this devastating action.

“ The message we are attempting to convey is that suicide prevention must start before crisis intervention,” Miller said. He added that while the system is making great strides in improving reaction time, case referral and resources to assist veterans facing a crisis, suicide continues to be an elusive enemy and far more needs to be done.

“In each of the suicide reports of veterans over a given year, something stood out to me in the pages and it broke my heart. In several situations veterans who died by suicide had the Veterans Crisis Line phone number in their pants pocket,” Miller said.

More must be done “upstream,” Miller added. “The suicide prevention mission belongs to all of us. It is an eternal battle.”

Mathew Campbell is a combat veteran and Navy hospital corpsman who served two tours in Iraq. Within weeks of transitioning out of the military in 2008, Campbell said he lost the mission-minded purpose he was used to.

“It is our duty and our job to be there for one another,” said Campbell, a field based implementation team consultant with the VA’s Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation. He believes reducing the number of suicides is a group effort. “I challenge you to pick up the phone, to text, to message them. To be that brother or sister.”

Miller shared some elevated risks that veterans face during times of transition, such as financial hardship, that can play a role in the minds of a suicidal individual. Identifying these factors and initiating outreach is an important step the VA, friends and family need to be aware of to help.

Bauman’s recovery from his suicide attempt has helped provide insight for him and he believes has changed the culture of suicide in the military. No longer is the discussion of depression, mental illness or TBI a PowerPoint presentation during a lengthy briefing. “What they’ve found out is that (telling personal stories) helps enhance the training,” Bauman said.

Dr. Heather Kelly, director of Military and Veterans Health Policy for the American Psychological Association, served as the discussion moderator. Kelly said that the VA has worked hard over the past 20 years to develop outside partnerships to address the veteran suicide crisis. She advised that there are programs available to help deal with this issue, but the money must be effectively spent.

“If you want to help, you need to be willing to evaluate your programs and make sure these precious resources get to those needing assistance,” Kelly said.

Howard Somers concluded the discussion with a reminder that “the upstream support is so important. If we can get people educated to what our servicemembers are experiencing and make them aware of some of the issues they might be suffering from and the resources available in and out of the VA, we might get better outcomes.”


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USAA Tips: Put military style purpose back in your career

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Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Chad Storlie

Veterans often feel they have lost their sense of purpose when they leave the military and begin new careers, jobs, and lives. A common point of discussion with veterans is that they struggle with how to replace the sense of mission and sense of purpose they possessed when they were in the military.

Military organizations and military missions are ideal at finding and relaying purpose and a sense of mission. You have great people, solid equipment, a shared sense of commitment, a shared sense of overcoming (or sacrifice – especially on deployments) and common training that all work towards establishing, maintaining, and creating a shared sense of military purpose.

The point that veterans are forgetting is that all their positive elements of their character, their military experience, and their great value to civilian society are there. Veterans have to take additional steps to recapture that sense of purpose and sense of value in civilian society.

Don’t Expect Your Job to Be Everything.

In the military, our job was often times everything to us and we self-identified with what it meant to be a pilot, an infantryman, or an armored vehicle driver. That is great for the military but it is rare for someone of any profession to get 100 percent of their self-identification from their job. Military veterans need to let their job be their job and not hate their new career because it does not fulfill 100 percent of their self-identification needs.

Go “All In” With Your Employer.

I remember one of my first days at Ranger School. It was 3AM, a cold driving rain, and we were running around in a massive sawdust pit practicing hand-to-hand combat. I thought, “How can I make 9 weeks, if I’m not sure I can make it to breakfast?” The next moment, I decided to go “All In,” and give my best to every moment, to make a 100 percent commitment to be the best that I could be. It worked. Don’t worry about what your employer isn’t, find ways to give 100 percent to your employer and discover how you can make the company better.

Find Other Ways to Lead.

Schools, Little League teams, not-for-profits, and other organizations desperately need people who can organize, lead, and make a great difference for society. Leading a squad for a night raid is an amazing experience, but so is tutoring a group of children after school to improve their math skills. The country needs your leadership in the smallest areas of society. You will feel incredible value and reward by leading and helping others.

Create a Written Path to the Future With a Daily Plan.

A written, daily guiding schedule is vital to the military. When to wake, what you will be doing, with whom, and why were vital on a daily basis to establish your purpose and to make you feel engaged. Create your own daily schedule to wake early, exercise, set tasks to meet your goals, make daily steps to meet your career goals, and build a future. When we know the daily purpose of our activities and what they are leading us towards, we are engaged. Write it down to ensure it gets done.

Find Something Hard to Do and Achieve It.

Make a really hard personal goal for yourself and achieve it. Make a pledge to develop and teach a class, go back to school and complete a degree, compete in an adventure race, run a half marathon, or become rock solid in the gym. Achieving greatness through struggle is a hallmark of the military experience and often you have to go out of your way to find it in civilian society. So, go find it; the key is to find and daily make yourself embrace this decision to endure and grow. And, when this is done, go find the next challenge.


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Did you know?

Military Funeral Honors ceremonies must be scheduled in advance.

The law requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, which includes the folding and presentation of the United States flag and the playing of “taps,” upon the family’s request. This Department of Defense program calls for the funeral director to request military funeral honors on behalf of the veteran’s family.