The American Legion and Dealing with the VA

By: John Lenotte – March, 2014

As we start to turn the corner to Spring (I HOPE!!) members of the American Legion and other veterans service organizations look to arrive in Washington, D.C. to discuss legislative issues with members of Congress.

I will report more on this in next month’s issue.

I am often asked about the role of the American Legion in working with legislators at all levels. First, let me be clear that as an organization, the American Legion does not endorse any candidate(s) or political party.

As an individual, however, I do have the right to endorse and contribute to a candidate or political party.

The role of the American Legion member includes the following: to propagate an interest in and furthering the American Legion legislative goals, to serve as a medium for disseminating information to elected lawmakers, and to develop and maintain strong working relationships with elected lawmakers.

There are designated members who are the liaison with each member of Congress. In general, Legion members are encouraged to contact their elected officials with any concerns on legislation. This is best done through phone calls or emails.

There are two recent issues that I want to point out.

One is the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), which is accused of obstructing the work of an American Legion team of experts during a recent visit to the Seattle, VA Regional Office.

Congressman Jeff Miller of Florida has sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), Eric Shinseki, expressing displeasure.

Congressman Miller is Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and will assign a committee staff member to accompany Legion teams on future visits. This is a process that has been going on for a number of years and, in the past the VA has welcomed Legion visits.

It has been suggested that some officials in the VA are upset with testimony at a December congressional hearing where Legion staff members pointed out discrepancies in the VA, reporting 90 plus percent accuracy in processing claims.

The Legion staff noted that 55 percent of the claims they reviewed had errors.

I will note that Legion Service Officers are now working on over 700 thousand claims to help with the backlog. I will also note that the Legion works with all veterans, whether they are members of the Legion or not.

The second issue concerns an article written by Ruth Marcus in the February 11, 2014 edition of The Washington Post.

Ms. Marcus attacks the recent budget change giving back the military pension cuts. The American Legion National Commander, Dan Dellinger responded that one needs to take into consideration the changing of geographic locations every few years which includes: uprooting children from their schools and friends, the military member being separated from family, and risking life and limb in a combat zone.

Can anyone really put a price tag on this?

What is the price of Freedom? Of protecting our citizens in a foreign land? Or, the price for someone who made the ultimate sacrifice?

On a local note, I saw what I thought were appalling numbers related to the high school graduation rates.

Look at the numbers for Lawrence and Haverhill.

It is no wonder that other nations are overtaking the US on the educational scale.

Although our colleges and universities have large numbers of international students which speaks to the quality of that level of education, what is happening to our own students? Obviously the general population is accepting this status. I confess to having gone to high school MANY years ago. Dropouts were the exception, not the norm.

For these issues and many others, we as citizens need to make our voices heard in the ballot box this coming November. Please join me and VOTE!!!