American Legion News
A primary Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) research program hit its goal but it is not stopping there.
The Million Veterans Project (MVP) reached its milestone on Nov. 8 when the one millionth veteran was added to the research program, which was launched in 2011. The goal of MVP is to collect information from veterans and analyze it to improve VA health care and services.
Jennifer Deen, associate director of Cohort and Public Relations in VA's Office of Research and Development, talked about goals moving forward.
"So, what's next?," Deen said. "We have a lot more work to do. A couple of our high impact goals for the cohort in general is making MVP more accessible and bringing MVP to the veteran through the ways that are most convenient to them."
Those include sending a kit to the veteran, opening new locations and more.
Deen also said VA wants to increase the numbers of the underrepresented populations. Of those already signed up:
• 90% are male.
• Three in four are white.
• 18% of participants are black and 8% are Hispanic, including some who identified as being multiracial.
The average age is 67, with more than one in three between the ages of 70 and 79. Overall, 81% are 50 or older.
By diversifying those numbers, it would help create better health-care solutions for all veterans. So VA is encouraging veterans with diverse backgrounds to sign up for MVP.
"We want to bring that value back to the veteran at the point of care," Deen summarized. "The future looks really bright for MVP. We want to increase diversity and bring MVP to the veteran to let all veterans be a part of this. Expanding that data access so researchers, inside and outside VA, have the ability to impact research and help us with our next goal and scope of the project. And it will be something our physicians can use in the real world."
For the members of SAL Squadron 105 in Belleville, N.J., the holiday season truly is a "Season of Giving."
"Everything we do as a squadron is for the benefit of others," said Squadron 105 Commander Steve Sangemino. "We're always going to be there to help someone in need, whether it's a brother, a veteran, or anybody in the community."
The squadron and Legion Family in Belleville are managing a toy and clothing drive. Around $4,000 in toys and clothing have been ordered since fundraising began with a "Christmas in July" event, and more donations are coming in.
Squadron 105 Adjutant Rusty Myers noted that anyone in need can drop by the post on Dec. 14, when toys and clothing are distributed, and anything left over will be distributed to the needy in the community afterward.
"As an American Legion family, I'm very proud that the SAL is very active, and now that we have the American Legion Auxiliary there helping also with all that they do for veterans and in support of the Four Pillars," said Post 105 Commander Joseph Cobianchi.
The squadron is also conducting a 50/50 raffle to benefit the Fisher House Foundation, which builds comfort homes where military and veterans families can stay for free while a loved one is in the hospital. Over the past four years, the squadron has raised over $6,000 through the raffle to donate to Fisher House.
"I'm very proud of our SAL family. When something needs to be done, we just do it," said Squadron 105 First Vice Commander James Elsmore.
The squadron's giving spirit began even before the holidays.
At the squadron's general meeting in November, donations of $250 each were made to the Children's Organ Transplant Association (COTA), The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation (CWF) and Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW). Those donations highlight the SAL's support of the Legion's Four Pillars — in this case, children and youth, and veterans affairs.
"This organization is such an amazing force for good, whether it's for our vets, or kids, or our community, state, and nation. I'm proud that our members bring to action in every way National Commander Hall's slogan ‘Representing More than Me,'" Myers said.
Kristen Christy is America's resilience coach. Resiliency is an attribute the co-creator of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline garnered from moving around as a military child, from losing her military husband to suicide 15 years ago, and from suicide attempts by her two sons.
The award-winning author and inspirational speaker takes her own lessons learned from hardship and helps people overcome their disappointments, insecurities and adversaries. She is their tutor for when people are learning tough lessons "because we are not meant to do life alone," she said. Christy is this week's special guest on The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima Podcast, where you learn from the "emotional support human" how to be resilient, how listening gives purpose, and that HOPE is a stopgap to suicide.
Christy put her resiliency skills into play for herself and for her then 14- and 12-year-old boys when their father passed away. She too was resilient for her community, who showed up for her in the hard time. On the night of her late husband's passing, she made one phone call and soon her house was full of friends who cared.
"As humans, we want to have the answers or say the right things," said Christy, a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 209 in Colorado Springs, Colo. "But a lot of times it's just being there or doing something," noting that her hairdresser came over to cut the boys hair before the funeral. When she now speaks about resiliency, "I talk about showing up and doing something. Not necessarily saying anything." Noting that people said to her, "He's in a better place", it upset Christy, as she wondered why that better place wasn't at the family dinner table. "It's OK to say, ‘I don't have the words, but I'm here,'" she added.
The loss of her husband prompted Christy in 2010 to advocate for a three-digit suicide prevention lifeline. In 2022, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline went live nationwide. People can dial 988 and press 1 for veteran support, 2 for Spanish and now 4 for LGBTQ+. She said it's up to us as a community to act if we notice a loved one is not acting like themselves.
"Are you thinking about suicide? We say it's a tough conversation, but it's just an untrained conversation," Christy said. "I can ask that question with no hesitation because I've practiced. I wish I could go back 15 years ago and ask Don if he was thinking of suicide and have him be mad at me (a fear people have). I'd rather have him be mad at me than a 14-year-old giving his eulogy. So ask the question."
Christy said research has shown that if you take 10 people who need mental help, eight just need someone to listen to them.
At 3 a.m., Christy received a phone call from an airmen who wasn't in a good place. She asked the airmen what she liked to do, which she responded that she loved animals. The next day the airmen went to the vet on base and asked to volunteer to walk the dogs "to give her a sense of purpose. And to use your passion to find that purpose is so important. Your identify is not based on what you do. It's based on who you are and what your character is."
Christy said that while resiliency is found in purpose, it is also saying something nice to yourself and to someone else; fostering relationships "because when that test happens, you will have a safety net of people who know you and know that you need;" and having an accountability person who will listen in good times and bad. "When I couldn't get my butt out of bed to take my kids to school, my friends came over and got me up (to take the kids). They weren't enabling (by taking the kids for me). They were encouraging."
Then there's hope.
As a current military spouse, Christy uses a lot of acronyms. HOPE (hold on, pain eases) is one that's on a military bade.
"I've heard hope is not a strategy (for ending suicide), but it can be a stopgap. We can be a stopgap in those few minutes," she said. "I wish people would think about the aftermath. I know a lot of people attempt because they feel like they are a burden. Some say suicide is selfish. I thought that before Don died. But in one of his many notes that he left, he felt like he was burden. I wish I could have told him he wasn't a burden. But we've got to be the one. We've got to be the collective. If we can help one person, it's exponential. One person, one family, one community, one future."
For resiliency, hope and inspiration, visit kristenchristycares.com/.
The Tango Alpha Lima podcast welcomes guest host Matt Jabaut of Maine, who is chairman of The American Legion's Membership & Post Activities Committee. On this episode, Jabaut and co-host Ashley Gutermuth also discuss:
• An Army app that will connect military spouses with on base and nearby employment opportunities, along with child care resources.
• The Army-Navy "clash of uniforms" for the Dec. 9 football game.
• What was the military doing at the Anime convention in New York City?
Check out this week's episode, which is among more than 210 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion's YouTube channel.
Over the years, the American Legion Department of Alabama has supported the needs of the Central Alabama Veterans Healthcare System (CAVHCS) with several American Legion Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) grants. These grants have provided veterans receiving care at an Alabama VA with recreational and rehabilitation equipment, comfort items and transportation needs, to include a five-passenger transport cart, clothing, toiletries, cornhole sets, CD players, dartboards, Samsung video players, engraving and cutting system for visually impaired veterans and more.
Thanks again to the efforts of the Department of Alabama, the biggest OCW grant ever was recently awarded to the CAVHCS of $68,000. Leadership from the department had an opportunity to see all OCW items purchased for the Tuskegee VA Medical Center on Nov. 30 during a special presentation.
"We're veterans helping veterans, and they are helping veterans. They kind of motivated us to want to go out and help them," said Department Jr. Vice Commander Willie Rogers who attended the presentation. "So whatever we could do to get them some assistance is what we did. I was told that OCW was the place to go and that's what I did."
CAVHCS has utilized the grant to purchase a variety of essential therapeutic and recreational items at its Tuskegee VA Medical Center as part of recovery for the veterans, ranging from outpatient and inpatient mental health to geriatrics. The equipment is visible in multiple areas such as the newly renovated recreational area, the Community Living Center and the community reintegration outdoor area.
A few recreational items purchased to help veterans decrease stress, anxiety and to socialize with other veterans included several:
· Samsung Smart TVs
· Xbox series with games
· Handheld video games
· Basketball arcade cage game
Other recreational and outdoor items included several:
· Apple iPads
· Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets
· Golf balls, putters and other mini golf equipment for outdoor use
· Electric golf carts
· Coolers for events
"The iPads and VR games create opportunities for the veterans to explore the world from where they are," said Erica R. Moore, chief of Alabama VA's Development and Civic Engagement. "In return, this creates opportunities to promote community reintegration and leisure education."
Rogers said VA leadership was very appreciative of The American Legion OCW grant.
"They showed us off and they kept The American Legion's name in their mouth all day long, saying ‘Thank you American Legion.'
"We really believe that some of our hospitals that work with our veterans have been left out, and they can't get some of the things that they need. We see that daily when we're dealing with the VA. If we had never found out or got really got involved with the Operation Comfort Warriors, we wouldn't have been able to get the things that they (CAVCHS) needed."
OCW provides recreational, rehabilitative and comfort items to wounded, injured and ill military servicemembers and veterans. OCW provides non-essential items typically not included as a budget line on government spreadsheets. These items are medically related to adaptive sports, physical therapy, occupational therapy and therapeutic recreation, or help wounded servicemembers transition back to their community. Learn more at legion.org/ocw.
Veterans will see new VA disability pay rates, based on Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) increases on the first business day of the new year.
The COLA year-over-year increase is 3.2%, the Social Security Administration announced on Oct. 12. It was finalized on Dec. 1.
VA has updated information on its website. The charts are designed to help recipients determine eligibility and anticipate the expected monthly payout for their approved VA disability claims, based on the COLA estimate.
Veterans are encouraged to review this information to assess their individual situations accurately.
By Henry Howard
There is nothing minor about the support the American Legion Department of Massachusetts receives from the Springfield Thunderbirds.
For years the Thunderbirds, the American Hockey League affiliate of the St. Louis Blues, have supported Massachusetts Legion programs such as Boys State, Junior Law Cadet, American Legion Baseball and the developing softball program. The team honors a "Veteran of the Game" and regularly conducts a jersey raffle with proceeds going to a Legion program.
Department of Massachusetts NECman Jodie Pajak raves about the support.
"There's no question, no feedback, no static when we ask them for anything," she said. "There is no hesitation from anybody on their staff. I've never been to any establishment where they are that welcoming. They want to be part of the community and it definitely shows. The relationship is phenomenal."
The Legion-Thunderbirds partnership was on full display on Dec. 1, The American Legion's Be the One Day. American Legion members set up a booth inside the arena to educate fans about the organization's primary mission to reduce the number of veteran suicides. Legion Family members handed out customized brochures to thousands of fans. (Video: how to modify and use this trifold at your Be the One event.)
Additionally, a special Be the One jersey, signed by the entire team, was revealed. It will be raffled off at the end of the season with proceeds going to the Veterans & Children Foundation to support Be the One.
During a break in the action, Jodie presented a coin to the "Veteran of the Game" on the ice. Every single member of the Thunderbirds tapped their hockey sticks on the ice, which is how players applaud.
The Be the One mission is especially meaningful for Jodie.
"Veterans suicide is a cancer that should not be," she said. "There are way too many resources, way too many programs to help veterans and their families, to help combat these needs and feelings that these veterans develop in their military careers and come across as they try to transition out of service and back to civilian life. You can't just flip a switch and go from structured to unstructured. You have to have some help. After a few years, you find you just can't cope. With this program we hope that they see us and seek us out."
One key, she pointed out, was having resources available.
"To be able to save one life is critical," she said. "The more that people are willing to step up and help — and not being afraid to step up and help — may make the difference between life and death."
Be the One was a natural tie-in this season for the Thunderbirds, which have regularly honored veterans. Their nickname, appropriately enough, is related to the Air Force Thunderbirds.
The team "wanted to get more involved with the community and they are wonderful to work with," said Jodie, who along with her husband, Drew, are members of Post 185 in Agawam. "They felt the need and they did want to help. They have been phenomenal in promoting this as a way to reduce the stigma. We have a partner that loves putting the Legion first."
The relationship began soon after the Pajaks, both of whom are Navy veterans, moved to Springfield where Drew's family has been longtime supporters of their hometown team. In fact, they have had season tickets since 1936.
"They have been such strong supporters of every program we have," Drew said. "On a smaller level, it mimics what we do with Chip Ganassi Racing. Jodie is the driving force for Legion softball here in Massachusetts. The minute the team heard about it, they immediately donated to Massachusetts Legion softball because it is for the kids. Anytime we have asked this team for support, promoting what the Legion is, they have always been there. It's a great partnership."
The Thunderbirds highlight The American Legion at all 36 home games. The Legion staffs a table inside the arena, promoting timely programs and initiatives. Over the course of a season, that outreach connects the Legion with at least 220,000 fans.
"At this level, specifically, I thought it was crucially important for us to build our business to open our doors to community projects and give it back to a number of programs, specifically the Legion," said Nathan Costa, Thunderbirds team president. "Part of the vision from the very beginning was how we can do things to make an impact on the community while also trying to do the right thing."
Ryan Smith, who manages the team's media, community relations and broadcasting, said his grandfather served in World War II. "It's wrenching for me that there are so many of these military folks who come back and for a variety of reasons and are not able to reacclimate to society," he said.
Smith is thankful for the freedom he enjoys thanks to generations of veterans.
"This is a chance to thank them for all that they do," he said. "Because without them, who knows what we could be doing on a day-to-day basis. There is no amount of thanks that we can give them for all that they do for us."
Strong community partners embolden the Be the One mission.
"It should be important to everybody," Jodie said. "Everybody should be aware. The Thunderbirds are family-oriented and community-oriented. It's not only veterans. It's the community itself. It could be your neighbor. It could be your friend. It could be your coworker that might need some help. They are willing to help us spread the word and make sure that it is known that is it OK to not be OK."
Drew believes other American Legion departments and posts can forge similar partnerships with their local sports teams or other organizations.
"Just reach out," he said. "Most of the time these groups are just waiting for you to ask. Don't ask them to do something and then expect them to do it all for you. Make sure you are there to do it with them."
American Legion National Commander Daniel J. Seehafer was busy in Washington D.C. in November, putting the muscle of the nation's largest veterans service organization behind the need to protect veterans from unscrupulous attorneys and pushing for better housing allowances for active-duty military personnel.
The Legion also disbursed grants, issued Eagle Scout certificates, grilled burgers and hot dogs and graduated more than 100 from Legion College.
The number of American Legion Baseball alumni enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame will increase to 86 — at least — when Jim Leyland joins the Hall next July.
Leyland, who played Legion Baseball for Post 183 in Pemberville, Ohio, was the sole selection to the Hall of Fame by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee for the Class of 2024. Leyland's selection was announced Dec. 3 at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
Leyland could be joined by two more Legion Baseball alumni in the Class of 2024 if Matt Holliday (Stillwater, Okla.) and Gary Sheffield (Post 248/Tampa, Fla.) are selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) on their ballot. Voting results for the writers' ballot will be announced Jan. 23, with the induction ceremony taking place during Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y., July 21, 2024.
Leyland was one of eight former managers, executives and umpires on the ballot for consideration by the 16-member Contemporary Baseball Era Committee. Leyland appeared on 15 of the 16 ballots; 12 votes were needed for enshrinement.
Another Legion Baseball alumnus, Lou Piniella (West Tampa), came up one vote shy of joining Leyland in the Hall of Fame. Former National League President Bill White was the only other candidate to receive double-digit votes, with 10.
Also on the ballot were managers Cito Gaston and Davey Johnson; umpires Ed Montague and Joe West; and former general manager Hank Peters.
The eight candidates were selected by the BBWAA-appointed Historical Overview Committee from a pool of eligible candidates whose most significant career impact occurred after 1980.
Leyland told MLB Network, "It's the highest honor you can get in our business, and I'm just thrilled, excited, surprised, flattered. All those words come into play when you're thinking about this."
Leyland won 1,769 games in 22 seasons as a manager with the Pirates, Marlins, Rockies and Tigers, winning the 1997 World Series in the Marlins' fifth year of existence. He also managed Team USA to the 2017 World Baseball Classic title — four years after retiring from major league managing. Leyland was a three-time Manager of the Year, with Pittsburgh in 1990 and 1992 and with Detroit in 2006.
1. Three commercial ships came under attack Sunday four times by drones and missiles in the Red Sea, and a U.S. warship there responded to the distress calls as part of an hourslong assault claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels, officials said. The attack potentially marked a major escalation in a series of maritime attacks in the Mideast linked to the Israel-Hamas war as multiple vessels found themselves in the crosshairs of a single Houthi assault for the first time in the conflict.
2. U.S. and Japanese divers have discovered wreckage and remains of crew members from a U.S. Air Force Osprey aircraft that crashed last week off southwestern Japan, the Air Force announced Monday. The CV-22 Osprey carrying eight American crew crashed last Wednesday off Yakushima island during a training mission. The body of one victim was recovered and identified earlier, while seven others remained missing.
3. The Biden administration on Monday sent Congress an urgent warning about the need to approve tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance to Ukraine, saying Kyiv's war effort to defend itself from Russia's invasion may grind to a halt without it. In a letter to House and Senate leaders and also released publicly, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young warned the U.S. will run out of funding to send weapons and assistance to Ukraine by the end of the year, saying that would "kneecap" Ukraine on the battlefield.
4. Seoul test-fired a U.S.-built ship-to-air missile in South Korean waters for the first time on Friday. The destroyer ROKS Gang Gam-chan fired the Standard Missile-2 in the East Sea, or Sea of Japan, and hit an inbound unmanned aerial vehicle, South Korea's navy said in a news release Sunday. The SM-2 was tracked from Samcheok Marine Research Center on Gangwon Province's eastern coast. The 65-acre facility opened in 2021 and provides a host of analytical services, including underwater noise and infrared testing.
5. Israel's military renewed calls Monday for mass evacuations from the southern town of Khan Younis, where tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians have sought refuge in recent weeks, as it widened its ground offensive and bombarded targets across the Gaza Strip. The expanded operations, following the expiration of a weeklong cease-fire, are aimed at eliminating Gaza's Hamas rulers, whose Oct. 7 attack into Israel triggered the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian violence in decades. The war has already killed thousands of Palestinians and displaced over three-fourths of the territory's population of 2.3 million people, who are running out of safe places to go.
Robert E. Coulter Jr. American Legion Post 1941 in La Grange, Ill., collected over 600 toys and over 200 coats at the post's annual Toys for Tots and Coat Drive.
The post has hosted a collection drive for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program each year since 2018, and added a coat collection component for The Salvation Army in 2021.
"We are fortunate to have a post with member volunteers that come out and make our Toy and Coat Drive a success each year," said Post 1941 senior vice commander Bill Kiddon, who noted that volunteers for the four-hour drive-through collection effort on Nov. 25 included Legionnaires, Sons and Auxiliary and family members.
"Our post commander, Mike Maher, and his wife, Patti Maher, greet cars in their Santa and Mrs. Claus attire (and) Marines in dress blues thank those who stop," Kiddon said.
In addition to the annual toy drive, Post 1941 hosts a monthly blood drive for the Red Cross, earning recognition as a Premier Partner for those efforts, and has donated over $60,000 in 2023 to help organizations that help others, according to finance officer Charlie Anderson.
Share your efforts
Legion Family nationwide participate each year in Toys for Tots drives. American Legion Riders Chapter 169 in Wichita Falls, Texas, reinvigorated their area's Toys for Tots program two years ago.
If your post, squadron or unit is conducting or has already held a Toys for Tots drive this holiday season, let us know. Share your efforts on legiontown.org as we highlight how the American Legion Family is delivering holiday cheer and assistance this season.