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Legion to VA: Support cannabis PTSD study

On Sept. 20, American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan submitted a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin urging the secretary and his department to support an FDA-Approved Marijuana/PTSD research study taking place at the Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona.

The study, being conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Health (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). In August during The American Legion National Convention in Reno, the doctor facilitating the study – Dr. Sue Sisley – asked members of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division to express their support for her study.

“We will not be able to achieve this without your help,” Sisley said. “There is no way we’ll be able to complete this study without the Phoenix VA hospital opening their doors to us. Your leadership is well aware of this problem, and they’ve been very generous in trying to help us address this issue with the hospital. But we have not made any headway.

“The American Legion has already been immensely supportive of the study, but we’ve never formalized that. In fact, this falls within the parameters of the (Legion’s Resolution 11) passed last year. I would urge you to consider endorsing the study as an organization, enabling us to have the momentum of the Legion behind the study to generation the cooperation from the Phoenix VA.”

In her letter to Shulkin, Rohan said, “The Carl T. Hayden Phoenix VA Health Care System is ideally geographically located to assist with this effort and should enthusiastically take the lead in assisting with this research study … Without the assistance of the Department, this study is in jeopardy of failing due to lack of viable test participants.”

Rohan closed the letter telling Shulkin “Your immediate attention in this important matter is greatly appreciated. We ask for your direct involvement to ensure this critical research is fully enabled.”

The text of the letter follows.

Dr. Mr. Secretary:

For more than a year, The American Legion has called on the federal government to support and enable scientific research to clinically confirm the medicinal value of cannabis. The National Academy of Medicine recently reviewed 10,000 scientific abstracts on the therapeutic value of cannabis and reached nearly 100 conclusions in a report issued earlier this year. As a two million member strong veteran service organization, our primary interest and advocacy is grounded in the wellbeing and improved health of our veterans, and specifically our service disabled veterans.

The Scottsdale Research Institute, outside of Phoenix Arizona, is currently in phase one of an FDA-Approved Marijuana/PTSD research study, being conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Health (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). This study is a Placebo-Controlled, Triple-Blind, Randomized Crossover Pilot Study of the Safety and Efficacy of Four Different Potencies of Smoked Marijuana in 76 Veterans with Chronic, Treatment-Resistant Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The American Legion is a strong, vocal proponent of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and has published several books, pamphlets, and magazines that help showcase VA’s value to The United States of America. Our members have long been a ferocious advocate for evidence-based, complementary and alternative medicines and therapies. For decades, we have supported increased funding and research in such therapies as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, Quantitative Electroencephalography (QEEG), animal therapy, recreational therapy, meditation, and mindfulness therapies, just to name a few, to improve outcomes for veterans confronted with PTSD.

The American Legion supports VA’s statutory medical research mission and has donated millions of dollars toward expanding VA’s scientific research. VA innovation is widely championed for their breakthrough discoveries in medicine and has been recognized over the years with three Nobel Prizes for scientific work that has benefited the world over.

The research being conducted by the Scottsdale Institute is the first cannabis based research of its kind in The United States and could potentially produce scientific evidence that will enhance, improve, and save the lives of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many veterans have approached us to tell us that access to cannabis has materially improved their health and well-being. While their stories are very compelling, we need clinical evidence to have a fact-based discussion on the future of cannabis policy.

As a scientific research leader in this country with a statutory obligation to care for and improve the lives of our nation’s veterans, The American Legion calls on the Department of Veterans Affairs to assist the Scottsdale Institute, in accordance with VA’s existing policies and regulations (VHA Directive 1200 §2.b and §5.tt VHA Handbook 1200.01 §8.g and §10.a(1) VHA Handbook 1200.05 §3.xxx(note)) that states, in part;

“NOTE: This guidance does not preclude VA clinicians, in the normal course of their clinical duties, from discussing specific research studies with their patients where appropriate, and referring them to a non-VA investigator for more information about a non-VA study. However, VA personnel should not provide the non-VA investigator with the names or contact information of Veterans who might be eligible for the study. Instead, the VA clinician should provide the Veteran with the contact information for the non-VA investigator so the Veteran may initiate contact if he/she is interested in participating in the non-VA study.”

The Carl T. Hayden Phoenix VA Health Care System is ideally geographically located to assist with this effort and should enthusiastically take the lead in assisting with this research study. There is an overwhelming body of evidence suggests that cannabis is effective in treating a number of service connected related illnesses, including PTSD and chronic pain, the two most persistent and widespread illnesses and injuries plaguing our veteran community. Without the assistance of the Department, this study is in jeopardy of failing due to lack of viable test participants. Project scientists have screened thousands of applicants, but due to the strict requirements of the study which is required to produce reliable scientific data, nearly 99 percent of these applicants are eliminated for a variety of screening reasons. This study needs 50 more participants and the Phoenix VA is in the best possible position to assist by simply allowing principle investigators to brief VAMC medical staff on the progress of the study, and by allowing clinicians to reveal the existence of the study to potential participants.

Your immediate attention in this important matter is greatly appreciated. We ask for your direct involvement to ensure this critical research is fully enabled.

Sincerely,

Denise H. Rohan

'The commitment is fabulous'

More than 1,000 veterans make their way through the Veterans Experience Action Center in Cary, N.C., Sept. 14-16. And every single one of them at one time came into contact with one of the dozens of Legion family volunteers who spent as many as 40 hours at the center over the three days.

Whether it was checking veterans in, providing those snacks and water while they waited in line, directing them to parking spaces or just making them feel welcome, the volunteers spent hours ensuring those attending the center had a positive experience.

“The commitment is fabulous,” said Richard Spyrison a member of Post 67 and the event’s organizer. “We’re a family of veterans trying to help veterans.”

Jo Spyrison – a member of Auxiliary Unit 67 and Richard’s wife – spent part of her time at the center signing in veterans. She worked from 6 a.m. to almost 8 p.m. Thursday, and 7 a.m. to nearly 10 p.m. Friday, before putting in what was close to a 12-hour shift on Saturday.

“I think if you’re going to be in an organization like ours, that it’s your duty to help the veterans,” Jo said. “They’re the most important people we’re helping right now.”

Post 67 Commander Shelton Faircloth said that mission is what brought members of several veterans service organizations to help at the center. “I think it speaks to that … our purpose is to still serve veterans,” he said. “It shows that people do care about veterans.”

Wayne House, a member of Post 67, was at the post almost 10 hours a day, ensuring that both the workers and then veterans were fed. On the final day he led a sandwich-making effort for the nearly 200 veterans who showed up.

“These folks need help, and that’s what we’re about: veterans helping other veterans,” House said. “It ain’t about me. It’s about helping folks who need it.”

Though it was hard work and long hours, Jo said it was rewarding. “It’s really good when (the veterans) come out (of the center) and we ask them how it went and they say, ‘Good. All good,’” she said. “That’s the best part.”

'I'm leaving here today feeling confident'

Marc Stratton was running out of options.

The U.S. Army retiree was suffering various symptoms, including sleeplessness, when his wife urged him to get checked for PTSD. He didn’t want to because he was “embarrassed,” but he did so anyway. Then his wife told him she wanted him to get evaluated beyond that. “She told me ‘I want you back the way you were,’” said Stratton, whose military career included multiple tours in the Middle East.

Searching for options and frustrated by what he called a lack of consistency with the Department of Veterans, Stratton was contacted by his cousin, Terrance, a fellow Army retiree. Terrance suggested Marc come from Phoenix to The American Legion’s Veterans Experience Action Center (VEAC) in Cary, N.C., Sept. 14-16.

Marc said Terrance told him a similar center conducted by the Legion previously was “’the real deal.’ He said ‘I don’t know anyone who went there who didn’t feel good when they left.’”

Count Marc as one of the center’s satisfied customers. After flying from Phoenix to Norfolk, Va., to meet his cousin – a resident of Salisbury, Md. – the pair got in line for the center at 9:45 p.m. on Sept. 13, a little less than 12 hours before the center opened.

“I found today that I actually have service-connected claims that I didn’t know about and never would have known about,” Marc said. “The gentleman who helped me helped me go through all my documents. He saw things I did not see.

“I’m leaving here today feeling confident I’m going to get the help that I need. If that’s compensation, so be it. But the first thing I want to know is what’s wrong. I want to know what’s going on, because money’s not going to fix that.”

Marc was one of 1,025 veterans who visited the Herbert Young Community Center in Cary over the three-day period. American Legion Post 67 volunteers joined volunteers from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other veterans service organizations, veterans service officers from all over the state, and VA staff from the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration and the Vet Center program. Veterans could check on the status of pending VA claims and file new ones on the spot. Some received VA disability ratings while at the center.

Post 67 had staged a similar VEAC in September 2016 and had more than 600 veterans attend and resulted in more than $400,000 in VA benefits being paid out. Other VEACs, which started in North Carolina in 2015 under former Department of North Carolina Service Officer Cajun Comeau, had resulted in $3.2 million in benefits for veterans seeking assistance.

“It exceeded my expectations,” said Post 67 Service Officer Richard Spyrison, the VEAC’s organizer. “I figured maybe 800. I did not anticipate the numbers we ended up with.”

But Spyrison wasn’t totally shocked by the number of veterans who sought help at the center. “North Carolina’s got one of the highest populations of veterans and active-duty people,” he said. “Its veterans need help. They need guidance. They need the one-on-one experience with VA. The VA people that are here are excited. They had smiles on their face. We’re doing good work.

"We’re not satisfying everybody – there’s no way we can – but they’re doing good. They’re giving these veterans the information they need.”

Spyrison said he and Post 67 began planning for this year’s VEAC in January and likely will start doing so again in a few months for the 2018 center. “We learned from last year,” he said. “Everything we learned last year we tweaked and we built and we changed it. I’ve got the commitment from VA for next year. I’ve got the commitment from the Town of Cary for next year.”

Post 67 Commander Shelton Faircloth, 44, said that the turnout at the VEAC showed how much of a need there is for an event where veterans can get VA help. “They’re seeking out this type of event to have their voices heard,” he said. “Having 1,000 people show up in a three-day period sounds like there’s a lot of voices that need to be heard … across the veteran population as a whole.”

The center and its success stories also reinforced the reason Faircloth, who spent 21 years in the U.S. Army, became a part of Post 67. “It speaks volumes as to why I joined the Legion in the first place,” he said. “I felt I still had a purpose and a need to serve. Even though I can’t wear the uniform any more, I can still serve in a different capacity. Hearing stories like that makes me feel that what we’re doing makes a difference in someone’s life.”

Marc said the Legion hosting the VEAC speaks volumes about the organization and its mission. “It says that ‘we care, all the time. We always care,” he said. “And they’re taking responsibility for helping out our brothers and sisters.”

Marc was just one of the hundreds of success stories from the VEAC.

• John Powell, who served in the Army from 1991-99, including a deployment to Somalia, had a pending appeal on a disability rating increase request. A father of three, his rating was increased to 90 percent; after filling out information for a PTSD claim, he was told it would be bumped up to 100 percent after the claim is processed – an increase of more than $2,000 a month in compensation. “I think it will give me a little bit of breathing room,” Powell said. “I was paying out of pocket because I was getting frustrated. That was really hindering on my wallet. Coming in here I didn’t expect anything. Hearing that from them and seeing the smile on (VA staffer) face, you could see he was happy to help (me).”

• James B. Gardner, Kenly, a Vietnam War Army veteran whose previous claim had been denied, said he found out what needed to do to appeal the decision and also had a PTSD screening appointment set up during his visit. “I’m glad I took the time to come up here,” he said. “I need to come up here and talk to someone person to person. I’d rather talk person to person than talk on the phone anytime.

• Connie Johnson, who served in the Army from 1985-97, received valuable advice. “The gentleman who assisted me gave me some information that I never thought to put in my record,” she said. “He told me how to go about it and who I need to see to get the fact-finding started. Now I can go forward with the VA.”

• Victor Montgomery, who served in the Army from 1981-1991, has been dealing with flat feet for 32 years. He was seeking an increase in his VA disability rating and saw it go up 20 percent after his visit to the VEAC. “I’m very happy that I came here today to get that done,” he said of the rating increase and ensuing additional monthly benefit. “It’s going to be a good little bit of change. I would definitely recommend this to other veterans. When (veterans) come here, people are talking to them. It gives them a better understanding. It gives them knowledge about how to get the help that they need.”

• Randy Parker spent more than 20 years in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve. He came to the VEAC seeking a higher disability rating. “I was able to get a little bit of ‘behind the scenes knowledge,’ so to speak, and some advice straight from the horse’s mouth: How to file, what to file, what not to file to keep from losing what you already have,” he said. Parker was also briefed on Individual Unemployability and found out he was eligible for it; he filed the paperwork while at the center. “It was worth the wait, to be honest with you,” he said. “These guys did a great job.

• Jose Antonio Vazquez, a 50-year member of Post 56 in Puerto Rico and World War II Army veteran, came to the center to file a claim for service-connected conditions. Coming to the center was “was very necessary and valuable,” he said.

• U.S. Marine Corps veteran William Boseman was able to get a claim filed that he said he was told would be reviewed in a week. He was accompanied at the center by his friend Angela Lewis. “This is a wonderful, wonderful thing that they’re doing,” Lewis said. “A lot of people who need to file claims may not be able to for whatever reason. To have this place and to be able to talk to someone face to face is priceless.”

Veterans weren’t the only ones smiling. Although the center’s posted hours were 9 a.m.-3 p.m. the first two days and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. the final day, VA staff stayed until almost 8 p.m. the first night, 10 p.m. the second night and 7 p.m. the final night. Everyone who came to the center was able to see someone from VA or a service officer over the three days.

Moses Gloria, Veterans Outreach Specialist for VA’s Vet Center in Raleigh, worked at the center all three days, sort of serving as an air traffic controller while moving veterans from the waiting room inside the center to a one-on-one meeting with VA staff.

“What’s important is that raters and adjudicators, when they’re back in their office, sometimes they don’t put the connection between the paperwork and the veteran,” Gloria said. “Having the ability to have face-time with a veteran improves morale for our VBA employees, and the same with our VHA and Vet Center (employees). By doing this event and having us sit across from another veteran … instead of looking electronically on a computer screen at over 1,000 pages of medical documentation, they can easily reference the veteran’s experience … and look up stuff that might be overlooked.”

Jim Prosser – North Carolina’s Assistant Secretary for Veterans Affairs and a retired Air Force first sergeant and former veterans service officer – said having veterans and VA staff in the same place at the same time makes a difference for the veterans.

“It’s a lot harder for the VA to turn somebody down when they’re looking them straight in the eye,” Prosser said. “It’s easier to say ‘let me look at this’ than it is to say ‘no.’ When they see the actual effect on that (veteran), it gives them a different perspective. They enjoy coming to these things. They really want to help the veterans.”

Comeau, now a VA veterans experience officer and North Carolina field consultant, stopped by the VEAC all three days, praised current American Legion Executive Director and former Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division director Verna Jones for coming up with the idea of veterans crisis centers after the VA scandal broke in 2014. Comeau used those as a model for his centers in North Carolina and is happy to see them continuing after he left the Legion.

“Anything that you can create that has a positive impact on the veterans community, and it endures past you, that’s what all of us should aspire to,” Comeau said. “To me that’s everything.”

For Spyrison, seeing the smiles on the faces of veterans as they left the center “makes me feel all the work we do pays off. I’m in a position (where) I don’t need the VA. I didn’t have an issue in my 20 years in the service.

“If we don’t, as a veterans organization, step up and help these folks … nothing’s going to get accomplished. We’re making some headway. We’re helping some folks.”

Legion post finds a way to come back from natural disaster

Watching footage of hurricanes Harvey and Irma wreak havoc in recent weeks hit Department of North Carolina Legionnaire Raymond Whitaker hard. But it also strengthened the resolve of the 41-year-old commander of James LeBlanc Post 230 in Spring Lake, N.C. – while inspiring him to share his message of hope with others.

Whitaker has seen first hand the damage a hurricane can cause. Last October a combination of nine-plus inches of rain and then Hurricane Matthew left Post 230 under several feet of water. Dry wall, furniture, wiring and flooring were damaged or destroyed. Thousands of dollars in kitchen equipment was ruined that the post doesn’t have the funding to replace.

Whitaker wasn’t a member of the post at the time. But after connecting with Post 230 while assisting with renovation efforts with both Operation Supply Drop and Team Rubicon, he joined and was later elected commander.

Now, as Post 230 closes in on reopening this fall, he wants others to know that hope and recovery still exist after a natural disaster.

“I cringe every time I see a hurricane come, just because the damage is the hard part,” Whitaker said. “It’s walking into an environment where you just had a home yesterday and now you don’t. All the functions you had planned … it’s now destroyed.

“But the one things that veterans do really well is we continue to move forward. That’s very impactful for me, and I hope that if I could say anything to those in Texas and (Florida) … it’s that.”

The post, founded in 1943, had undergone a rebirth in recent years. Past Post Commander Mark Erskine, now Department of North Carolina Division II commander, had joined the post five years earlier when the post was on the verge of closing. He spent the next four years as post commander and nearly doubled the membership.

Once the roads opened up around the post after Matthew, Erskine and his wife were able to survey the damage. Water from the lake located at the front of the post’s property was all the way up to the building, something Erskine said members who have been at the post from Day 1 had never seen before. Inside, Erskine found water marks 21 inches high.

“I told the wife ‘It’s going to be an uphill battle, but we can’t give up,’” Erskine said. “We’ve got to find some way to do this.”

While Erskine said that he was heavily invested in the post, his desire to rebuild wasn’t mainly driven by that. “I was looking at us, the total membership,” he said. “This is their home, too. Me being the commander, it was my job as a leader not to let my fellow Legionnaires down.”

Through his connections developed as the post commander, Erskine was able to rally some support from the community. Erskine also was able to secure a $10,000 National Emergency Fund grant that was used to purchase some used chairs and bathroom items, as well as support the post’s programs, such as Junior ROTC. “(The NEF grant) kept us going while I was still trying to get other funds raised,” he said. “If it wasn’t for (the grant), we would have been doing nothing.”

But Erskine credited Whitaker for critical fundraising efforts.

“(Whitaker) knew a lot more about fundraising (and) dealing with charities than I did,” Erskine said. “Through his help we got a lot of support.”

The main supporter was Chive Charities, which provides support to, among others, veterans in need of assistance. Whitaker was able to secure what initially was a $20,000 grant that was more than doubled to $41,090. A 24-hour flash fundraiser added $22,000 to Chive’s assistance.

“The Chive is what saved this post,” Whitaker said.

The flood had provided both Operation Supply Drop and Team Rubicon with opportunities to help fellow veterans – something Whitaker said he’d been looking for. But after seeing the post’s dedication to continuing to serve even after Matthew made Whitaker want to stick around.

“It was the membership, and I think Mark is a piece of that,” Whitaker said. “When you come in and see a commander that hasn’t given up … they were still out doing stuff in the community. They were still doing stuff in the schools. They were helping me understand what The American Legion does … by inviting me out to go do an event. I (didn’t) care if this post was operational or not. I want to be a part of it because they’re doing what they should be doing.”

It was important for Whitaker to have a post facility, rather than meeting at the Spring Lake Town Hall. “It’s very hard to run programs out of the town hall,” he said. “You’re not in your own facility. People don’t feel like it’s there home. Nobody could wrap their arms around it.

“Now people are starting to get excited again. They’re seeing the post is coming back.”

The flooding and subsequent leadership from Whitaker also helped bring some younger members into the post. One of those, 23-year-old Lucas Meiners, now serves as second vice commander – one of two active-duty servicemembers in leadership positions at the post.

A sergeant in the Marine Corps stationed at Fort Bragg, Meiners said that like Whitaker, he came to the post hoping to find volunteer opportunities but instead found a bigger calling.

“I spoke with Ray, and they invited me to a meeting and said ‘you don’t have to sign up now. Just come see what we’re about (and) what we do,’” Meiners said. “That’s what drew me in. After the post was destroyed they were discussing how they were going to go out and help other veterans and help other veterans’ home and continue to support the community, versus just getting (the post) up and running immediately. They wanted to make sure everybody else was all right.”

Meiners and other members have put in their own time helping renovate the post. One of those is Richard McMinn, a member of the post’s Legion Riders chapter. McMinn said failure was never an option for the post.

“We took one hell of a hit,” he said. “But we knew we were going to recover.”

Going forward, Whitaker said the post will find less-expensive kitchen equipment to use so it can start hosting weekly breakfasts. A Sons of The American Legion squadron is going to be started in the next month. The post’s programs will continue to grow.

“It’s been a long road,” Whitaker said. “I think the first time we have somebody come use the post it’s going to be overwhelming. You put in all the time and all the sweat that we’ve absolutely spent on this post trying to get it together … so I think having people come in and actually use the post is going to be overwhelming.”

Erskine knows the post still has a ways to go to get back to where it was. It’s “semi-mission accomplished. We are going to be functioning again and able to hold events down here. But for probably a year, until we raise more money, get new furniture and all that good stuff, the mission still won’t be totally complete for me.

“But either way, I don’t believe in giving up. Yes, it can be stressful. But you’ve just got to hang in there.”

Veterans Day dinner promotional resources online

Promotional materials to help posts, units and squadrons serve up a bigger-than-ever Family First! Veterans Day dinner Nov. 11 are now available online at www.legion.org/publications, in the area of the national website that hosts brochures, manuals, customizable ads and more from across the Legion's scope of activities. It is also available at www.legion.org/nalpa/resources, in the area dedicated to the National American Legion Press Association (NALPA).  

American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan is calling on the Legion Family nationwide to invite community members to the dinner in order to share The American Legion and to begin raising awareness of the coming 100th anniversary of the organization.

Resources include:

- A suggested timeline for planning the event, tips on getting local sponsors involved, and a set of message points that can be presented, and localized, at the dinner or to the press.

- Sample letters of invitation to local groups to attend and participate in the dinner, a press release, a sample media advisory, a downloadable flyer with fields for posts to provide local information, social media posts (hashtag #LegionFamilyDinner) and a radio PSA.

Even after the Veterans Day Dinner, ideas can be taken from the materials as needed to be used in future events, such as a celebration of the Legion's birthday in March or a Memorial Day get-together in May.

2nd Department of France Executive Committee Meeting 2017 schedule

2nd Department of France Executive Committee Meeting 2017 Hosted by Margraten Post NL01 Oct. 20-22 Located at the International Conference Center in Brunssum, NL Ouverbergstraat 1. 6445 PC Brunssum, Nederland Tel +31 455263188 General Eisenhower Hotel & Suites are co-located with the center www.jfcbrunssum.com/community/icc-international-conference-center Friday, Oct. 20 Hotel guest check-in (breakfast included with room) Welcome social Icebreaker Sports Bar 19:00-close Drinks and snacks Saturday, Oct. 21 Hotel guest check-in Preregistration 09:00-11:00 Sports Bar 11:00-12:00 Lunch, Terrace and Dining Room 12:00-13:00 Registration @ the Sports Bar 12:30-13:00 Past Commanders Meeting, Alliance and Limburg Room 13:00-end DEC, Alliance and Limburg Room 17:30-19:30 Dinner, Terrace and Dining Room 19:30-20:00 Auction, Raffle, 50/50, Sports Bar 20:00-close After Party, Terrace, Dining Room, Sports Bar 21:00-24:00 Live Music (Music 4 Vets) (three sets with breaks), Sports Bar Sunday, Oct. 22 Hotel guest check-out

California Legionnaires support hurricane relief efforts

In the weeks following the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and wild fires in the West, California Legionnaires have rallied local backing across three districts and six posts to close 1,400 miles and physically bring help.

Just after hurricane Harvey, Hollywood Post 43 member Andre Andrews watched a video of Houston Texas Post 560 Commander Charlie Powers. He was motivated to coordinate donations, which included over 1,000 pounds of goods.

“The American legion is family to me; it gives me purpose,” Andrews said. “That feeling I had for my family here, I had the same feeling for that guy in Texas. So I decided to take matters into my own hands to help.”

Local companies wanted to help so he asked around and got a great response from Home Depot and Sirreel Production Rentals for donations of tools and gear for the trip.

Andrews was joined by fellow Post 43 member Charles Chavez. They packed their bags and got on the road.

They stopped at five Legion posts along the way, but it was in Houston where they had the greatest impact. They attended a meeting at Post 560; its first one since the storm. “We've started to settle back into normal at the post,” Powers said. “The response of the Legion has been fantastic.”

The storm hit hard, but it did not kill the spirit of mutual helpfulness that defines The American Legion. “I met so many amazing people with heartbreaking stories that will change my life forever,” Andrews said. “I’ve never seen or witnessed so much destruction in my life.”

Another group from southern California filled a box truck with 10,000 pounds of supplies and drove it to a hurricane relief distribution center in La Marque, Texas. Jere Romano, commander of Pacific Palisades Post 283 and 24th District commander, along with Beau Espeso of Santa Monica Post 123 and Eric Giesler, a Boy Scout parent from Post 223, collected donations from sites in the communities their Legion posts serve. The volume donated was too much for a post in Texas to handle so Post 283 2nd Vice Commander Noe Aguirre reached out to his family in Houston who coordinated with the distribution center that could handle the truckload of supplies.

When they got to Texas, Romano said it was good they were able to coordinate with the Le Marque distribution center because the supplies were closer to those who needed it the most. The volunteers were happy with the amount of kids clothes donated because they had been receiving requests but didn’t have any.

“The outpouring of love that we’ve gotten from all over the country is amazing,” Powers said. “These guys are the embodiment of what it means to be Legionnaires, and I’ve never been more proud to be a member of this organization in my life."

Legionnaire to recieve Medal of Honor

Vietnam War veteran Gary M. Rose will receive the Medal of Honor on Oct. 23 during a ceremony at the White House.

Rose, a retired Army captain, will receive the Medal of Honor for voluntarily risking his life on multiple occasions during combat operations, while serving as a medic with the Green Berets in the 5th Special Forces Group. From Sept. 11 to Sept. 14, 1970, Rose repeatedly ran into the line of enemy fire to provide critical medical aid to his comrades, using his own body on one occasion to shield a wounded American from harm.

On the final day of the mission, although wounded himself, Rose voluntarily exposed himself to enemy fire while moving wounded personnel and loading them into helicopters, then helping to repel an enemy assault. As he boarded the final helicopter, intense enemy fire hit the helicopter, causing it to crash shortly after takeoff. Again, ignoring his own injuries, Rose pulled the helicopter crew and members of his unit from the burning wreckage and provided medical aid until another helicopter arrived.

Rose, a member of American Legion Post 237 in Alabama, retired from the Army in 1987. After retiring, Rose earned a master’s degree in communication from the University of Oklahoma and later worked as a technical consultant in the defense and automobile industries, developing user and maintenance manuals and training programs and materials.

‘If they served in the military, then we’re there to help them’

It is commonly said in American culture that, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This notion resonates with many people, especially veterans and servicemembers who may have survived a calamity or endured hardship of any kind.

For the last 14 years, the Aleethia Foundation has played an integral role in the healing process for America’s heroes and their families by hosting dinners every Friday night.

“That’s really what it’s all about – just trying to help them heal,” said Hal Koster, founder and executive director of the Aleethia Foundation. “A lot of what we’re seeing now is not as many combat injuries. We’ve got two people here that are getting kidney transplants, some cancer patients and some other people injured from car accidents. But they’re still military people and that’s really all that matters to us. Some people insist on only supporting the combat injured; we don’t care about that. If they served in the military, then we’re there to help them.”

More than 70 medically retired veterans, wounded or injured servicemembers from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and their families attended an American Legion Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW)-sponsored dinner on Sept. 15 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

OCW provided four Samsung tablets for the Walter Reed patients to use during their recovery, as well as basketballs, footballs and Fitbit activity trackers for rehabilitation and physical therapy. In addition, guests received door prizes ranging from Amazon gift cards to Sega Genesis game consoles. The grand prize was a new Xbox game system.

“It means an awful lot to see that they can relax, smile after a hard week of work and that sort of thing,” Koster said. “Aleethia is a Greek word for truth. The truth about combat is that there are going to be injuries and there’s going to be people that need help. That’s true for anybody.”

Koster, an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War, said the Friday night dinners are about recovery, fellowship and community as much as they are about food. What started out as a steak dinner for two soldiers in October 2003, has grown into a commitment to honor and support wounded or injured servicemembers and their families, he said.

The foundation continues to operate on a voluntary basis.

“It’s literally turned into a family event not just with my own family, but (the Aleethia Foundation) is my family now, too,” said Ryan Hughes, a Marine Corps veteran who medically retired after serving 12 years. “It’s really great especially for a day like today. I was having a pretty crappy day, but coming here and seeing the faces of other Marines that you know, it really lifts you up. When you’re at work, you don’t always have that.”

For Hughes, he is most grateful for the little things that make a big difference. He said the Aleethia Foundation not only helped with getting his benefits during the retirement process, but also encouraged spending more time with loved ones.

“My son loves balls. I’ve won a basketball and football so that gets me outside with him and playing more, instead of just sitting in the house,” he said. “He’s two-and-a-half years old and the minute he sees a ball, he wants to have a good time. It’s the little things you don’t think about that make such a big difference. That really is good for him and myself. It keeps me moving.”

Nowadays, Hughes spends his time volunteering for the foundation by taking photos. He said it’s something that he enjoys and gives him a new sense of purpose in life.

“What I thought before and what I think now are along the same lines, but I feel like I need to do more,” said Hughes, who served in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq. “One may ask how do you do more after going to combat, but it’s just amazing to have somebody out there who you can reach out to. Whether you know it or not, somebody is struggling so I feel like you should continue to serve after the military. It’s just a real big pride and joy.”

For Koster, service runs deep in his family. He said everyone is capable of serving in any way, shape or form.

“Service is important to me,” Koster said. “It’s been engrained in my family – my brother was Air Force, I was in the Army, my son was Army, my daughter is in the Navy. That’s just the way it is. This is your country and I think everybody ought to give two years regardless of what it is. You owe the country.”

The Legion's OCW program is designed specifically to help recovering servicemembers and helped provide the dinner. The Legion has been involved since the start of the Aleethia Foundation’s dinners in 2003 and in each of the past few years, OCW has sponsored dinners quarterly. 

“Early on, one of the more severely wounded warriors said coming to these Friday night dinners was his first taste of normalcy again,” said Vietnam veteran Jim Mayer who helped start the dinners. “There’s this army of volunteers who just pitch in and magically fix things for them. It’s like a personal way of saying thank you, but also it’s a personal way of saying, ‘We know you’re a human being and we know you’re going through temporary troubles. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Take a look at us old guys – we made it and you’re going to make it.'”​

Boys State alumni share appreciation for the Samsung Legion scholarship

Calvin Isch would like to believe that his good grades, community service and participation in American Legion Boys State helped earn him the Samsung American Legion Scholarship two years ago. But the truth is, “that’s just not the case. It was because of my grandfather (Hubert Isch) who answered the call and served in the Korean War,” said the 19-year-old Isch of Bluffton, Ind., to attendees of the Legion’s National Children and Youth Conference Sept. 15 in Indianapolis. “He was patriotic and he fought for our freedom. Unfortunately, my grandpa passed away the year before I attended (Hoosier) Boys State so he never got to see how far his service paid for me personally. I know that he would be so happy and proud that I got (the Samsung American Legion Scholarship) for his service.”

Isch is one of nearly 2,000 students who have received the scholarship since Samsung bestowed a $5 million endowment to the Legion in 1995 for the establishment of a scholarship fund for family members of U.S. citizens who are war veterans. The Samsung American Legion Scholarship is available for high school juniors who participate in the current session of Boys State or Girls State and are direct descendants (or legally adopted children) of wartime veterans eligible for American Legion membership.

Isch attended Hoosier Boys State in 2015 and said if he had to describe the program in one word, it would be “awesome.” Among many things, during the week-long program Isch said he learned how the state and federal government works, gained more insight into the military, was instructed on how to properly fold a U.S. flag and made lifelong friends.

“I woke up early every morning to the sound of a trumpet. I enjoyed that way more than my alarm clock believe it or not,” Isch said. “What goes into the military is something I never got to appreciate until I went to Boys State.”

The Samsung scholarship helps pay for room and board, tuition and books, and for many recipients it has allowed them to choose the college of their choice.

Dallas DeBruin, a 2013 American Legion Ohio Buckeye Boys State alum and Samsung scholarship recipient, told conference attendees that the scholarship allowed him to choose the University of Dayton. “Because of Boys State and the Samsung American Legion Scholarship, I gained the confidence to be who I am and have the freedom that many students do not. I have the freedom to not worry about the super high cost of college because I have this great scholarship,” said DeBruin of Greenfield, Ohio. “And I have the freedom to know that there are people out there willing to help. The American Legion family is one that I can always rely on.”

Besides his participation in Boys State, DeBruin earned the scholarship thanks to his grandfather’s military service in the Korean War, which he was honored for during the Department of Ohio’s winter conference in 2013. “It very much brought my grandfather to tears,” DeBruin said.

Isch is a sophomore at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he received a full ride from the Samsung scholarship and others he received. Having no college debt allowed Isch to travel through Europe this summer. During his travels, he had one big takeaway that he shared with conference attendees – “People all over the world still love America. So many people I met said they couldn’t wait to visit America; they love America and want to be here. We are still this great country.

“I want to say thank you to all of you. Thank you for providing me the opportunity to go to Boys State. I know many of you have stories like my grandpa and have impacted people in ways you will never know. You have been a hero to many people, and I want to thank you so much for keeping our country free and keeping it the amazing place that people still want to go visit."

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