American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger calls on Legionnaires during the Washington Conference to speak out on behalf of nation's veterans and military during visits on Capitol Hill today and tomorrow. (Photo by Lucas Carter)

Dellinger: Time is now to share concerns with Congress

During his travels since being elected American Legion national commander, Daniel M. Dellinger has met with military personnel of all ranks, veterans and elected officials. Dellinger shared what he learned from those meetings with hundreds of Legionnaires during the 54th annual Washington Conference’s Commander’s Call this morning.

Dellinger hopes those Legionnaires will in turn share those sentiments with members of Congress in their visit to Capitol Hill today and Wednesday to speak on behalf the nation’s veterans, servicemembers and their families.

“I listened to their voices, heard their messages of concern, and today I am sharing some of their concerns with you for you, in turn, to share with your members of Congress that you meet with this week,” Dellinger said. “Veterans understand our nation’s fiscal strain. But, as former service men and women, we are resolute that we must never let sequestration and the battles about federal debt weaken our nation’s ability to defend and protect Americans.

“Veterans understand that a well-equipped military and a reasonable quality of life for those who serve, and have served, are the foundations of our nation’s strength.”

Dellinger shared stories of drill instructors unable to get time off because of a reduction in numbers and aircraft being refurbished with aging parts because new parts aren’t available due to sequestration.

“Defense spending continues to suffer drastic and dangerous reductions, even as new threats have emerged across the world,” Dellinger said. “Our military tells me they must do more with less, when the world shows no sign of stepping back from dangerous situations that threaten America, America’s interests and the interests of freedom-loving people worldwide.

“Our message to Congress is simple: Make sure our veterans have access to employment, housing, and medical care through the Department of Veteran Affairs.”

Dellinger asked Legionnaires to urge Congress to support implementing a single, seamless, lifetime electronic medical record that can be accessed by the Department of Defense or VA at any time.

He also urged Legionnaires to call on Congress to stay away from compensation and retirement legislation until the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission issues its report in February 2015.

“The American Legion will be watching the recommendations from the report, and we will not allow Congress to reduce the hard-earned benefits of our veterans,” Dellinger said. “We believe those benefits were earned by those veterans because of their honorable and selfless service to this country. Those earned benefits are, in fact, part of the nation’s war bill – and that bill must be paid by the American people.”

Dellinger said today’s and tomorrow’s meetings with Congress will make an impact. “While you may not see the effects of your work before you leave Washington, just remember (that) your efforts and your voice do matter very much to our legislative successes,” he said. “Your elected officials will listen to you because they know you represent the greatest veterans service organization on the planet – The American Legion.”

Following the Commander’s Call, American Legion Legislative Commission Chairman Brett Reistad and Legion Legislative staff conducted the “Know Before You Go” briefing for Legionnaires headed to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress. Attendees were briefed on the Legion’s legislative priorities, including fully funding the national defense budget, ensuring the stability of VA funding, and protecting veterans’ benefits and health care.

Reistad also urged Legionnaires to show up in full force for Dellinger’s Wednesday testimony before a joint session of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs. The hearing begins at 10 a.m.