Past National Commander Jake Comer swears Mike Helm in as new American Legion national commander. (Photo by Tom Strattman)

National Commander Helm: Stay the course

Department of Nebraska Legionnaire Mike Helm wants his fellow Legionnaires to “stay the course” this year. But don’t think for a minute that means maintain the status quo.

Helm, elected American Legion national commander Aug. 28 during the final day of the 96th Annual American Legion National Convention, said during his acceptance speech that he wants Legionnaires to stay true to the ideals of the organization’s founders and use them as a guide toward future progress.

“That is the plan for this year: stay the course,” Helm said. “And no, I do not mean that we shouldn’t raise the bar and constantly seek to improve. What I mean by ‘stay the course’ is to continue to live and honor the great traditions and values established by our founders nearly a century ago. These policies and traditions that got us here will continue to guide us forward.

We are a God and country organization, and we will not apologize for that. We know that a veteran is a citizen of this country who has offered his or her life to honor this nation’s commitment to justice freedom and democracy, and by that action has had his or her life radically and sometimes violently changed forever. We will not let this nation forget that we owe that individual respect and any help they need in making their lives whole again.”

Helm, a U.S. Army Rangers veteran and member of Jack Helt Post 313 in Lebanon, Neb., has served as post, county, district, department and national vice commander, and has chaired the National Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation and Foreign Relations commissions.

He will use his VA&R experience this year to focus on current issues with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Under the leadership of our (immediate Past National Commander Dan Dellinger), we have drawn the line in the sand,” Helm said. “We say now that the health-care needs of the individual veteran must be met in a timely manner. We say that the VA can do a better job in the claims and appeals process. At the same time, we will continue to seek out answers to what went wrong at the VA and why it went wrong." Those people involved in the scandals have to be held accountable, Helm said.

“We know that what happened wasn’t an accident or a circumstance. There is an entrenchment in VA that is not helpful to veterans’ health care or compensation. We will find it and get rid of it. At the same time, we will continue to support the VA as a national provider of veterans’ health care. We need our VA medical facilities because we know it can be and is the best care anywhere if administrated properly. "Those calling for the end of the VA and privatization of veterans health care are wrong. We continue to see The American Legion as partners and friends of the VA. We know they can and will do better."

National security also is on Helm’s radar. “We cannot continue to see the mounting crises erupting in the world and still think it is a prudent thing to reduce our military force and training,” he said. “Those forces of evil and hate are enemies of our way of life. This nation must be ready to answer that challenge.

“We will also continue our efforts to end illegal immigration. It is a national security issue of great importance. Fair and legal immigration is a good thing that has helped build this country into a great nation. We must continue that process. Anything else is a constant danger – especially amnesty proposals which seek to reward illegal behavior and penalize those who have waited patiently to immigrate the legal way.”

Helm said the Legion will continue to support its youth and Americanism programs, saying those programs “make up the fabric that keeps us strong as a nation.” And rather than focusing on a specific fundraising program, Helm has set a goal for the Legion Family to raise a combined $4 million for the various Legion charitable programs.

“I am leaving the choice of fundraising to you,” he said. “All I ask is that you give. America is paying attention to The American Legion not just because we are right on the issues, but because we are doing these great things in our communities.”

Many of those charities benefit not only members of the military and veterans, but also their families – which matters, Helm said. “Most veterans believe that the nicest thing you can do for them is to be kind to their families,” he said. “The most common request of a soldier who is dying on the battlefield is ‘tell my wife I love her.’ Nothing will be appreciated by a veteran more than taking care of his or her family. And that’s exactly what these programs are intended to do.”

When it comes to membership growth, Helm said he wants Legionnaires to focus on the four Rs: recruiting, revitalization, renewals and reconnecting.

“We will always be about service first, but folks, we can’t provide the programs or the service without the membership,” Helm said. "Practice those four Rs. Recruit every eligible veteran that you come in contact. Recruit their sons, grandsons, wives, daughters and granddaughters into the American Legion Family.

“You don’t need to be near a military base to reconnect with servicemembers. Reserve and Guard units have deployed in record numbers since 9/11, and most are eligible for American Legion membership.

“Renewal efforts shouldn’t just include those who left your post in the past year, but check back on those who might have left five or even 10 years ago. They might have had a change of heart or simply forgot to renew because nobody was pro-active enough to take an interest in them. And National Headquarters also offers plenty of resources available for posts that wish to revitalize. Think of it as a 5-Hour ENERGY Shot for a tired post."

Helm took time to honor Jerry Hedrick, the longtime National Executive Committeeman from North Carolina who passed away unexpectedly Aug. 25 during the convention. “Jerry Hedrick … was a presence in this organization for so many years that he has touched the lives of us all in a very good way,” Helm said. “Jerry was always positive. I don’t believe I ever heard Jerry say a harsh word about anyone. He would look at an issue and give you an honest course of action that he thought was best for you and best for the organization.”

Helm was surrounded by many members of his family on the stage – and by two others from more than 6,800 miles away. Helm’s son Aaron and his wife, Robie – both currently stationed at U.S. Army Camp Arifjan in Kuwait – were able to watch Helm be sworn in via Skype.

Elected as national vice commanders were Doug Haggan, Department of France; Paul O. Sanford, Department of Kansas; Richard W. Neville, Department of North Carolina; William R. Bryant, Department of Virginia; and Gerald L. Jacobs, of Wyoming.

Also appointed were National Historian Sue Mason, Department of California; National Sergeant-at-Arms Leon Hagan, Department of Nebraska; and National Chaplain Randy Cash, Department of North Carolina.


  1. I recently read the National Commanders comments in the American Legion magazine and was a little upset. He stated that "Veterans need VA" and "We adamantly oppose privatization or vouchering out of VA care". Veterans do not need the VA. Veterans need QUALITY health care and in many cases that does not come from the VA. The VA is a huge government bureaucracy and is very inefficient. Privatization or giving the veteran a voucher to seek care where he or she wants gives them the freedom they served to protect. Government will never get it right.
  2. the leigon has its rules i have 2 and for a total of 8 i have survived fine not being a member and have been extra particular not to attend leigon events or drop money in their buckets keep your heads high you honored the uniform when you wore it idid
  3. September 3, 2014 Subjet: Commander calls for independent VA study Mr. Commander Legionnaire Mike Helm I fully support the call for independent VA Study and I ask that the study include elements that cover issues listed: Focus not only on the VA medical centers, but the administrative branch of each regional office. Veterans who died while waiting to receive medical health care benefits through the VA. Veterans who died while their disability claim and/ or appeal was still pending. ( See Attachment VAHA ) Specific departments such as office of the Service Manager, The Privacy Act Officer , The Rating Board and Chairman, The manner in which the Adjudication process , conducted at the Regional Level defies all provisions of VA laws. . I have documented more than 20 administrative errors that lead to deviations from all provisions of VA laws, and that's just for one of my cases that is pending.. I have three appeals still pending , one has been pending for than seven years without an appeal hearing. ( Chapter 31 Vocational Re Hab ) My Vestibular Condition ; Incidence of ( loss of balance and / or stumbling while walking ) was first reported on or about April 2010 in a medical report of a Board Certified Otolaryngologist ENT Specialist; My Vestibular Condition ; (Incidence of ( loss of balance and / or stumbling while walking ) was again reported ( 2012 and February 2013 ) by Board Certified Otolaryngologist ENT Specialist: So between the period of ( April , 2010 - 2012 and February 2013 ) , my Vestibular Condition; the Incidence of ( loss of balance and / or stumbling while walking ) increased from (Stage 1) to ( Sage 2 ) See Attachment VC My major concern is if the frequency of my Vestibular Condition ( Incidence of ( loss of balance and / or stumbling while walking ) continue , I may have to stop driving and will become dependent upon some one else for my personal transportation. That would create and undue financial strain on my present income. Calvin Wright , # 204818975 Attachment VC Vestibular Conditions (from April 2010 to April , 2012 and February ,2013 ) (Stage 1) Hearing impairment with vertigo, less than once a month, with or without tinnitus ( Code 6205 )….30% ( Sage 2 ) Hearing impairment with attacks of vertigo and cerebella gait occurring more than once weekly, with or without tinnitus..( Code 6205 )..100% Attachment VAHA 4202 E. Fowler Ave. USF 30872 Tampa, FL 33620-3087 To whom it may concern April 9, 2006 Subject: The VA’s Hidden Agenda The VA has been practicing a hidden agenda that adversely affects the appeal rights of veterans. VA policy: Section 20.1302, Rule 1302 states that “An appeal pending before the the Board of Veterans’ Appeal when the appellant dies will be dismissed” So as in my case and possibly many other veterans’, the VA regional office has been failing to forward appeal cases to the Board with hopes that the veterans withdraws or even dies during the pending period. VA’s action was calculated and deliberate. Miss-information /Miss-leading information provided by the VA resulted in unwarranted and unjustified delays in the appeal process. This is the case of mine and possibly many other veterans as well. My appeal process began on or about June, 2003 (2 years, 8 months ago) ; is still classified as “pending” for no apparent reason at the St Pete regional office. Veterans Service Organizations such as the (DAV) has failed to challenge the issue. Report from other vets who survived the long ordeal stated that the appeal process took about 5 years from start to finalizing. Request this matter be fully investigated to determine the extent at which other veterans, their wives, and dependants have been victimized by this unwarranted action. Inquiry should include the number of cases dismissed as a result of the appellant’s death. Your assistance regarding this matter would be greatly appreciated. Calvin Wright
  4. I heartily agree that ALL veterans who've done military service should belong to the American Legion. Those who served during the "cold" war put their lives on the line and without their service the Russians would have dominated us years ago. BECAUSE they served when they did, they kept the peace: they were the deterent to the bullies of the world at the time.
  5. I served during the cold war, but at the time I was a kid a did not think my service held any significance, and somehow felt cheated that I did not serve during war time to aid in the defense of my country. Today I am an officer at my local American Legion and have come to realize through people like you, I helped make a difference. And will continue to serve under the AL to help all veterans realize they made a difference! Thank you
  7. I agree. Everyone who joins the active/reserves/national guard understands that they may be in jeopardy if any conflict/war breaks out. Even if they join a peace-time military for the benefits only, they still have to understand they may find themselves in jeopardy. Many veterans who were serving during times of conflict sere far from personal jeopardy for their entire service. If we allow all honorable discharged veterans to join the American Legion, we will be far more likely to have an American Legion well into the future.
  8. I keep hearing the phrase, " Save The VAMC ". But how can you save anything when you are unwilling to identify and deal with the real problems. . Standards for employee conduct on the job. . A process that files all complaints by patients against individuals who provide unacceptable care, without having the fear of retaliation. An escalation process needs to be included to hold those accountable for not addressing egrecious problems. . Charge people need to be more proactive in intervening when they see an angry employee abusing patients, as I was. . I am looking forward to Mr. Mcdonald straitening this mess out, so that it can be saved. " A good old fasion corporate ass whipping is in order here.
  9. Good a ranger, and you really want to get to the bottom of the VA Hospitals being out of control. Talk to veterans who are still living experienced devastating out of control behavior because I can. Ask yourself how does and how continues to be out of control that question no politician cares to address. Here it is with experience talking with employees. Out of control behaviors gone unseen. It comes from retaliation on their own employees who have principles and on the veteran who tells. They have developed systematically control of out of control and unlawful behaviors. And they still even with the publicity have the same behaviors. Someone tells retaliation. How could it become so deceptive and out of control. You have to control your surroundings for that type of behaviors to survive so long. Sad to say the politicians wont look at that aspect, they turn the other cheek. If some of their own advocates are scared of them, enough said. It can and will never be fixed if you can not eliminate control by retaliation. Thxs hope this helps. I see it as another failure until someone removes organized retaliation from the system. There are factual stories from employees on certain websites. Research talk to who will talk.
  10. The shame that has occurred at our VA Hospitals is every veteran's fault. The years we served should have taught us that: The VA's Chain of Command was broken and totally out of control. Every American Legion Post as well as every "Band of Brother's Organization" e.g. VFW, Fleet Reserve, AFA, etc. should have brought Washingtons Politicians to their knees. We did not. And the Paid VA Bonus Money, was, BLOOD MONEY; earned with the death of our Brothers and Sisters-in-Arms. When the is no Honor nor Integrity there is No Respect for the Laws, Rules or Regulations. The American Legion must, MUST, take the lead and rectify these heinous crimes and insure the memory of those that died, will be HONORED.
  11. We as Legionnaires, show respect for the office of the President of the United States. We are non-partisan. As an individual, we all have the right to our opinion and how we voice it. The President had a very hard act to follow. Ollie North was on just before President Obama. I was there and could have walked out, before they locked the doors, but chose to stay. That was my choice, even if I didn't believe all that he had to say. It's like being in the Army. I had to salute officers, because of their rank, not because I respected the officer.
  12. Mr. Commander Legionnaire Mike Helm ; I was Very, very disappointed that you all allowed this man [POTUS} to speak to you...telling lies?! If I were there I would have walked out! Shame.....please do not allow this to happen under your watch, Please!!!
  13. Mf. Apa. Please take your partisanship elsewhere. The President, regardless of who they are, is still the President and deserves the respect due to the office they hold. Shame on you and your narrow minded uninformed opinions.
  14. As a member in uniform for 26 years and in a support roll for an additional 18 years I believe you mean the office deserves respect, not the individual holding the office and no veteran of this Country needs to be reprimanded for their opinions, they earned the right! You sir need to understand all veteran have their right to speak, even you.
  15. I am a range officier at our local shooting range and talk to a lot of vets that are and aren't members of the American Legion. Recently we had our police dept. shot and killed a veteran suffering from PTSD. The vets that I have talked to don't blame the police they blame the VA for the lack of proper care the VA is providing. They don't see any great improvement and a lot feel that the American Legion is far too willing to accept the lip service of the VA and the Obama Aministration. They want to see a lot more vocal American Legion especially after they see on TV the President give campaign speeches to the National meeting and very little in the way of our national leaders calling him to task.
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