Thursday was a successful opening day of the American Legion revitalization effort in Detroit. In addition to signing up, renewing and transferring a double-digit number of veterans into local Legion posts, 22 veterans were able to meet with the Department of Michigan Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Director Jim Topps, to either open or reopen 19 VA claims.
"That was great. I wasn't anticipating those kinds of numbers," Topps said. "I came here to find veterans needing VA pensions. There are so many new benefits available through VA because of the new presumptive illnesses for Agent Orange and the Gulf War. I thought that if we got one claim out of this, it was worth it."
The revitalization/outreach effort was the idea of Department of Michigan Commander William Hafeman, who saw a need to bring back what he considered to be a strong department revitalization program.
"The past five years or so we seemed to have gotten away from that, and now we've got posts that have really dropped off a bit," Hafeman said. "This year, I said we were going to step that effort back up. We did a hell of a job years ago, and we're going to start doing it again."
Hafeman turned to Michigan Legionnaire Al Ford, a longtime revitalization specialist in the department, who headed up a similar effort in Detroit in 2003. "The Detroit area used to have a Legion membership of 23,000. That's dropped down to around 800 now," Ford said. "The economy has really hit this city hard, but these veterans here need The American Legion to have a strong presence in the city."
Local Legionnaires teamed with Legionnaires statewide and American Legion national staff, dividing into teams and going door to door all day Thursday in attempts to sign up new members, return expired members to the organization, or transfer headquarters post members into local posts. The John Dingell VA Medical Center served as a site for an open house from 6-8 p.m. Thursday night, where Topps set up shop to talk with veterans about potential VA claims.
The effort will continue today with door-to-door canvassing as well as another open house, and will conclude at 3 p.m. Saturday.