Two thousand veterans across America are $60 richer for Thanksgiving, thanks to checks sent to them by The American Legion to pay for food during the holiday. The checks went to veterans who have disabilities suffered while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Included with each check was a letter from the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, the Connecticut-based organization that donated the money, thanking veterans for their "enormous personal sacrifices."
Verna Jones, director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, said that $60 can make a big difference for a veteran’s family on Thanksgiving Day – especially if that veteran is out of work. "Given the high jobless rate among our younger veterans and the state of our economy, these checks do a lot for veterans and their families," she said. "Over the years that we’ve been distributing these checks, you’d be surprised by the thank-yous that we get back. Veterans call us and say, ‘You know what? I would not have had a Thanksgiving meal for my family – I didn’t know how I was going to put food on the table for my children – and this check came, and I was able to give my family a good Thanksgiving.’ And they have food left over to carry through the rest of the week."
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) estimates the average cost this year for a 10-serving Thanksgiving dinner is $49.48. AFBF says that amount of money can provide a 16-pound turkey, 12 rolls, a 1-pound relish tray of carrots and celery, a half-pint of whipping cream, 14 ounces of cubed stuffing, three pounds of sweet potatoes, one gallon of whole milk, 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, one pound of green peas, 30 ounces of pumpkin pie mix and two pie shells.
Turkeys cost slightly more this year, according to the AFBF. In 2011, a 16 pounder went for an average price of $21.57; this year it has increased to $22.23.
The American Legion’s national headquarters contacted its department service officers across the country, asking them to submit contact information for wounded or disabled veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Then the Legion started mailing out checks last week.
Jones said many disabled veterans can’t work or are working part-time, and sometimes are still waiting for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. "So a $60 check showing up in your mailbox that makes it possible to treat your family at Thanksgiving – it makes it seem more like Christmas," she said.
The jobless rate for veterans who have left active duty since 9/11 stands at 10 percent, higher than the national average of 7.9 percent. Women veterans are even worse off, with an unemployment rate of 15.5 percent.
The letter that accompanied the checks thanked veterans for their "enormous personal sacrifices" and said the $60 was being presented by the coalition and The American Legion "to help you celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday by sharing a special meal with those closest to you." A "Thank You and Get Well" card was also enclosed.
"On behalf of our organization and the Legion," the letter continued, "please accept this gift and card as a combined gesture of gratitude, along with our best wishes for a wonderful holiday and continued success along your personal road to recovery."