Veterans Benefits Information guide to VA benefits

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Veterans Benefits Information

Full Committee Markup: Markup on H.R. 2942, H.R. 2943, and H.R. 3504

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On Thursday, July 11, 2019, the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will hold a markup on H.R. 2942, H.R. 2943, and H.R. 3504.  The Committee will meet at 10:00 a.m., in 210 of the House Visitors Center.

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Massachusetts post celebrates centennial in Horribles Parade

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A special American Legion centennial float was among the first groups in the 77th Fishtown Horribles Parade, a large community celebration on July 3 in Gloucester, Mass.

“This is our 100th anniversary, so we thought we'd be a little special with this float,” said Mark Nestor, commander of Post 3 in Gloucester. “This was created specifically for the centennial and represents all the various armed services. It's a salute to them.”

Nestor was joined by Past Department Commander Mike Davis, Department of Massachusetts Senior Vice Commander Sandra Kee and other American Legion Family members who marched or rode in the parade route as thousands of onlookers jammed the sidewalks and waved American flags.

“The Legion's featured pretty prominently in the parade, along with other veterans service organizations, because this is a very veteran-friendly community,” Kee said, noting Gloucester will celebrate the 400th anniversary of being settled in 2023. “We're front and center in pretty much this entire community. We're fortunate enough to live in Gloucester, where it’s always been a thing that this town has always really supported its veterans.”

Defining the “horrible” is really up to the individual. “As the name implies, anything goes,“ Kee said. “We don’t have any disclaimers. If you see something you don’t like, look away. Instead of on the Fourth of July, Gloucester holds its celebration on July 3. It winds through the city streets, getting more horrible as it goes along.”

In addition to the Legion, first responders and other typical parade marchers, there were a variety of groups and individuals entertaining the crowds. Among them: a truck decked out as “The Horror of the Fourth,” which looked like it belonged in a Halloween parade; a men’s anti-bullying group; a pair of lobsters encouraging people to say, “No to the pot,” and Uncle Sam holding a sign reading “Make Earth Great Again.”

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Krueger, a Gloucester native, is the post historian and chaplain. Krueger worked with Nestor on creating a book about the post’s history, which includes a long-standing presence in the parade. The 86-page book also details:

• Gloucester native Lester Wass, the post namesake and a Marine Corps officer who was killed in World War I.

• The first commander of Post 3, which was formed in June 1919, was A. Piatt Andrew, who started the American Field Service in World War I.

• A 24-foot-high Joan of Arc Monument statue (nicknamed Joanie on a Pony) that serves as a landmark for the post.

The Horribles Parade also has a long legacy. It started in the 1930s but was skipped during parts of World War II. Since 1960, the parade has been funded entirely by donations from local businesses and members of the community. While the city of Gloucester provides police, fire and emergency detail and support, the city does not fund the parade.

Krueger sees the parade as a way to raise awareness within the community.

“I think it's important to represent veterans in the parade, to bring up our visibility,” he said. “Because we have a lot of veterans who are hurting and the public needs to understand the sacrifices they made for their freedom.”

Nestor wants community members to know what Post 3 does every day of the year, not just the special celebration on the eve of Independence Day.

“I want them to be thinking about our fellow veterans,” he said of civilians. “And we want them to be thinking about how to take care of them, unlike how they took care of the Vietnam veterans, of which I was one. And we want them to remember that we're here for them and that we pay it forward, which is why we do things like the holiday meals for shut-ins and things like that. How we helped the Coast Guard during their last budget crisis. We made donations to them. We made donations to fellow Legionnaires in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. Our purpose really in life is to attract young veterans and to pay it forward with other veterans in this community so they can remember us and we can remember them.”

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Post’s July Fourth ceremonies honor original patriots

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Just a few miles from one of the Revolutionary War’s flashpoints, American Legion Family members held a special July Fourth ceremony on Thursday. John O’Connor, commander of Post 221 in Bedford, Mass., resurrected the ceremony three years ago that includes a re-reading of the Declaration of Independence in the town’s Veterans Memorial Park.

O’Connor outlined a brief history lesson from the 1770s before he shared duties of reading the 1,458-word declaration, along with Post 221 member John Cooper and Department of Massachusetts Senior Vice Commander Sandra Kee.

“It all started here,” said O’Connor, sporting a Legion Riders vest and American flag socks. “It’s a small part of our heritage.”

Bedford is just a few miles from Lexington and Concord. And, not too far away are the sites of the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party, which fanned the flames of revolution.

“Something caused everybody to get into an uproar,” he said. “We are in the midst of all of that. The roots that are here are the beginning of the United States.”

O’Connor restarted the Independence Day program after it was dormant for years following the passing of its originator, John Filios, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and community member.

“John’s memory will live on through this,” he said. “As commander of the American Legion Family Post 221, there is nothing more important than to get out the red, white and blue in the community. We support veterans. We want to get out the message of the red, white, and blue and not let that message fade. We need to break it out as veterans and as the American Legion Family post.”

The ceremony was attended by about 40 people, including three Eagle Scouts.

Linda Kovitch, of Bedford, attended the ceremony for the first time. She is currently unable to drive as she is recovering from an injury so she walked over to the event. “Since it is the Fourth of July, I wanted to do something and I enjoyed listening to the Declaration of Independence,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I heard it read out loud.”

Kovitch compared the historic document’s era to the acrimony occurring in American politics today.

“The fact that this would be publicly read aloud again to refresh our understanding of what the intended message from that document was, is a wonderful thing,” she said. “This is a very important way for us to remember what this holiday really means.”

Kovitch pointed out that today’s veterans have much in common with the early Colonists, including many who gave their lives for America.

“So many gave their lives to start this country for what they believed to be a better way to have a country, as opposed to what the British were trying to do,” she said. “The fact that the Legion is recognizing the important of what the Colonists did on our behalf seems to be a natural progression. They are the people who are most appropriate to show this.”

After the park ceremony, American Legion members returned to the post, about a mile down the street, for a flag retirement ceremony. The post had collected dozens of worn and tattered, large and small, American flags. They were honorably retired in a controlled fire in the back of the post’s parking lot.

O’Connor led the ceremony, which was attended by about three dozen spectators, including Legion Family members, Boy Scouts and others.

“It’s not just a piece of cloth,” he said. “It’s part of America that traces our roots back to the Revolutionary War. This is what we do to make our community more aware.”

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Showcasing 'the many faces' of The American Legion

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American Legion Post 194 in Mason, Ohio, has been a steady presence at the city’s annual Red, Rhythm and Boom Fourth of July celebration. The previous four years the post had the role of a vendor at the festival, one it continued this year.

But that was just a small part of Post 194’s involvement. After reaching out to city leaders, the post was able to take on a much larger role. This year’s festival on July 3 was an opportunity for the city to honor the Legion’s 100 years of service, as well as showcase all Post 194 does in the community.

A large tent in front of the Mason Municipal Center in the heart of the Community Center campus featured displays highlighting The American Legion’s 100-year history and its Four Pillars. The Legion also was honored on stage between musical acts, and Post 194’s color guard also presented Old Glory on stage prior to the singing of the national anthem.

“This is unprecedented. We’ve never had a fixed area like this to showcase anything veteran, really,” said Post 194 Executive Committee member Judy Pearson, who was doubling during the festival as the Ohio ambassador for The Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. “One of the (Legion’s Four Pillars) is to be an integral member of the community. This shows the community what all we do. It shows the many faces of The American Legion.”

Post 194 Commander David Charpentier approached city officials in January about the post possibly co-branding this year’s event to celebrate the Legion’s centennial. The city obliged, and Charpentier then started reaching out to other military and veteran entities in the community to bring in their involvement.

The partnership brought what Charpentier said was the largest veteran and military presence to the festival since the post became involved as a vendor. Representatives from the U.S. Army and Army Reserve recruiting had a tent near the Legion spot, as did the USO and the USS Cincinnati Commissioning Foundation. And the Warren County Veterans Service mobile office also was set up on Mason Montgomery Road, which lined the entire festival area.

“This was an opportunity for us to be reengaged with our community, take a leadership role in our community,” Charpentier said. “It was so that we can talk about why we matter in this community, why our Four Pillars matter, why we take care of one another, the things we do to promote Americanism. People don’t know. And this is a 20,000-, 25,000-person audience where we can spread our message. And this city has been nothing but supportive of us.”

Community involvement is a big part of Post 194’s mission. In addition to heading up the city’s Memorial Day parade, the post is hosting regular monthly fundraising breakfasts that include another local organization – which provides the post a chance to reach audiences with which it might nor normally reach.

“(The other organizations) get some money, we get exposure, we get opportunities to grow membership,” Charpentier said. “Plus, they’re like ‘I like this breakfast. I’m coming back.’”

Red, Rhythm and Boom gave Post 194 more of that exposure. For Past Post Commander John Looker, a three-time Purple Heart recipient and Vietnam War veteran, seeing the organization he’s been a part of for 35 years being honored “is very rewarding. (The Legion’s work) needs to get out to a lot of people."

But getting the message out wasn’t the only goal of the day. Growing the post was a goal, said Shawn Allen, a past post vice commander and current member of the post’s executive board. Allen has been a member of Post 194 for 21 years, joining at age 24.

The post expanding its involvement with Red, Rhythm and Boom “is going to mean a lot,” Allen said. “When we do things like this, we always get new membership. And that’s what this is about: for us to get new members, which means more people that might get involved to help the community. If you look at our Four Pillars – yes, we’re here to support our veterans and serve our veterans, first and foremost – to serve our community is right up there. And the last few years that’s really ramped up.”

Food trucks lined the festival, which also included a large kids’ area featuring interactive inflatables, bounce houses and carnival games and more. The event also featured a swearing-in ceremony for local residents entering the U.S. Army, concerts by Daughtry and Echosmith, a fireworks display, and an aerial demonstration from the professional skydiving squad Team Fastrax.

Team Fastrax’s Dave Hart, a member of Post 194, was part of the demonstration and carried with him an American Legion Centennial banner as he landed. Carrying the banner “was a great honor,” Hart said. “I think the Legion does incredible things for the country and is full of patriotic Americans. One hundred years is a long time bringing service to the country.”

During the event, a video produced by the city of Mason honored The American Legion for its 100 years of service to the community. Various city leaders praised the Legion for having “made an impact on our history. They continue to make a difference in our future. These members strengthen the nation and our community.”

The video also thanked Post 194’s members “for their ongoing contribution to local veterans and the Mason community. Those … local heroes from our American Legion continue to give to so many worthy causes.”

Mason Mayor Victor Kidd made it a point to thank the veterans in attendance, saying “we understand our freedoms are contingent upon your sacrifice.”

Charpentier also got an opportunity to get on stage in front of the large concert crowd. Charpentier said that while some in the community know Post 194 through Memorial Day and other events, “we’re much more than that. Every day we’re out in the community taking care of veterans and their families, making sure that they get the care that they deserve. Making sure they’re taken care of financially. Connecting them with the resources that are available to them.

"And in The American Legion we’re about education – education for kids. We have a scholarship program for our posts. We send kids to Boys and Girls State, where they have an opportunity to be immersed in our form of government. For us, this is about being a member of the community and being part of the community."

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With Flyovers and Flags, Trump Plays M.C. for the Fourth

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The president began with a rare call for unity in his 45-minute speech, but mostly spent time recounting the history of the armed forces, planes punctuating his message.

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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.