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Veterans Benefits Information

OCW donation brightens spirits at Indiana Veterans Home

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Nearly 200 residents of the Indiana Veterans Home received a much-needed entertainment gift, thanks to a donation by the Department of Indiana via an American Legion Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) grant.

Department Commander Allen Connelly presented nine smart TVs on Jan. 24, that will be installed in the common areas in buildings throughout the sprawling campus in West Lafayette.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to participate in this,” Connelly said. “Anything we can do to make life more pleasant for these veterans is what we like to do.”

Outside Ernie Pyle Hall, Connelly expressed his gratitude to the residents of the Indiana Veterans Home (IVH).

“We’ve always cherished the relationship we’ve had with IVH over the years,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to present this gift today. I hope they will be enjoyed by the veterans here. We appreciate their dedication and sacrifice that kept our nation strong. The American Legion will always be here for you.”

OCW provides wounded warriors and veterans with items that are not covered by government agencies. In addition to entertainment opportunities, previous donations have included clothing for burn victims, rehabilitation gear like recumbent bicycles and much more. To assist the funding for future donations, visit www.legion.org/donate.

During his time as national commander, James Koutz of Indiana raised more than $1.1 million for OCW and reinvigorated the program.

“Jimmy has really spearheaded the continuation of that mission,” Connelly said. “Indiana is one of the larger donors to this program. It’s an honor to continue the mission.”

Tom Smith, who served in the Indiana National Guard, is the community service director at IVH. He said the donation means that all of the 185 residents will be able watch TV in the lounges at any time of day.

“Our TVs were really old,” he said. “These came at a great time because we are one down. And a new one will go up today.”

After the presentation, a maintenance employee at IVH grabbed one of the televisions to install it.

“I leave with a great feeling,” Connelly concluded.


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PNC Perspectives: Ronald F. Conley

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Ronald F. Conley of Pennsylvania will never forget the moment during the Vietnam War when he encountered a wounded soldier on Guam. “His story always stuck with me,” Conley says in his newly posted PNC Perspectives video interview. “He got shrapnel in his eyes. He was going to go blind within a year… he said, ‘I don’t know who is going to take care of me.’ I figured, I can do something to help, maybe not him, but help the other guys coming back wounded. That’s what got me into wanting to do something to help guys who were in the service.”

Soon after his discharge, Conley joined The American Legion. He was mentored by Pittsburgh-area, Department of Pennsylvania and national Legionnaires in the years that followed. In the 1980s, his passion turned to helping homeless veterans and wrote the resolution that created American Legion Housing for Homeless, Inc., which ultimately purchased homes for veterans in need in four Pennsylvania cities. In the years that followed, Conley became a fierce advocate for improved VA health care and services and spent his year as leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization visiting VA health-care systems throughout the country, looking at their strengths and challenges, following a checklist of key issues at the time, foremost of which was waiting times for primary care appointments. Thus was born the System Worth Saving program and task force, which continues to provide insights for VA, Congress and the White House today. In the years that followed, he became a leading national voice in the fight to identify and gain acceptance of effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. He is now chairman of the American Legion TBI/PTSD Committee.

View PNC Perspectives video interviews with other past national commanders on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHMR9MmnivfPSXg7BMJj1U57QBMXb_n2q


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Puerto Rico Legionnaire: ‘All they have is each other’

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A former Army captain and veteran of the Iraq war, Manuel Martinez has slept outside before. This time, however, it is different. Martinez, 40, is not deployed and he is not homeless.

The member of Monseratte Padilla American Legion Post 47 in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, has been sleeping on his front lawn along with his parents as a safety precaution. The earthquake and frequent aftershocks that have plagued Puerto Rico over the last month have dangerously impacted the structure of his house in Yauco.

“It’s just too dangerous to be inside,” Martinez said. “There are cracks throughout the structure and nobody wants to have a cement roof collapse on them.”

Puerto Rico is in need of assistance, according to American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford, who visited the island earlier this month. “People there are hurting,” Oxford said. “They were just beginning to recover from Hurricane Maria when the earthquakes hit. The people there are resilient, but I am asking that The American Legion Family once again provide support for those in need. We also have Legionnaires living in the Philippines and Australia that could be impacted by volcanic activity and devastating wildfires. Our national staff has reached out to department leadership for those respective areas to offer National Emergency Fund assistance to those eligible. We have not yet heard from any Legionnaires impacted outside of Puerto Rico at this time, but it’s just another reminder that we have to keep our NEF fully funded and prepared. Large natural disasters can happen at any time and in any place.”

Department of Puerto Rico Adjutant Juan Cruz-Rodriguez said residents in parts of the island are feeling about five tremors a day. On Jan. 21, the website earthquaketrack.com reported 2,104 earthquakes of a magnitude of 1.5 or greater have hit Puerto Rico over the past 30 days. A large 6.4 magnitude quake struck on Jan. 7 and caused damages that are estimated to exceed $110 million.

While the National Emergency Fund provides grants to cover lodging, food and clothing for impacted Legionnaires, members of the Sons of the American Legion and damaged American Legion post homes, Cruz-Rodriguez said residents are also in need of supplies such as bottled water, diapers, toys, clothes and hygiene items. Tents are also needed by those who, like Martinez, wish to sleep near their damaged homes.

Donated items can be sent to The American Legion Department of Puerto Rico, 1700 Jesus T. Piῇero Ave., Los Lomas Professional Center, Suite 11, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 00921.

Tax-deductible financial contributions can be made online at www.legion.org/nef or by mailing checks to The American Legion National Emergency Fund, Donation Processing, PO Box 361626, Indianapolis, IN 46236-1626.

Since the NEF’s inception, nearly $9 million has been provided in financial assistance. Eligible individuals can receive grants of up to $3,000, and posts can receive up to $10,000.

“Little by little, each one of these quakes takes its toll,” Rodriguez-Cruz said. “We’ve been fortunate in San Juan, but there are other parts of Puerto Rico that have been badly affected. We’ve been reaching out to posts throughout the department (and) offering to assist.”

Though Puerto Ricans are grateful that the Jan. 7 earthquake wasn’t even more devastating, the follow-up earthquakes are a constant frustration to those who wish to start the long process of rebuilding.

“I’ve seen people who are upbeat, but I’ve also seen a lot of fear. People are scared about their future,” Martinez said. “They don’t have a clue about what to expect tomorrow. There is a feeling that all they have is each other.”


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Veterans & Children Foundation receiving support from Great Call

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The American Legion has received a generous contribution from GreatCall, a leader in connected health for solutions for older adults and their family caregivers. The gift will support the welfare and care of veterans and children through The American Legion Veterans and Children Foundation. The foundation provides temporary financial assistance to eligible active-duty servicemembers and American Legion members with children in the home. It also supports more than 2,500 accredited American Legion service officers who provide free assistance to veterans and their families.

"The American Legion Veterans and Children Foundation provides support to our nation's veterans and their families when they are in need of help and also ensures they receive the benefits they earned through their service to our country," American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford said. "We are pleased that GreatCall, an organization that helps aging consumers live independent lives through use of innovative and easy-to-use mobile technology, has come on board as a supporter and ally."

As a part of the relationship, a series of television ads are airing that feature an American Legion member.

"Support for our nation's veterans is a responsibility – and a privilege – we all share and partnering with The American Legion enables us to make a difference," said David Inns, CEO of GreatCall. "Our country's veterans need our support now more than ever, especially those who are aging. Our technology is easier for aging adults to use, and products like Lively medical alert devices and Jitterbug phones with 5Star Urgent Response Service put safety at the fingertips of nearly 2 million American Legion members."

Since its creation in 1925, The American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation – formerly known as the American Legion Endowment Fund – has delivered over $30 million in financial assistance for disabled veterans, military families and young people.


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Bringing the past to life

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Readers of the “Flashbacks” comic strip in their Sunday newspaper – which brings history to life in multi-paneled cartoons – may be interested to know that the artist is a 50-plus-year Pennsylvania Legionnaire.

Patrick Reynolds is a life member of William P. Duffy American Legion Post 544 in Minersville. He graduated from the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, went to work as an art director, then enlisted in the Army during the Vietnam War as an intelligence officer. He is a retired lieutenant colonel of the Army Reserve.

Growing up, he was inspired by comic books and the historical comics found in Boy Scout and Boys’ Life publications. He once used an original comic as a résumé for a state tourism job – but didn’t get it. He is still in possession of rejection letters from Atlas Comics, later Marvel, and creator Stan Lee. Later, as a teacher, he created comic-strip stories on history and current events for his young classes, which led down the road to the several ongoing projects that can be seen on his website, redrosestudio.com. In addition to “Flashbacks,” there are comics on New York, Pennsylvania and Texas history, portraits, caricatures and more. The purpose of the comics, according to Reynolds, is to “tell someone something in their backyard that they didn’t know about.”

He is a fan of the “Lore of the Legion” cartoon series that can be read in The American Legion Magazine, as he is of the rise in popularity – and respectability – of graphic novels. The last few years have brought a “rise in seeing them as literature,” he comments, and he is “delighted they’re coming to the forefront and getting the attention they deserve.” Of his membership in the Legion, Reynolds says that “I find it’s a tremendous voice to accomplish things in Washington … it’s nice to know that as a member I’m part of that.”


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