American Legion delegations from across the country will visit the nation's capital next week to meet with members of Congress during the Legion's 53rd annual Washington Conference. The fiscal cliff facing America – sequestration – is bound to be part of most of their conversations on Capitol Hill.
The Legion is especially concerned that the automatic federal budget cuts, due to take effect March 1, will have a serious impact on the country's defense capabilities. At its October meeting last year, the Legion's National Executive Committee passed Resolution No. 55: "Protecting the Defense Budget."
Noting that $487 billion defense dollars will already be cut over the next decade, the resolution warns that a pending sequestration cut of another $500 billion will "pose a grave threat to military readiness and the security of the United States." Two previous Legion resolutions, passed in October 2011 and May 2012, called upon Congress and the Obama administration to halt further cuts to defense spending.
When the so-called Supercommitee attempted to find a way out sequestration, 42 Legionnaires traveled to Washington in November 2011 to meet with 12 of that committee's members – imploring them to work out a solution. The Supercommittee failed, and now America's fiscal cliff is only nine days distant.
Several Legion activities will precede the Washington Conference: the organization's first Veterans Benefits Claims Fair on Feb. 21, where Legion service officers will help D.C.-area veterans file for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability benefits; an American Legion-RecruitMilitary Veterans Hiring Fair, also on Feb. 21; a Homeless Veterans Roundtable on Feb. 22, and a Veterans Education Symposium on Feb. 24.
The Washington Conference kicks off on Feb. 25 at the Washington Hilton Hotel with a breakfast honoring members of the Army, Navy, Air Force Veterans in Canada, United States (ANAVICUS) organization.
U.S. Representative Tom Cotton, R-Ark., will address the National Legislative Commission on the effects of sequestration on the defense budget; he sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The National Economic Commission will spend most of the day conducting its Credentialing Roundtable, examining ways to help veterans get credit in the private sector for training and experience they received in the military.
The National Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation (VA&R) Commission will hear from three VA officials: Dr. Robert Petzel, under secretary for health; Allison Hickey, under secretary for benefits; and Steve Muro, under secretary for memorial affairs. The VA&R Commission also is conducting panel discussions on four topics: women veterans, health care for TBI and PTSD; claims, compensation and pension; and doing volunteer work for the VA.
The Joint National Security-Foreign Relations Commission will hear from Dr. Chrisanne Gordon, chair of the Resurrecting Lives Foundation; she will discuss TBI and other mental-health issues for servicemembers and veterans. The commission will also get an update on continuing efforts to identify and retrieve the remains of fallen warriors who were prisoners of war or missing in action.
Commander's Call begins at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 26 with a call to order by Kenneth Governor, chair of the Legislative Commission; the event will be video-streamed live on the Legion's website at www.legion.org . American Legion National Commander James Koutz will address the conference, then Governor will present The Legislative Councilman of the Year Award.
Featured speakers include Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs; Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs (HCVA); Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., HCVA member and retired Army veteran; VA Secretary Eric Shinseki; Assistant Secretary of Labor Keith Kelly; R, Todd Veazie, White House executive director of Joining Forces; Peggy Thomas, president of The American Legion Auxiliary; and Christopher Huntzinger, national commander of the Sons of The American Legion.
This year's American Legion Distinguished Public Service Award will be presented to Sen. Jim Webb: Vietnam War veteran, author, former Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, and former senator from Virginia. For his Vietnam service, Webb received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. Past Distinguished Public Service Award winners have included senators Henry "Scoop" Jackson, John Glenn and Robert "Bob" Dole; and Rep. G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery.
Legionnaires are invited to a preview screening at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 26 of the feature film, "Emperor", set for national release on March 8. The film tells the story of how Gen. MacArthur and his aide, Brig. Gen. Bonner Fellers, grappled with the gargantuan task of rebuilding postwar Japan and deciding the fate of Emperor Hirohito.
A panel discussion will follow the screening, moderated by American Legion Past National Commander William Detweiler, who is a consultant for the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Panelists include two of the film's producers, Gary Foster and Eugene Nomura, and Georgetown Professor Michael Green, who served as the film's historical consultant. The screening will be held in the hotel's International Ballroom, Center & East, Concourse Level.
The Economic Commission will conduct business development workshops on Feb. 26 and 27 for veterans who own businesses, or who are seeking help in starting one.
On Feb. 27, the National Security Commission will hear from Col. Robert Carpenter on Army modernization strategies, and Jennifer Davis of the Defense Intelligence Agency is guest speaker for the Foreign Relations Commission.
This year's National Commander's Public Relations Award will be given to veteran journalist Robert "Bob" Woodruff during a formal luncheon, where he will make some remarks. As an ABC News correspondent and broadcast anchorman, Woodruff was seriously injured by an IED explosion on Jan. 29, 2006, near Taji, Iraq.
Previous award recipients have included Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the musician and statesman Ignace Jan Paderewski, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, wartime journalist Ernie Pyle, and Drs. Jeanne and Steven Stellman for their work in linking Agent Orange and other herbicides to Vietnam War-era illnesses.