A group of Legionnaires from the Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission visited patients in the polytrauma ward of the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. Photo by Craig Roberts

Legionnaires bring cheer to VA patients

This past Monday a group of Legionnaires from the Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation (VA&R) Commission paid a surprise visit to recovering troops at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. The Legionnaires brought gift bags for the patients that included Nike backpacks, shower gel, American Legion T-shirts and thank-you letters written by students from Buck Lodge Middle School in Prince George's County, Md. The gift bags were given out to seriously wounded warriors in the polytrauma acute-care ward.

"Those letters from the school kids really cheered the patients up," said Jacob Gadd, deputy director of the Legion's VA&R Commission. "We gave each of them three or four letters, and those words of encouragement and support from school children really made an impression."No one told them in advance that we were coming to visit - it was a complete surprise. We handed out our gifts, but we also told them how much we appreciated their service and sacrifice for America."

The VA medical facility's director, Steve Kleinglass, met the group and said the Legion "has a great working relationship with the medical center in several ways - American Legion service officers helping veteran file claims, support from the volunteers and donations."

The group also toured the facility's Brain Sciences Center, the result of a $1 million donation in 1988 by the Legion's Department of Minnesota (and a matching grant by the University of Minnesota) to develop a state-of-the-art center for research.

Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos, the center's director, said that one key technology being used is a magneto-encephalography machine that records magnetic fields of the brain, which helps in research for Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress (PTS). Georgopoulos said the goal of research at the center "is to take the first steps toward understanding the mechanisms which may lead to treatment and prevention to help millions suffering from brain afflictions."

Mike Helm, chairman of the VA&R Commission, said the visit was a way "to recognize these veterans for their service and to let them know we are here to serve them." He said the gift bags were paid for by donations to Operation Comfort Warriors, a Legion program that provides recovering warriors nationwide with comfort items that the Department of Defense is not allowed to purchase.

The Minneapolis VA Medical Center has one of the nation's four leading polytrauma units. Since 2001, the hospital has treated more than 300 severely injured veterans with PTS, traumatic brain injury or polytrauma injuries. The Legionnaires were also joined on their tour by Col. Gregory Gadson, director of the Army's Wounded Warrior Program. Gadson was a battalion commander in Iraq who lost both of his legs in 2007 to an IED explosion. He received this year's Patriot Award from The American Legion on Aug. 30, during its 93rd National Convention in Minneapolis.