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Veterans Benefits Information

Oxford reveals key initiatives amid COVID-19

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American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford is at home following safety protocols related to the coronavirus pandemic. Still, the commander wants to communicate with the nation’s largest veterans service organization during this extraordinary time.

There are twice-daily messages from the commander being posted on the Legion website.

Additionally, the commander recorded a series of public service announcements that are available for viewing here and available for download here.

The commander:

• Announces the “Month of Hope” campaign geared toward helping those affected by COVID-19.

• Addresses the importance of Buddy Checks during the pandemic.

• Encourages American Legion members to consider donating blood during this urgent time of need.

 


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Social distancing a good time to brush up on American Legion knowledge

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With a large portion of the nation’s residents under some form of “stay at home” policy, American Legion Family members have been brushing up on their Legion knowledge through the organization’s online training program.

On March 18, Michele Emery – a Member Engagement & Training Coordinator at National Headquarters and the administrator on the National American Legion College Facebook group – posted to the group that social distancing was a good time to promote The American Legion’s Basic Training platform, an online official training program for officers, members, Legion College applicants and those who simply want to expand their knowledge of the nation's largest veterans service organization.

Emery noted Basic Training “checks all the boxes”: working from home, eLearning, a distraction from cabin fever and free of charge. And Legion Family members have responded. Emery noted that 215 members signed up to take the course in March, with 147 completing it.

Basic Training continues to be available to any Legion Family member wishing to take the course. The course features videos, digital photos, clickable links, a historical timeline and additional features, and should take approximately two hours to complete.


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Beware of scam donation solicitations

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As with holidays, and natural disasters and other times of emergency, the coronavirus pandemic has brought out those attempting to scam people wanting to assist others – including American Legion Family members. Any solicitations for donations should first be confirmed as legitimate before donating.

Over the weekend an email went out to some members of the American Legion Department of Colorado that claimed to be from Department Commander Dean Noechel. The email contained the following request:

"The American Legion Department of Colorado needs some gift cards for donation to Veterans at Hospice and Palliative care units for preventive items for Corona Disease (COVID 19). I have decided to make it a personal duty. I will be responsible for the reimbursement."

The email didn’t come from Noechel, who shared the contents of the email on Facebook to warn others. His post was shared to The American Legion National Headquarters Facebook page, and within an hour another Legionnaire said she’d received a similar email from the Department of California.

Individuals receiving any donation solicitations – email or otherwise – from their posts, departments, National Headquarters or individuals are urged to contact leadership from each respective entity before attempting to donate any funds.


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Veteran organizations go virtual in response to pandemic

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Iraq and Afghanistan veteran James Martin logged in last week to what he hopes can grow into a regular meeting space for other veterans adjusting to life under a pandemic: online video game night.

Martin is a volunteer for the Wounded Warrior Project, which like other veteran service organizations is trying to find ways to reach and connect veterans at a time when most can’t meet up in person, due to social distancing guidelines meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Martin, a former Marine injured during combat in Afghanistan in 2013, said he is helping WWP in its effort to build a veteran online gaming community.

“Even though we’re locked in the house, you can still be connected, you can still meet other warriors,” Martin said. “We can play video games together and check on each other.”

Each night, the 39-year-old logs in from his home just outside Pittsburgh, Pa., into a forum recently created by WWP on the site Discord. There, veterans and gamers can chat and find others to play games with. The forum brings together veterans from all over the country, and Martin said the discussion is not just fun and games — it’s also about untangling the stresses of life as they play.

In one gaming session Thursday night, Martin and a few other veterans shared their frustrations with self-quarantining. One had a wife who needed a COVID-19 test. Another was struggling with his college classes after they moved online.

A friend of Martin’s, Gabriel Beltres, also a wounded veteran with WWP, lightened up the mood with a pregame speech:

“Listen up, today hasn’t been a good day, but it’s gonna turn into a good day. We are going to be happy, we are going to be good, because gaming is supposed to be fun,” Beltres said.

The WWP’s virtual gaming nights and fitness lessons began over the last few weeks for veterans, “just to give them a place to hang out during a crazy time,” said Matt Twigg, livestreaming and gaming specialist for the organization.

Other veteran service organizations, known for hosting pancake breakfasts and group workouts, are now organizing conference calls and virtual meetups.

Team Red, White and Blue rolled out an online fitness challenge for its members to do at home, with groups of veterans doing bodyweight exercises in a tournament styled on college basketball’s March Madness.

The American Legion is connecting members through their phones. Using party line conference calls allows the inclusion of older veterans who may not be comfortable with social media, said Jennifer Havlick, member of American Legion Post 109 in northern Minnesota.

“For those who don’t use Facebook, it’s the greatest thing, they all know how to talk on the phone,” said Havlick, an Army veteran and originator of “enhanced buddy checks,” in which veterans call older veterans and ask if they need help buying groceries or doing chores.

Veterans of Foreign Wars, which has been around for more than 100 years, is encouraging its members to reach out to each other via Skype and other video call services.

VFW Post 5066 in Collierville, Tenn., will be using the app Zoom to conduct its elections and broadcast a concert.

Its post commander, Justin Johnson, said he hopes teleconferencing becomes a permanent feature of VFW life. “Long-term, I think this will benefit this post, because now it allows members that couldn’t really make it to meetings to attend,” he said.

It’s important for veterans to stay connected, said Timothy Byrne, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and a peer mentor for WWP. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Byrne would always encourage veterans, especially those who have just left the military or are suffering from post-traumatic stress, to leave the house and interact with other people.

“When we self-isolate, we get into our own shells, think about stuff too much,” Byrne said on the phone from his home in Salem., Mass.

Now, self-quarantining has deepened the feeling of isolation some veterans already have, he said. One of the veterans he’s mentoring is suffering through a recent divorce, has lost his routine and shared thoughts of suicide.

“After me talking to him, spending some time, he said, ‘I went and got help,’” Byrne said.

Keeping in touch with fellow veterans, even it’s not in person but over the phone or online, can save lives, he said.

“We do these virtual things, and we still get that social contact with people,” Byrne said. “I don’t know what we’d do without it.”

Members of The American Legion can receive 50 percent discounts on annual subscriptions to the Stars and Stripes digital platform of exclusive military news, topics of interest to veterans, special features, photos and other content, including the daily e-newspaper, job listings and history. American Legion members can subscribe for $19.99 a year by visiting legion.stripes.com and using the coupon code LEGIONSTRONG when filling out the online form.


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American Legion discusses coronavirus on FOX News

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American Legion National Legislative Division Director Melissa Bryant appeared on FOX News on March 29 to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and how it's impacting the U.S. military, the Department of Veterans Affairs and The American Legion.

Talking with host Jon Scott on The FOX Report, Bryant spoke on how the military and VA are being used to combat the pandemic across the country. She also discussed how American Legion posts are assisting their communities and military families during this crisis.


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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.