100 miles and countless thanks from a service officer

100 miles and countless thanks from a service officer

Editor’s note: Air Force veteran Courtney VanZanten recently completed the 100 Miles for Hope campaign, which benefits her work as an American Legion service officer. Learn more about her in this previous story.

I completed my #100MilesForHope on Sept. 22 — almost exactly at the halfway point of American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford’s campaign.

It felt great — 2020 has been chaotic at best, and having a goal seemed to put some normalcy and routine back into my life. Walking 100 miles pushed me to be outside in nature, away from the computer and phone screens and in the moment. (There is still time to register for the 100 Miles for Hope challenge. Sign up here.)

I was reminded that mindfully putting an hour or so aside for self-care is something that all young parents should do — it was good for my soul and my health. Not only that, I managed to get my three children to join on many of my walks — as Junior American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion members, it was neat to participate as an American Legion Family. The #100MilesForHope challenge was personally rewarding, and I have the fortune of professionally benefitting as well.

Commander Oxford’s campaign not only encourages American Legion Family members to exercise but it benefits the Veterans and Children Foundation. The foundation, in turn, directs donations to support the work of veterans service officers and also provides money to military families in need. American Legion service officers provide free assistance to veterans and family members on their claims and benefits.

My day job is as a veterans service officer for the Department of South Dakota American Legion. I absolutely love my work, as serving my fellow veterans is truly my life’s calling. Every day, I get to help people navigate their benefits they earned through service to our nation. What could be better?

That said, it can be incredibly exhausting some days. Veterans come in struggling with substance abuse. Others fall behind on their bills and are not sure what to do. Some are experiencing stress-induced nightmares about their combat experience again. Others want to put final affairs in order because of a recent cancer diagnosis. Some are frustrated and angry with a VA denial.

I see many people during a lot of low moments in their lives. It can be emotionally taxing work, but I know it is absolutely necessary. What helps with the hard cases and taxing days? Knowledge on what to do to help.

The training I receive through The American Legion and the team at Bergmann & Moore taught me how to put together new claims effectively and efficiently. Court updates help me stay on top of changes to VA regulations and argue successful appeals. I have a professional network of American Legion-trained and accredited service officers both locally and from across the country whom I can reach out to for guidance on unique cases. I am better equipped to do my job and handle the “tough days” on account of my American Legion training.

To the more than 4,200 other participants supporting #100MilesForHope, and therefore investing in continually educating veterans service officers such as myself, thank you. We are better veterans service officers because of you.

To find an American Legion accredited service officer near you, use our handy search tool.