Many veterans don't have any idea how many benefits they may be entitled to as a result of their service. An outreach effort in Indianapolis this summer tried to change that.
Members of The American Legion's national staff, along with Department of Indiana service officer John Hickey, visited Tillman H. Harpole Post 249 to provide an overview of Legion programs and take questions from veterans in attendance. The forum coincided with Indianapolis' annual Black Expo.
National staff members Corey Owens (Internal Affairs/Membership), Mark Walker (Economic) and Rodney Rolland (Human Resources), along with Hickey, briefed attendees on the Legion's many programs that provide assistance to veterans – in part to inform, but in part to urge them to take advantage of potential benefits.
"There are many veterans who are out there who simply do not know enough about what they are entitled to as veterans," Owens said. "Many times they feel as if they are still a lost voice that no one is listening to. This forum was a chance to let them know who is fighting for them and what battles exactly we are fighting for them.
"With so many veterans across the country in need of so many things, we just wanted to let them know that there are people who are working on their behalf all the time – even when it seems as if no one is. Likewise, it also gave veterans a chance to ask questions, get answers and express their feelings about certain topics that are important to them."
Walker, Economic Division deputy director, talked about the Legion's efforts in gaining passage of an updated GI Bill, as well as its involvement with more than 100 veterans and military hiring fairs across the country each year. He also shared veterans unemployment figures, including those for Post-9/11 veterans that are higher than the national average.
Additionally, he briefed the audience on the Legion's efforts in making it easier for veterans to get licensed/credentialed in the civilian world for skills they gained in the military. Those efforts have been met with success in the nation's capital.
"When The American Legion calls people, they listen because they know what we do and how much we care about veterans," Walker said.
Hickey touched on several potential benefits that veterans and their spouses may be entitled to, including disability compensation, vocational rehabilitation, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, and burial expenses.
Rolland, the Legion's deputy director of Human Resources, provided tips for résumé writing and interviewing for employment. "Translate your military title into a civilian position," Rolland advised. "And don't undersell or oversell yourself."
Anthony Miller, a U.S. Army veteran, attended the forum and came away impressed. "I wanted to find out how I can register for VA benefits," he said. "This certainly helped with that."
Owens was pleased with the results of the initial forum. "It was a valuable and learning experience for both myself and for those who attended," he said. "It can be a valuable tool that all veterans can take advantage of, both young and old, because the topics we discuss aren't built for one specific group of veterans but are inclusive to fit all veterans, no matter if they are war-time era veterans or not."