When children are caught in a crisis

A soldier was on his first deployment to Afghanistan when his wife received awful news. She had breast cancer. During his second deployment, doctors said the disease had spread to her other breast. She would need a double mastectomy, and he would have to take emergency leave to be with her during surgery and to help her recover. Medical bills, travel costs to a hospital hundreds of miles away and other unexpected expenses soon drained the family’s bank account.

Elsewhere, a National Guardsman was four weeks removed from a scheduled activation and deployment. He decided to resign from his job to spend that final month at home with his family. Then the orders were rescinded. He was suddenly jobless and, because he left work voluntarily, had no unemployment benefits to help make ends meet.

After months of looking for work, another veteran and his wife finally lost their home to foreclosure and had no money for rent.

A common thread among these three painfully true stories from 2012 is that dependent children were living at home during each crisis. Another common thread: The American Legion was there to help. Grants from the Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) program helped the families avoid catastrophe and get back on their feet.

These are just three examples from a total of 776 families that received TFA grants in 2012. Last year, nearly $850,000 in TFA was distributed to military and veteran families in serious financial distress. The program directly benefited 1,711 children.

The Family Support Network (FSN), meanwhile, connects post volunteers to the spouses of men and women deployed in service to our country. At the national level alone last year, 1,558 families made requests for FSN assistance, including volunteer child care, household maintenance, caregiver relief, automobile repairs and almost anything else that can help a mother or father confronting single parenthood while a loved one is confronting the enemy at war. Hundreds of other FSN requests are quietly fulfilled at the post, district and department levels across the country. Together, TFA and FSN are the bedrock underlying the Legion’s pillar value of support for children and youth.

Other Legion programs – such as the Child Welfare Foundation, which awards more than $500,000 a year in grants to nonprofit organizations that help young people facing challenges ranging from autism to violent abuse – are how we keep our founders’ vow to provide a square deal for every young person, no matter their circumstances.

April is American Legion Children & Youth Month. Our support for young people is, as they say, 24/7/365, but April provides a window of time to take a deeper look at our work in this area and promote awareness. I know it can be difficult to step away from helping people for a moment to share stories of advocacy, but I am asking our posts to do just that this month, through local newspapers, radio and TV stations, civic groups, schools, social media and in conversations with other veterans and their families. They need to know that American Legion services are available and why children matter so much to us.