Veterans and children. They occupy a cherished place in society – those who defended our nation and those who will inherit the benefits of that sacrifice, if given a fair chance. They also comprise two of the four pillars upon which The American Legion was founded.
Our dedication to these two constituencies is what excites me most about the American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation. Established through a resolution passed by our National Executive Committee in 2018, the foundation provides essential funding for two core areas of American Legion service and advocacy.
First is our Department Service Officer School (DSO) program. The American Legion has more than 3,000 accredited service officers who assist U.S. veterans worldwide in obtaining their earned benefits, free of charge, regardless of membership status in The American Legion. The fruits of their labor can be nothing short of life-changing. For instance, Army veteran Alvin Cousin injured his back and legs while serving on active duty during the Korean War. Cousin, a member of McKinney-King American Legion Post 142 in Hartford, Conn., filed for benefits and battled the federal government for decades. But it wasn’t until 2011 that he decided to allow Connecticut service officer K. Robert Lewis to assist his case.
In 2017, Cousin was granted a 40 percent disability rating by VA, retroactive for two years. But it gets better. Lewis and Cousin’s attorney Andrew Dufresne kept fighting for a more just outcome. After being denied appeals by the Regional Office, the Board of Veterans Appeals and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the federal circuit finally heard Cousin’s case. On Sept. 20, 2019, his claim was granted retroactively, to 1953. The 90-year-old veteran will be financially secure for the rest of his life thanks, in no small part, to the persistence, training and experience of an American Legion department service officer.
Now, to the other part of the equation: children. The American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) program was established in 1925 to help meet the basic needs of veterans and military personnel with minor children at home when no other resources are available.
This need was never more widespread than when members of the Coast Guard had their pay interrupted during the 35-day government shutdown. Our TFA program issued more than $1 million in grants to junior enlisted Coast Guard families with children at home to help them make ends meet during the gap.
Programs funded by the Legion’s Veterans & Children Foundation have delivered more than $30 million in assistance to families since 1925, when it was launched as the American Legion Endowment Fund. Overhead is paid through membership dues, but donations are essential to keep these programs serving their intended beneficiaries: veterans and children. To support the foundation, visit legion.org/donate, or send a check to The American Legion, Donation Processing, P.O. Box 361626, Indianapolis, IN 46236-1626.
Any gift is an investment in our future, and a tribute to those who made it happen.