Now that we have Washington's attention

During the first half of 2009, The American Legion’s convictions were tested on the national stage. First, in March, there was a proposal for VA to start billing the insurance companies of service-disabled veterans for care they’re supposed to receive at no personal cost. It’s possible the administration underestimated the level of outrage we would feel over this proposal. Within days, as national media cast a spotlight on our opposition, the White House withdrew its idea. Soon afterward, a baseless Department of Homeland Security report appeared, associating the homecoming of U.S. war veterans with a risk for domestic terrorism and right-wing extremism. Again, our reaction was swift, clear and well reported in the national media. The result was an apology from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and a better understanding by DHS about the nation’s largest veterans organization and its commitment to homeland security and fair treatment of veterans alike. In April, more than 250,000 veterans in Priority Group 8 – those who are slightly above the poverty line – were allowed to re-enter VA’s health-care system; since 2003, their enrollment had been suspended. And while The American Legion is pleased that some Group 8s are allowed to return, the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 opened VA health care to all veterans. Our disagreement with the administrative reversal of that law still stands. In May, VA began accepting applications for the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, which takes effect in August, one year after former VA Secretary James B. Peake argued the education benefit could not be handled without the services of an outside contractor. The American Legion disagreed and fought off the plan to outsource it. I believe our thinking will be proven right when the benefit takes effect next month. A record-high $113 billion VA budget is on the table. In May, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee unanimously adopted legislation that mandates on-time budgets for VA health-care facilities, a move The American Legion strongly supports. For years, VA administrators have had to wait long past the beginning of any fiscal year before they knew the resources they had to work with – an unnecessary burden at a time of war and rapid demand growth. Bills to protect the U.S. flag from physical desecration have been introduced both in the House and Senate. U.S. courts are considering the removal of religious symbols, including those that honor veterans who gave their lives for our country, from public sight. Bottom line: The American Legion’s legislative agenda is going full-throttle in Washington. Can the same be said in your local community? If not, we are missing a great opportunity. Legionnaires can make real differences by personally contacting their locally elected delegations and the media. The Legion’s National Legislative Council, which delivers our message in congressional districts nationwide, awaits new members with passion to help veterans, promote patriotism and make communities better. The opportunity is upon us now. Contact your department headquarters today to see how you can help advance Legion positions where they matter most: in your hometown.