Editor’s note: This is a weekly series of Department Spotlight stories featuring unique programs and initiatives of departments throughout The American Legion. Department adjutants are invited to recommend subjects for their departments by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
When retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeffery Kelly underwent surgery to have a leg amputated due to a combat-related injury from his third tour in Iraq, The American Legion Department of Florida was there for him and his family. Through its PROJECT: VetRelief program, the department helped cover the cost of food for his family while they lived away from home to be by Kelly during his surgery.
“It was a huge relief knowing that I’m in the hospital and there’s nothing I can do to help, but knowing (my family was) taken care of. That was a huge blessing,” Kelly said.
PROJECT: VetRelief was launched in 2014 as a way for the Department of Florida to provide three main areas of support for servicemembers and their families – emergency assistance, benefits support and community engagement. The program has currently supported nearly 160 families and provided more than $102,000 in financial assistance. And 107 veterans have received assistance with VA claims.
“PROJECT: VetRelief gives a hand up, not a hand out,” said Mike McDaniel, Department of Florida adjutant. “Our job is to help them get to where they need to be by providing that support. They fought for us, and we fight for them.”
The program is available to the 1.6 million veterans living in Florida at no cost to them. And when assistance is needed, one of the more than 200 Legionnaires who serve as VetRelief advocates immediately respond by making a personal visit and providing support where needed.
“You have a servicemember who was going through a hard time. We get them back on their feet, we get them the benefits that they deserve, and we get them a community of support,” said Jessica Flynn, relations director for PROJECT: VetRelief.
Through the program’s three areas of support, eligible veterans can receive financial assistance for housing, food, utilities and more; apply for and access benefits earned such as disability compensation for a service-related injury, housing and educational; and learn of resources for reintegrating into the community and paying it forward.
“I am a veteran with a service-connected disability and was basically just starting over from scratch. I ran into financial difficulties and called many places for assistance, but only The American Legion responded,” said a Navy veteran from Florida. “(PROJECT: VetRelief advocates) acted quickly and even brought the paperwork to me. They covered a month’s worth of utilities and now I can catch up. I am truly grateful.”
During the department’s fall conference, the PVR Challenge was announced which encourages posts and SAL squadrons statewide to make a onetime donation to the program or hold a fundraising event to meet their challenge goal of $1 per post/squadron member.
“We don’t want any servicemember to feel that they are alone and that’s (PROJECT: VetRelief’s) vision – a nation where no servicemember stands alone,” Flynn said.
To learn more about PROJECT: VetRelief, visit www.projectvetrelief.org/.