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Veterans Benefits Information

115th Congress filled with significant wins for veterans

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The 115th Congress has ended and leaves a legacy of successfully passing significant legislation that impacts America’s veterans. The American Legion played a key role in ensuring several of these pieces of legislation passed through Congress by advocating on behalf of America’s veterans and servicemembers.

Legislation supported by The American Legion includes:

The Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which was passed by both chambers and signed into law by President Trump. The act gives the secretary of VA the authority to rid or demote employees that don't meet the mission of VA.

The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, which modernized the appeals process at VA. This bill impacts the many veterans who have been waiting years for decisions on their claims and was signed into law by Trump on stage during The American Legion’s 99th national convention in Reno, Nev. The changes streamline the appeals process and force VA to issue a decision on a claim within one year.

John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act, also called the Mission Act, overhauls how veterans can receive their health care. The expansion of the Caregiver Support Program under the Mission Act broadened the program beyond exclusively post-9/11 veterans, ensuring veterans of other war generations have access to the program.

Choice Program. The American Legion worked closely with Congress to ensure the extension of the Choice Program. The program helps veterans access medical care in the private sector when care through VA was not an option or wait times were too long.

The Harry W. Colmery GI Bill — also called the Forever GI Bill — is named after an American Legion past national commander. The bill passed Congress and was signed into law by the president. The Forever GI Bill removes the 15-year cap for using the benefit post-service. Another change added is protection for student veterans against predatory, for-profit higher education institutions.

Electronic health record. The American Legion advocated strongly for electronic health record (EHR) modernization. With the influence and support of The American Legion, Congress approved the necessary funding for the Cerner contract which will manage this new program. VA and the Department of Defense are beginning to implement interoperable EHR that will aide servicemembers as they transition into the civilian sector.

Centennial coin. To commemorate The American Legion’s centennial celebration, a U.S. Minted coin was approved by Congress to recognize the 100 years of American Legion’s service to veterans, military personnel, their families, young people and communities. Legionnaires successfully lobbied Congress to pass the bill — which was the most co-sponsored piece of legislation to pass the 115th Congress. All proceeds from the sale of The American Legion centennial coin will help raise money for American Legion programs that support veterans, servicemembers and their families

With the new Congress now in session, The American Legion will continue to advocate on behalf of America’s veterans and their families and pursue legislation honoring the legacy of those who have served an securing a future for those to come.


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Legion Baseball well-represented at record-setting ABCA convention

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The 75th annual American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention took place in suburban Dallas at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas.

The event, which features a trade show, theaters, meetings, award celebrations and more, hosted over 6,700 attendees, marking another record attendance year.

American Legion Baseball had a booth at the trade show and members of the baseball committee and national staff greeted coaches looking for information about the program and registration, which opened on Jan. 1 at www.baseball.legion.org.

Coaches from six of the last eight American Legion World Series championship teams stopped by to exchange stories and appreciation for their time in Shelby, N.C.

In addition, American Legion Baseball participated in meetings regarding safety, USA Baseball’s Pure Baseball initiative, the future of baseball and more.

Leading one of the sessions was 56-year American Legion Baseball coach Jim Peck of Excelsior Legion Post 259 in Minnesota, who is the ABCA’s youth chair.

At the weekend’s Hall of Fame Banquet, Jim Darby, who played for the Lafayette, Calif., post for two years and went on to serve as the voice of the American Legion World Series, was presented with the 2019 ABCA/Wilson Lefty Gomez Award. The award is named after Lefty Gomez and is presented annually to an individual who has "contributed significantly to the game of baseball locally, national and internationally," according to ABCA.

Gomez was The American Legion's 1976 James V. Day Good Guy Award recipient. The award honors those who, though busy in their specialties, feel the need to work for and on behalf of others, and participate in the betterment of society.


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USAA Tips: 5 money saving challenges for the new year

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Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Angela Caban

The new year brings the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again. These 5 money saving challenges can help you increase your financial security and make saving money easier and more fun for the whole family.

The Competitive Savings Challenge

If you find yourself to be a competitive person, this one will be easy for you. Start a competition with your spouse, family member or even a friend to see who can save the most within a period of time. Set goals each month and create a shareable chart where you can log your progress and everyone can see where you are. The more people you have involved, the better chances you have of staying motivated to save.

The No-Spend Savings Challenge

I find it easier to not spend money at times rather than taking a certain amount each payday and putting aside. Honestly, to stay on track you need to find what works for you, and let’s remember – some months it is hard to put extra money on the side. Limit your spending by picking a length of time and spend nothing that does not fall under needs. Each month for the next 12 months try taking 10 or even 15 days where you spend nothing extra. For instance: your bills, gas and groceries are all needs, but going to see that new movie on Friday night is a want.

The Weather Savings Challenge

As I was getting ready to write this blog post I wanted to include something new, different and honestly something I have never tried before. I stumbled upon this blogger who has come up with a totally awesome and off the wall savings challenge. The “Weather Wednesday” challenge is where you would check to see what the highest recorded temperature is in your state, and then you deposit that dollar amount into your savings account each week. I will surely be trying this one this coming new year. What a fun twist on savings!

The Don’t Overthink It Savings Challenge

Many of us just want things to be automated, without even thinking about it. I get it, life is busy and we need to stay on track with ways that help us best. Setting up automatic transfers from one account to your savings is a great way to save without even thinking about it or putting too much effort into it.

The Classic 52 Week Savings Challenge

My family and I have been doing the 52 week savings challenge for a few years now and have always loved it. If you have ever looked up savings challenges, you have most likely stumbled upon this one since it is one of the most popular ones. This challenge is great because it spreads out the amount you save per week for the entire year. You can print a chart to help keep you on track, or create a spreadsheet where you mark off each week with the deposit you have made.

Saving money can be difficult because let’s face it, life doesn’t stop and we are always tempted everywhere we go. It is a challenge in itself to change your saving and spending habits but remember it is never too late to start, even if you are starting off small, every dollar counts.


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Legion presence prominent at Student Veterans conference

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Nearly 2,500 student veterans descended on Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort January 3-5 for the Student Veterans of America (SVA) National Conference, and among them were many students who were Legionnaires.

The American Legion National Headquarters was also well-represented by numerous staffers, including National Judge Advocate Kevin Bartlett and John Kamin, assistant director in the Veterans Employment & Education Division (VE&E) in Washington, D.C. Bartlett also addressed attendees at their awards banquet on Jan. 5. The keynote speakers for the awards banquet were Medal of Honor recipients Kyle White and Ryan Pitts, both Legionnaires who have presented the Spirit of Service awards at The American Legion National Convention.

In his comments at the banquet, Bartlett noted that today’s veterans owed a lot to earlier veterans who had “envisioned a future that would long outlive them … of fair and beneficial support, regardless of gender, ethnicity or pedigree, because they knew that if given a chance, veterans would make America stronger.

“Indeed, it was the veteran – not the government – who fought for and achieved a coherent VA health-care system. It was the veteran – not the government – that fought for and achieved the Veterans Preference Hiring Act. It was the veteran – not the government – that crafted the GI Bill and worked to improve it for each new generation, including the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, named for the American Legion past national commander who drafted the original version in 1944.”

Bartlett also called on those present to pick up the mantle of leadership and advocacy, a recurring theme for the conference which had the motto of “Warrior – Scholar – Leader.”

“As The American Legion celebrates its centennial this year, if you do nothing more, I am asking you to recognize the vision of the men and women who came before us,” Bartlett said. “They designed the future we now enjoy. It is our turn now to design one for generations of U.S. military veterans yet to be born, whose identity must be maintained and strengthened, for the good of everyone. Our predecessors had educations to achieve, careers to start and an economy to grow – as we do. But they also made time to advocate on behalf of each other and values forged in service, firm in the belief that when veterans stand united, are treated with respect and are given the chance to succeed, they make America stronger.”

Bartlett, Kamin and others manned a large booth prominently placed in the conference’s Exposition Hall that touted the success of the original The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (“GI Bill”) and the recently signed Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act (“forever GI Bill”). Included in the display were an original pen used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to sign the GI Bill and a copy of the Forever GI Bill signed by President Trump.

In between general assemblies that included addresses by White, Pitts, SVA President Jared Lyon and Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, the conference also included a number of breakout sessions. These sessions dealt with all facets of student life, adjusting to a post-military career, advocating for veterans and running an SVA chapter. One such breakout session was titled “Veteran Service Organization: A Legacy of Service” hosted by SVA Vice President of Government Affairs Lauren Augustine and including representatives from several other veterans service organizations, in addition to Kamin.

Augustine noted while the goals of the so called “Big 6” service organizations often overlap with those of SVA, the traditional service organizations also play a critical role in helping veterans secure benefits that SVA doesn’t engage in.

“We work hand-in-hand with every group up here, and they were all instrumental in helping support Forever GI Bill and many, many other benefits that SVA as an advocacy group actually doesn’t touch – things like health care and benefits delivery,” Augustine said. “And they do tremendous work on behalf of the millions of veterans across this country, and I really wanted to provide an opportunity for us to engage on that and to share this story.”

On the panel, The American Legion’s Kamin noted that the principles that guided the founding of the organization continue on to today. “For World War I veterans, Teddy Roosevelt and others got together and said ‘this fighting, this misery has to mean something, this service has to count and we should consecrate this veterans organization on those principles,’” he said. “And so there were our Four Pillars – Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism and Children and Youth – and essentially it said ‘your service matters now that you are back, and you need to dedicate yourself to making the country greater.’”

Kamin also detailed all the services that the Legion can provide that many veterans are unaware of, from processing claims, to working the halls of Congress, to helping students with any problems with the GI Bill. Kamin also thanked those in attendance for allowing him to tell the Legion’s story.

Bartlett also expressed how grateful he was to be given the opportunity to address the conference, saying, “It is indeed an honor, because it doesn’t seem that long ago when I was a student veteran like you… home from the Navy, unsure how the future would unfold, certain that I could make a difference, as I hope I did in uniform.”


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A centennial celebration over the airwaves

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The American Legion Amateur Radio Club (TALARC) traditionally conducts a special event in March to celebrate the Legion’s birthday. And to celebrate this year’s 100th birthday, the club is preparing for an event to match that milestone.

TALARC is hosting the birthday special event on Saturday, March 9, from 1-7 p.m. EST on four different frequencies: 7.225 MHz, 14.275 MHz, *CrossRds* EchoLink Conference, and IRLP Reflector 9735.

Participants who make contact with K9TAL (TALARC’s station) and send a self-addressed stamped envelope will receive a QSL card and a unique 100th Birthday Celebration certificate.

The Veterans Day special event last November gathered more than 400 contacts within a six-hour window, and that was just the ones TALARC volunteers were able to respond to before a signal was lost. According to new K9TAL trustee Josh Marshall, KD9DHX, “We are expecting several hundred more contacts than usual during the 100th birthday special event, and are utilizing more volunteers in an effort to make contact with each person who calls in.”

Contact to the four frequencies can be made from anywhere in the nation, and even from overseas - weather permitting. Legionnaires, Legion Family members and non-members alike are welcome.


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Did you know?

A veteran’s family must request a United States flag.

A flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag may be provided per veteran. Upon the request of the family, an “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 21-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices.