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Finding standards a challenge in credentialing world

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Standards matter, and many of the speakers at The American Legion National Credentialing Summit on Aug. 28 and 29 reinforced that premise.

The summit’s opening keynote speaker, Lumina Foundation CEO Jamie Merisotis, said the differences between civilian credentials and military skills are a barrier.

“About 200,000 veterans enter the civilian workforce each year, and statistics show that only one in four have the credentials needed for the best jobs. Others are forced to retrain, requalify, or in the worst-case scenario, start over, because the civilian system doesn’t understand the military system. We don’t speak a common language when it comes to skills,” Merisotis said.

Kermit Kaleba, managing director for the National Skills Coalition, said during a panel on assessing the quality of credentials that his company is working with leaders in 12 states to come up with a consensus definition of a quality non-degreed credential.

“This is a really important topic for state leaders right now; there are a lot of state leaders who are starting to recognize the importance of setting credential attainment targets for their state and making sure that people have access to postsecondary education and training. But in many cases, they don’t have a clear consensus definition on what a quality non-degreed credential is,” Kaleba said.

According to Credential Engine, a nonprofit organization aiming to create a centralized credential registry, there are over 330,000 confirmed credentials in the United States alone. Speaking on the same panel with Kaleba Wednesday, Deborah Everhart, senior strategic advisor for Credential Engine, said there are so many “because of the economy and the way we work and the way our careers evolve has changed.”

“It’s really imperative that we insist on a transparent data infrastructure like the credential transparency description language that can help us understand those credentials and the competencies they represent, because then we’re going to be able to let new technologies do more of this work for us,” Everhart added.

It’s finding that common language that is imperative to fine-tuning the credentialing process, experts said.

“The system must measure skills not on the credit hour, on which much of our higher education system is based, but on proven competencies, a system where both learning and credentials are truly transparent,” Merisotis said.

Jason Tyszko, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce, said during a breakout session Wednesday afternoon that the business community has caught up to the information technology community in learning “that data standards matter.”

“What we’re hoping to do through this new data standard is essentially create the first ever organic labor market information system,” Tyszko said. “So we’ll be getting clearer, better, faster signals from employers about what they’re asking for in terms of what’s a required or preferred credential or skill on any given day of the week.

“So it’s not about saying, ‘well, we need to overly standardize and harmonize and simplify,’ it’s not aiming for lowest common denominator average fit, it’s getting better, more machine-readable language so you can actually ascertain for this given industry in this region for this company and this job, what are they asking for? How is it the same or different from a job being offered by a firm in the same region?”

This was the third credentialing summit hosted by The American Legion, after ones in 2012 and 2015, this one in conjunction with the 101st National Convention in Indianapolis. The event helps experts from the private and nonprofit sectors, the military and federal agencies to share best practices for credentialing and enhancing civilian career prospects for veterans, servicemembers and military spouses.

One of the challenges in converting military skills into civilian credential criteria is the number of different skills servicemembers learn during their time in the military.

“I think we’ve got to be careful not to pigeonhole people into just one individual career pathway and make sure that it’s open to them. And I think the transparency behind the competencies associated with the credential is going to start helping with that,” said Lisa Lutz, president of Solutions for Information Design.

‘It’s not that simple’

During Thursday’s opening keynote, Past National Commander Denise Rohan spoke about her initial experience as chairman of the Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Commission, when then-staff member Steve Gonzalez was explaining the challenges with converting military training to civilian credentialing and licensing.

“I was like, certainly, if you drive a truck in the Army, you can drive a truck in civilian life. He said, it’s not that easy. And I said, well, what about nurses in the military? He said, it’s not that easy. … It should be that simple,” Rohan said.

But then she met a veteran from the Green Bay area, a former Army combat medic who decided to go to nursing school to become a trauma nurse.

“And as she went through the program, the community college she decided to start out at did not recognize her service at all,” Rohan said. “So here’s a woman who probably could have written a book about being a combat medic, and all the people she had helped save; she got into college and got no credit for what she had done. And she told me what had been the final straw for her was when they were teaching folks how to do IV’s, how to start an IV. And she, through her training, she started an IV and her professor or teacher said, ‘you can’t start an IV that way. If you’re in a trauma situation, you could never start an IV like that.’ She said, ‘I’ve kind of been in a trauma situation. I’ve been on the battlefield, and I’ve started IVs.’ ‘Well, that’s not the way that we do it in the civilian world.’”

That veteran decided to give up nursing, and lost her home and was on the verge of having her daughter taken away from her, Rohan said.

“She felt pretty hopeless, because here she was, she served her term in the military thinking America was going to take care of her. She was about to lose her daughter. Fortunately, as she was on the street trying to figure out what to do next, she came across an American Legion hall, and she went inside and they listened to her. And that is such a big part of being veterans and being part of a society that cares about its veterans, is actually listening. And as I listened to her story, thankfully they got her connected up with a homeless shelter where she was able to take her daughter. And some training. And now she’s living a very successful life, and she was able to get back into school and she was able to use some of the things she used in the military.

“But as she shared that story, I said, ‘wow, it’s not that simple,’” Rohan said.

New roundtable

During his keynote address, Merisotis announced that the Lumina Foundation, which is committed to expanding opportunities for post-high school learning, is partnering with the Legion to create a military credentialing advising roundtable.

That “will bring together credentialing experts from across a variety of post-high school stakeholder groups to provide strategic advice to the Department of Defense, to industry leaders, to institutions of higher learning, and to government agencies that support infrastructure changes, rooted in transparency, rooted in equity, and rooted in quality assurance for credential completion,” Merisotis said.

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‘A foundation for the future’

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As he stood on the stage in the Indiana Convention Center on Aug. 29 following being elected American Legion national commander for 2019-2020, North Carolina Legionnaire James W. “Bill” Oxford made it clear continuing the organization’s legacy into its next 100 years is not the job one person can perform.

“As I looked around this hall today, I am humbled to beyond belief … to accept this nomination as your national commander,” said Oxford, who was elected during The American Legion 101st National Convention. “We have a terrific organization. Whatever this job is, I will do it to the best of my ability, but I can’t do it alone. I need everybody here on my team, helping us reach our goals and objectives. We are all stakeholders in this organization. We are the future of this organization.”

A Paid-Up-For-Life member and past commander of American Legion Post 29 in Lenoir, N.C., Oxford said as The American Legion’s centennial celebration comes to an end on Veterans Day, it’s good time to look back on 100 years of successes and accomplishments.

He pointed out the Legion’s role in creating the original GI Bill and being part of efforts to update it, the important role the organization played in the creation of what is now the Department of Veterans Affairs, the drafting of the U.S. Flag Code and, most recently, gaining passage of the LEGION Act.

Oxford noted the Legion’s relationship with the American Legion Auxiliary and the growth of both the Sons of The American Legion and the American Legion Riders. And he pointed to youth programs such as American Legion Baseball, Boys State and Boys Nation, Junior Shooting Sports, the Oratorical Contest, youth law cadet programs and support for Scouting.

American Legion charitable funds, Oxford said, have provided millions in scholarship money, disaster relief and financial assistance. The Child Welfare Foundation has provided more than $16 million in grants to organizations that contribute to the physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional needs of children. And the Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors provides items to recovering wounded warriors and veterans not covered by the federal government.

“When we think about those charities, there’s one special thing about the Legion charities: 100 percent of the funds go toward the programs,” Oxford said. “All operational and administrative costs are covered by The American Legion. All of that money goes to those charities.

“All of these things we’ve talked about shows who we are, but it also shows what we do.”

What the Legion also does, Oxford said, is promote Americanism through flag education and being involved in local schools, advocate for veterans’ benefits and health care, support a strong national defense, and support America’s youth.

“Does that sound familiar?” Oxford asked. “I think it does, because we are talking about the Four Pillars of The American Legion. That’s the thing that’s made The American Legion the largest, most powerful veterans organization in this country.”

Oxford then turned his focus toward the future. “The things we did yesterday, we do today and we will do tomorrow are building the foundation for the future of this organization,” he said. “And if we think about The American Legion’s policies, programs (and) efforts, we’ve got to consider what makes those programs work. Those programs work by the people who participate in them.”

Oxford said membership is the key to the Legion’s mission succeeding. He set goals of a 90-percent retention rate and adding 100,000 new members in 2019-2020, with a long-term goal of reaching 3.3 million members – the all-time high number set in 1946.

With the LEGION Act’s passage, “we need to recognize and pursue the 4.2 million veterans now eligible to become Legionnaires,” Oxford said. “

If we get everybody involved, we can gain 100,000 new members.”

Oxford said that while it’s not a goal that can be measured, something else needed is to increase membership is to raise the visibility of The American Legion.

“If there’s fish fry, baseball game, a flag retirement – regardless of what the event is, we need to do two additional things,” he said. “There needs to be a news release before (the event) so people will know about it. Invite them to come and participate and help. And after the event, and just as important as washing the last pot, is doing the same thing.

“We all know what the Legion is and the value we have. But does everybody else? A photo, an article, a video, a blog. And use social media.”

Oxford said his initial commander’s project will be promoting The American Legion Centennial Coin, which remains on sale until the end of December. Proceeds from coin sales will help fund American Legion programs that support veterans, servicemembers, their families and the communities in which they live.

“Those centennial coins make great gifts,” Oxford said. “The centennial coins give you American Legion memorabilia. And I know in North Carolina we’re going to use those centennial coins as membership incentives.”

In January, Oxford said his emphasis will shift to fundraising for The American Legion Veterans and Childrens Foundation. All contributions to the foundation go directly to the Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance program and to Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation efforts – primarily training for American Legion service officers who work tirelessly to help veterans and families understand their health-care benefits, education and employment opportunities.

A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Oxford was an aviation electronic technician for the A-6 Intruder and served in Vietnam during his initial enlistment. After being discharged as a sergeant in 1970, he joined the North Carolina National Guard, attended officers candidate school and transferred to the U.S. Army Reserve, where he retired as a colonel after more than 34 years of military service.

Oxford has served as Department of North Carolina commander, as well either chairing or being a part of several national American Legion commissions. He also is a former mayor and city council member of Cajah’s Mountain, N.C., and has served as the public address announcer for the Post 29 American Legion Baseball team.

“We have a great team, and we will continue to have a great team. But we need a great team,” Oxford said. “When we think about all the things that we do, that team make it possible to accomplish those things.

“As we think about who we are and what we do as stakeholders, as the future of this organization, we are building the foundation for the future of the organization for the next 100 years.”

Elected national vice commanders were Bruce C. Feuerbach (Iowa), David L. King (Kentucky), Francis J. MacDonald Jr. (Massachusetts), Richard A. Heigert (Missouri) and Robert D. Liebenow (Oregon).

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Fourth Estate Awards presented to 2019 recipients

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A San Francisco Bay-area television news station, a community newspaper and an influential online media outlet received The American Legion’s Fourth Estate Award during the 101st National Convention August 29 in Indianapolis.

The Fourth Estate Award has been presented annually by The American Legion since 1958 for outstanding achievement in the field of journalism. Nominations in 2019 were considered in three categories: broadcast, print and new media (Internet). They were selected by the organization’s Media & Communications Commission and announced last spring.

“The American Legion Fourth Estate Award is difficult to earn,” American Legion National Commander Brett. P. Reistad said. “It is a testament to the demanding nature of the competition – and the quality of the entries. Not only to the reports have to be informative and entertaining, they also have to provide a tangible benefit to society.”

Taking top honor in the broadcast category wasSan Francisco NBC-affiliate KNTV. In a comprehensive series titled “Failure to Report: Sex Abuse Victims Silenced,” the stationed examined allegations of sexual abuse made by student of a private high school in San Jose. As a result of the station’s reporting, the school revised its policies on the handling of abuse accusations, two teachers were put on administrative leave and the school’s president resigned.

“(The Fourth Estate Award) really represents one of the greatest pillars of this country: The fact that we have an independent and free press,” said former KNTV anchor and senior investigative reporter Vicky Nguyen, who now works for NBC News. “That we can hold the powerful accountable, and that we can provide a platform and give a voice to individuals among us who speak out to expose the truth.”

The Republican of Springfield, Mass., was recognized in the print category for its profile of World War II Army Nurse Corps veteran Louise Fleming. “There is another side of war, a time when beauty appears,” the feature said. The piece, authored by managing editor Cynthia Simison, highlights the distinguished service by Fleming and fulfills The American Legion’s longtime goal of promoting the honorable nature of military service.

“All of you here know better than I that we are losing the voices of our World War II veterans,” said The Republican Managing Editor Cynthia Simison. “I’ve made it my mission since 1991, when we did a series about the 50th anniversary of the war, to share their stories. I want all of you that you should share your stories – whether it’s Korea or Vietnam, or Afghanistan and Iraq – do not let your stories be forgotten. That way you’ll help fulfill one of the missions of your organization.”

The Fourth Estate New Media Award went to Reporter Oriana Pawlyk wrote about an Air Force policy prohibiting its pilots from using the HIV-preventative drug Truvada, despite its approval for use by members of other military branches. Shortly after the report was published, 14 members of Congress signed a letter to the Air Force secretary. The service soon after reversed its policy.

“I’m humbled to be a part of this prestigious group of journalists,” Pawlyk said. “At a time when credible, accurate reporting is more important than ever, I hope to continue this quest for this community, much like journalists who’ve broken such important stories before me and that impact servicemembers every day.”

“As a veterans organization, The American Legion cherishes the U.S. Constitution, the First Amendment and the special role that a free press plays in our society,” Reistad said. “The American Legion would not be nearly as effective without media coverage of our positions and programs on the national and community level. The Fourth Estate Awards represent the best of the best. These award winners are being recognized for outstanding works of journalism that not only stand far above normal media reporting, but have also resulted in outcomes that have positively impacted the lives of people and issues. These committed journalists have devoted long, hard hours into investigating, researching, writing and producing reports that have truly made a difference."

Previous winners of the award include CNN, CBS, USA Today, ABC News, C-SPAN, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and Life Magazine, among others.

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DPAA director applauds Legion for support of missing comrades

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At 20-years-old, twin brothers from Lincoln, Neb., perished on the USS Oklahoma when the ship was attacked and sunk in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Their remains were recovered and buried as unknowns in a Honolulu cemetery.

Through the tireless efforts of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the young brothers’ remains were disinterred in 2015. And on Aug. 10, the brothers were buried in their family's cemetery in Nebraska, where their 93-year-old sister and many other family members were present.

“They made the supreme sacrifice and together, they are now home,” said DPAA Director Kelly McKeague to delegates at the 101st National Convention of The American Legion in Indianapolis Aug. 29. “The fact that the United States of America vigorously pursues this noble mission is the right thing to do, and it defines us as a nation. This serves as a marker to those of us who are veterans, as well as to those who serve in uniform today, that this nation will never forget and never leave a fallen warrior behind.”

The number of missing Americans from World War II to today’s present conflicts is 82,000. Of that number, McKeague said an estimated 39,000 are recoverable as the others are deep sea losses. “Each one of those 39,000 losses, along with the others, represents a unique story that transcends generations and time,” McKeague said. That time is a deep loss for families of the missing that won’t heal until their loved one is accounted for.

The DPAA works with 46 countries where Americans went missing in combat. With 5,300 servicemembers still missing from North Korea, the United States is working to achieve an agreement with the North Korean field army in effort to resume field operations by next spring. Last field operations were conducted in 2005. However, 55 transfer cases of U.S. servicemembers’ remains returned to the United States from North Korea last August, of which 32 have been identified – the first was Master Sgt. McDaniel from Indiana. McKeague said scientist expect that “in those commingled remains are the DNA sequences of 250 individuals.”

McKeague applauded the Legion’s dedication and support for those servicemembers still unaccounted for.

“Let me thank profusely The American Legion for your staunch support to your missing comrades and to their families,” he said. “Thank you for strongly advocating your members of Congress how vitally important this mission is. Thank you for flying the iconic POW/MIA flag over your posts and for attending the burials of our returning servicemembers.”

McKeague also recognized Legion posts and Auxiliary units in Hutchinson, Kan., who raised money to fund the installation of an eternal lamp at the county POW/MIA memorial in the town. “Your commitment at all levels truly makes a difference not only to our POW/MIAs, but more importantly to their Gold Star families," he said.

McKeague added that across the world DPAA is partnering with universities and private entities to “do more research, more investigations and more recoveries.” Today, 180 DPAA and partner professionals are deployed in eight countries with teams from Laos and Solomon Islands returning home with remains in the last few weeks that they recovered from their respective missions.

The American Legion, “you do take care of veterans. And the fact these are unreturned veterans who you care for speaks volumes to your passion and dedication to this mission,” McKeague concluded.

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Surfing With a Disability

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Several nonprofit groups cater to surfers with disabilities, both physical and cognitive.

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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.