By The American Legion
Indiana Legionnaire Jeff Piper has gone through his struggles since leaving the U.S. Army decades ago – financially and psychologically. But he’s been pulled back up, he said, through support from others.
He’s tried to repay that support, assisting other veterans in a variety of ways over the years. And now he’s trying to expand that assistance to those in his community unable to access fresh produce, meat and other food, bringing the food directly to those people.
“Our mission is provide healthy food access to Marion County where needed,” said Piper, second vice commander at American Legion Post 34 in Indianapolis. “The target neighborhoods would be called the ‘food deserts.’ And it’s so easy to find one. There’s a bunch of them.”
Piper has a history of assisting other veterans through activities such as building birdhouses, fishing and hunting. The organization he co-founded with Marine Corps veteran and local business owner Chuck Mack, Veterans Industries and Arts, helps veterans find opportunities in employment and arts therapy. That’s where the vision behind the Cool Bus originated: an opportunity to assist others while providing employment to veterans.
The Cool Bus is a converted 40-foot long Blue Bird school bus purchased by Piper and converted into a mobile grocery store approved to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bus will bring fresh meat, produce and other items into neighborhoods where the residents wouldn’t otherwise have easy access to such food.
The bus will be staffed by veterans, while some of the food will be sourced from veterans that are a part of the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
“The bus will go to those neighborhoods,” Piper said. “Our target market are those people who receive SNAP benefits. I look at this as being multi-faceted: The community, food access, nutrition.
“We don’t care where we source (the food) from. We will buy, transport and sell. We don’t give it away. We’re out here to sustain, because the two employees on the bus are veterans coming out of different issues.
Post 34 is currently housing the bus and recently dedicated its fall festival fundraiser to collect donations for the initiative. The day included food, a silent auction, and a lineup of local and regional musicians.
“(The post is) just so supportive in whatever I come up with,” Piper said. “My whole thing is veteran and community. And I think the relationship there needs to be taught at a young age.”
Piper hopes to get other American Legion posts involved in the Cool Bus initiative. “It’s a mission,” he said of the Cool Bus. “I have to complete this mission.”
For more info about the Cool Bus program, click here.
BY ROBERT GARROVA
The meeting halls and lounges of American Legion posts across the country serve as a community hub for veterans and their families. But during the pandemic, many have had to shut their doors to retired service members looking to grab a cheap drink or rent out the hall for an event.
That has meant a big hit to some posts' bottom line.
On a recent Saturday night, comedian Scott Shimamoto thanked the audience for coming out to a comedy night in the parking lot of Monterey Park, California's Post 397.
The physically distanced outdoor show came complete with a stage, emcee, DJ, and taco stand.
"I know it's been difficult for them because they're used to having a big audience here and having their friends, veterans," said John Padilla, who helped organize the event. He's not a veteran, but he's been coming to this post since his friend, a Vietnam Vet, first invited him.
"Their daily life, their routine, has been disrupted," Padilla said.
Gabriel Suarez has been commander of this post for the past decade. It's got about 70 members now.
Pre-pandemic, Suarez said this post would host parties almost every weekend. It's the kind of place veterans could grab a drink, enjoy a meal, and swap stories over a game of billiards.
It's been hard not having community gatherings as often as they used to. Suarez motions to a water feature that has gone dry.
"Every veteran would sit right there and just listen to the babbling of the water until they fell asleep, and most of them did with a cigar in their hand," Suarez said. "It's just those little things, we provide a home environment."
The festivities were all about camaraderie. But they were also about keeping the lights on.
The comedy night was billed as a fundraiser, with the money helping the post compensate for the hit it's taken since the pandemic froze bar sales, hall rentals, and other sources of income.
"There's a big necessity for fundraising for our building," Suarez said. "We need to keep our building open so we're able to do the food banks, so we're able to invite our comics out tonight.
And Post 397 is not alone in its need to raise money.
"We have about 423 posts in California, and I'm fairly certain ... that a good 20 percent of them are in danger of financially having to close their doors due to the losses that they've incurred due to this pandemic," said Paul Brown, Adjutant for the American Legion Department of California.
Brown said what local posts in California are feeling is probably not too much different from the restaurant industry, especially as they feel the whiplash from state reopening guidance which has changed over the last several months.
"They're trying to adapt, they're trying to modify, they're trying to overcome the situation, survive it," Brown said.
It's hard to get a sense of just how much the pandemic has affected the more than 12,000 posts across the country. But in October, The American Legion National Executive Committee announced the Mission Blue Post Assistance Program. Eligible posts can apply for $1,000 grants which "must be used exclusively to pay current or past due rent, mortgage, utilities, and insurance."
"We are definitely concerned about it," said Jeff Stoffer, director of media and communications at the Legion's headquarters in Indiana.
"A lot of posts have just basically converted what they were doing towards different purposes," Stoffer added.
That's meant comedy nights, or even a drive-in movie theater at a post in Hollywood.
"We've had to be innovative, we've had to figure out how to modernize a lot of American Legions," said Michael Hjelmstad, vice commander of Hollywood's Post 43."The American Legion, historically, is not real fast to take to change and new technology and things like that, so this has kind of forced us to really step up in ways that would have taken us a lot longer."
And that, Hjelmstad said, may be one silver lining on the cloud of this pandemic.
Source: LAist.com This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Military.com | By Richard Sisk
Nearly half of the more than 69,000 claims for "Blue Water Navy" Agent Orange benefits have been processed, and about 71% of those have thus far been approved for more than $664 million in retroactive benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday.
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act signed into law by President Donald Trump in June 2019 extended Agent Orange benefits already in effect for veterans who served on land or the inland waterways of Vietnam to veterans who served on ships that came within 12 nautical miles of the Vietnam coast.
"As of Sept. 30, VA has processed 34,415 [48%] of 69,570 claims received, of which 24,328 [71%] have been granted -- awarding more than $664 million in retroactive benefits to eligible veterans and families," officials said in the Monday release.
Those whose claims have not been granted can resubmit them with added documentation or can ask for a review of the initial claim, said Chris Slawinski, executive director of the Fleet Reserve Association.
He said the main reasons for a claim not being granted would be a lack of documentation on the sailor's service record or lack of medical records.
"VA will continue to get the word out via our social media channels, public service announcements and Veterans Service Organizations -- to ensure every veteran who is eligible applies as soon as possible," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.
To aid in claims, the VA also collaborated with the National Archives and Records Administration to digitize all Navy and Coast Guard deck logs for ships with known Vietnam service to make the information available at the National Archives Catalog.
More information on Agent Orange Exposure and benefits can be found by calling 800-827-100, and also can be found here.
Section I: General
The American Legion Department of Indiana 19th Regional Championship Junior Shooting Sports Program (JSSP) Air Rifle competition will be conducted on Saturday and Sunday, March 13th & 14th, respectively. The purpose of these regional events is to determine the Department of Indiana Sporter Air Rifle Champion. Advanced registration and on-site check-in required.
Section II: Entries
Competitors must be a member of an air rifle shooting club currently affiliated with an American Legion Post within the Department of Indiana. Competitors must be currently enrolled in a public or private elementary, junior high school, senior high school, or equivalent graded home school institution.
Section III: Match Format and Location
The 2020-2021 American Legion Department of Indiana JSSP Championship Match shall be conducted in a North/South Regional Match format. The Northern Region will include those JSSP teams from the American Legion’s 1st thru 5th Districts. The Northern Regional Match shall be held at Bass & Bucks, 4890 West Millcreek Pike, Wabash, IN 46992. The Southern Region shall include those JSSP teams from the American Legion’s 6th thru 11th Districts. The Southern Regional Match shall be held at American Legion Post 70, 1125 Miller Ave., Shelbyville, IN 46176. Reference the enclosed District map and County to District Index to determine your District and assigned Regional contest.
If reasonable extenuating circumstances prevent a team from competing in their assigned Regional event, they may submit a written request to the Department Program Director for a change of venue and approval to compete in the Northern or Southern Match, as applicable. Said request will be addressed by the Department JSSP Committee. Change of venue decisions will be based on the justification provided, and the regional event facility space availability. The decision of the JSSP Committee shall be final. Change of Venue requests must be received with the team registration submission, by the established event registration deadline. If a change of venue request is denied, all associated registration fees will be refunded.
Section IV: Match Registration and Check-In Instructions
Advanced registration and on-site check-in are required for these Department Match events. Registration form is available online at www.indianalegion.org. Click on the “PROGRAMS” tab and select “Junior Shooting Sports”. Registration deadline is Friday, February 26, 2021. On-site event check-in opens at 9:00 a.m. Event opening ceremony begins at 10:00 a.m. with competition to follow immediately thereafter.
Section V: Course of Fire
The course of fire will be a 3 x 10 match. 10 minutes will be allowed to fire the prone shots with 8 minutes time allowed for preparation and sighting. 10 minutes for kneeling shots with 8 minutes time allowed for preparation and sighting and 15 minutes for standing with 8 minutes time for preparation and sighting.
Section VI: Conduct of the Tournament
Rules: The 2019-2021 National Standard Three Position Air Rifle Rules shall govern competition unless modified by this Official Match Program.
Section VII: Competitors
There will be no range clock on site. The timing of the firing stage (within the official time limit) is the competitor’s responsibility. The Match Range officer will give 5 minute and 2-minute warnings.
Section VIII: Awards
1st, 2nd, and 3rd place (gold, silver, and bronze respectively) award medals will be awarded for prone, standing, kneeling and overall champion shooters for each Regional Match. Based on the Orion system scoring from the Regional events, the final Department Positional (prone, standing and kneeling) Champions will be determined, as will the Department’s Overall Champion. Each of the final Positional and Overall Champions will be invited to attend the Department Spring Conference in April 2021. During the Spring Conference General Session, each Champion will be recognized and presented a plaque. The Department Match Overall winner will also receive a $1,000.00 scholarship for a post-high school, state accredited, institution of higher learning of their choice.
By Steven B. Brooks
For 25 years Byron Cox American Legion Post 72 in Crawfordsville, Ind., has put on a Veterans Expo that brought together local veterans with a variety of vendors – health-care professionals, American Legion service officers, educators and others – filling the post.
The coronavirus pandemic meant Post 72 would need to alter this year’s expo, but for Legionnaire Mike Spencer, one aspect needed to remain in place: flu shots for veterans. Teaming up with Walgreens, the post was able to provide 74 veterans and their spouses with the free shots during a scaled-back Veterans Expo from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 15 at the post. Those ages 65 and over were given the opportunity to receive a high-dose shot; 50 took advantage of the offer.
“We talked it over with the (post executive board), and I expressed my desire to give the shots … but due to the pandemic, I thought we should do away with the vendors this year,” said Spencer, Post 72’s third vice commander and the expo’s chairman for the past five years. “Getting shots for our veterans was our most important thing.”
American Legion National Commander James “Bill” Oxford recently recorded two PSAs urging Legionnaires to get flu shots, something not lost on Post 72.
“That’s what we were trying to express to everybody,” Spencer said. “Due to the pandemic and (flu season), we were trying to encourage to come in and get their flu shots with their spouses. It’s one of these years you need to get the shot.”
The expo also offered eye exams, while Montgomery County Veterans Service Officer Joe Ellis was available to assist veterans with Department of Veterans Affairs claims and answer other questions.
Spencer said previous expos included a multitude of vendors from hospitals, colleges, nursing homes and an American Legion Department of Indiana service officer. “We just have all kinds of things if any of our veterans have any issues or need any education or advice on anything,” he said. “We’ve got it right here. It’s just grown over the years. We have so many vendors that want to take part in this. They know it’s a good thing and know that we have a good crowd. It’s worked real well. I think it keeps veterans up with what’s going on."
Social distancing was required during the expo, as was wearing a mask. Past Department of Indiana Commander Rodney Strong, now serving as Post 72’s commander and a 31-year Legionnaire, said he and Spencer realized cancelling this year’s expo would have been a mistake and were willing to take any necessary safety measures.
“We decided this was what we needed to do, and we wanted to limit it to who came and who the vendors were,” said Strong, who also has been in the Sons of The American Legion for 57 years. “We still wanted to do this. It was very important to us.”
Apart from the health-care aspects, Strong said the expo also provided a safe break from stay-at-home situations and limited contact with others. “Some of (the veterans) … maybe once in a year this is where they see each other,” he said. “So it’s a little bit of camaraderie.”
Post 72 member Maj. Gen. Bruce Bowers, commander of the Indiana Guard Reserve (IGR), and his wife Bev came by the post for their flu shots. Bruce, who served in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1976 and has served in the IGR since 1981, said being able to get the shots “is very convenient. I’ve got my shot here for probably the last five or six years.”
The 48-year Legionnaire said Post 72’s dedication to offering the expo in the midst of the pandemic is emblematic of what the post provides to its community. “They provide a lot of different services,” said Bowers. “It’s very nice.”
The American Legion
Public health mandates in response to the coronavirus included stay-at-home orders and business closures. Those mandates financially impacted American Legion posts nationwide as member and community outreach efforts were limited, resulting in a loss of revenue.
To provide some relief during these challenging times, financial grants are now available for eligible American Legion posts.
Resolution No. 36, Mission Blue Post Assistance Program, will provide $1,000 grants to posts that are in good standing with their respective department. These funds must be used exclusively to pay current or past due rent, mortgage, utilities and insurance.
The American Legion National Executive Committee approved Resolution No. 36 Oct. 14, during its annual Fall Meetings. Funds for the approved grants will be provided through The American Legion National Emergency Fund (NEF).
Eligibility for a Mission Blue Post Assistance Program grant requires posts to have:
1. A Consolidated Post Report on file.
2. Filed an IRS 990 within the prescribed due date.
3. Filed all other required forms and reports as prescribed by the department.
4. Actively participated in one or more American Legion programs in the last 18 months.
5. A financial need.
6. A certificate of insurance naming The American Legion doing business as American Legion National Headquarters as an additional insured.
7. Documentation indicating that the post is properly incorporated.
The Mission Blue Post Assistance Program grant application will be a fillable PDF. Please stay tuned for its release. American Legion posts applying for a grant will be required to first submit the completed application to their respective department for approval before it can be sent to National Headquarters. This application procedure is the same as the NEF.
American Legion posts have until Dec. 31, 2021, to apply for an Operation Blue PAP grant.
A total of 306 service members died by suicide in the first half of 2020, according to the most recent Pentagon report released on Thursday, which covers suicide deaths up to June 30.
New Indiana Veterans Center will provide centralized services and resources for veterans at historic downtown site
by Kirsten Clark (in.gov)
INDIANAPOLIS – On March 15, 1919, members of the American Expeditionary Force convened in Paris to form the first American Legion caucus. This historic event marked the start of an organization dedicated to creating and fighting for veteran benefits, resources and programs. The new American Legion crafted the first pages of the G.I. Bill and established the U.S. Veterans Bureau, which would later become the Veterans Administration.
The group’s war-weary veterans held their first convention in November 1919 in Minneapolis. They adopted a constitution and preamble and voted to establish a permanent national headquarters, moving the newly named American Legion from Washington, D.C., to Indianapolis. With more than 170 trains in and out of the Circle City on a daily basis, Indianapolis provided the ideal location for 55 department heads to meet and create the programs that would change the lives of American veterans and their families forever.
“A special Indiana legislative session in 1920 actually designated two city blocks on state property and allocated $2.2 million to construct what is now the Memorial Mall,” said J. Stewart Goodwin, Indiana War Memorial executive director and retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general. “They initially sought to use the property to honor the nearly 135,000 Hoosier veterans and 3,709 killed in action.”
The state moved to build the Legion’s home on this property, located at 777 N. Meridian St., and broke ground in 1924. Building 777 was the first property conceived on the state land. In 1927, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front during World War I, laid the cornerstone of the Indiana War Memorial, launching the development of additional memorials standing in that space today. The American Legion Mall features a sunken garden with a cenotaph and four Art Deco columns topped with stylized golden eagles. Built in 1931, the cenotaph is a tribute to the Hoosiers who gave their lives in World War I.
“The city of Indianapolis has more memorials and space dedicated to our service members and veterans than any other city in America, except Washington, D.C.,” Goodwin said. “Leaders back then understood the importance of honoring and caring for our nation’s veterans. It behooves us to do the same and consolidate services, programs and benefits for veterans in one location to ensure the highest quality care and recognition for their efforts defending freedom around the world.”
After the building’s construction was complete in 1925, the American Legion, the Red Cross and the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) took up residence in the four-story, 40,000 square foot iconic structure. The American Legion Auxiliary also began serving women veterans from Building 777. The location was so successful that by 1950, the Legion had outgrown the building and moved to a new, larger location nearby at 700 N. Pennsylvania St. In 2014, then-IDVA director James Brown and Goodwin conceived the idea to centralize and secure veteran services in one prime location named the Indiana Veterans Center.
“We are now in a position to put this historic site back to work in a way that will provide tremendous benefit to veterans and eligible family members,” said Dennis Wimer, IDVA director. “The vision we have is to make Building 777 the nucleus of veteran activity, resources and strength in Indiana. Veterans will be able to access the help and resources they need in one location, one trip, one stop.”
The distinctive structure needed a transforming renovation, while still preserving all the detail of its early 1920s charm and architecture. Then-Gov. Mike Pence appropriated funds from a 1923 state account that allocated monies for maintaining, building and recovering state properties but remained unused until labor to revive the site began. While the historic look of the building has been preserved, new features include updated ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and restrooms on each floor. Now that the renovation is complete, all divisions of IDVA will migrate to the building’s third floor, including the State Approving Agency (SAA) and the Military Family Relief Fund.
SAAs were created during the early days of the World War II GI Bill of Rights, from ideas conceived and developed in Building 777. The primary focus of the SAAs continues to be the review, evaluation and approval of quality programs of education and training under state and federal criteria. SAAs conduct on-site compliance visits to approved institutions and to those seeking approval and provide technical assistance to help them meet requirements. SAAs engage in outreach activities to encourage wider use of the GI Bill by veterans, schools and employers. Many also act as state liaisons, helping military installations provide base personnel with quality educational offerings and information about education benefits.
Additional agencies that will follow IDVA to the Indiana Veterans Center are the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation, INVets, representatives from the Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Furthermore, the location will assist veterans with their medical and health care enrollment and benefits, as well as with acquiring benefits and services offered from the federal regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“No other state that we know of will offer all of these services under one roof,” said Goodwin. “Since the Vietnam War, every veteran is a volunteer; they raised their hands and took an oath to protect and defend others. It is our responsibility to take care of those who took care of us.”
Building 777 also has improved technology access and increased space for training, staff meetings and conferences. Veterans will be able to use computers and the internet to access any digital and electronic records with assistance from staff.
“This will be a veteran’s last stop; this is the finest collection of veteran helpers in one location,” Goodwin said. “If you have a problem or an issue and you can’t get it solved elsewhere, you need to bring it here and get it resolved. We will work until it is truly fixed.”
Some information for this article obtained from https://www.legion.org/history.
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