National Commander Coronavirus Updates

3 April 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Social distancing requirements have presented a new set of obstacles that American Legion posts have never faced during prior national emergencies and disasters. But the current crisis has proven that Legionnaires are as creative as they are tenacious.

In Dover, Mass., Post 209 has launched a food drive to benefit local agencies, a pantry and a church. Post 335 in South Gate, Calif., is providing care packages to senior citizens sheltered at home. American Legion Post 328 in Riley, Ind., will hold a free drive-thru cookout on April 4. These are just a few of the many reports that we are receiving every day of American Legion Family members serving their communities during these tough times.

As this continues, we may look back at this time as perhaps The American Legion’s finest hour.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

3 April 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

During a conference call with major veteran service organizations on Wednesday afternoon, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie implored veterans who are not feeling well to call their local VA centers before coming in. Dropping in unannounced endangers the veteran and others around the veteran. While VA is seeing nonveterans in New York City, it has not had to open beds to nonveterans in other areas at this time. As the numbers rise in other cities, you may see the VA expand its fourth mission – which is to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Defense during times of national emergency or war.

Not all veterans are comfortable receiving telehealth, but it is an option that many should consider and would reduce exposure opportunities for COVID-19.

While calls to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline have understandably increased at a time like this, I was pleased to hear Secretary Wilkie say that they have also the increased the staff who answer those calls. Once again, if you are a veteran who is feeling stressed or have thoughts of suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255 (press 1 if you’re a veteran).

Bill Oxford

National Commander

2 April 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

I can think of no better way to observe Children & Youth Month , or month of hope as we have been calling it recently, than to make a donation to The American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation.

The donations are used to train our outstanding service officers and provide temporary financial assistance to Legion Family members in need with children at home. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an economic downturn, which only heightens the financial uncertainty many families face. Last year, our TFA grants provided more than $1 million of assistance to Coast Guard families that were impacted by the government shutdown. Those nonrepayable grants took their toll on the Foundation’s balance, but the donations were delivered to the people who needed them. The current crisis will also test the resources of this outstanding charity.

Administrative costs for this great foundation are paid by national headquarters, so you can be sure that your entire donation will go to the stated cause. In addtion to making a donation, feel free to share my video message on social media.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

2 April 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

The COVID-19 crisis is taking its toll on America’s blood supply. While many Americans are wisely staying in their homes, blood donation is considered an essential service. It is perfectly appropriate to leave your home to make a donation. We are aware of many American Legion posts that have held or are planning blood drives. But regardless of where the donation is made, if you are healthy, please do so. If you enter your zip code here , the American Red Cross will direct you to a drive in your vicinity. And you can also help get the word out by sharing this video message on your social media page or post website:

Bill Oxford

National Commander

1 April 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Shutdowns should not be interpreted as closed for business. Your national staff of The American Legion is working remotely from the safety of their homes. The same could be said for our dedicated American Legion service officers.

While an office visit is not a safe option for the time being, if you would like to file a claim or have questions about your benefits, visit www.legion.org/serviceofficers While there may be some delays, many service officers are still responding to emails and calls.

1 April 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

April is Children & Youth month and this year it is being observed in a way that nobody could have anticipated even a month ago. While many of our programs have been postponed or cancelled, The American Legion’s devotion to the current generation of young people remains steadfast.

Most schools are closed because of the COVID-19 crisis. If you are sheltered in with your children, it is a perfect time to remind them of our country’s great history. Talk about how after America prevailed in the first World War this country persevered through an influenza epidemic in 1918. Talk about the Greatest Generation that battled through an economic depression before fighting the deadliest war in world history. More than 18 years ago, Americans were stunned to see New York’s tallest skyscrapers levelled by hijacked airplanes. The attacks also struck the headquarters of America’s military might. Yet we rebuilt, recovered and prospered.

This crisis, unique as it is, will ultimately result in a stronger, better and more prepared America when the emergency ends. Yes, there is much sadness. But from the grocer to the surgeon, we are surrounded by heroes.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

31 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Lost in all of the coronavirus coverage are people who we can’t afford to lose. I’m speaking of the twenty-plus veterans per day who commit suicide. Fortunately, the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) has not forgotten.

The national emergency has only exacerbated feelings of isolation, economic despair and depression. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Veterans Crisis Line have experienced an increase in call volume.

In addition to increasing our Buddy Checks, there is more that we can do. PREVENTS is trying to increase public awareness and perceptiveness to this problem by offering shareable materials on its Facebook page. You can follow PREVENTS on Twitter at @WeArePREVENTS and through various social media platforms using #MoreThanEverBefore.

Most important, if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or expressing the slightest suicidal thoughts, call the Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255 (press 1 if you’re a veteran).

Bill Oxford

National Commander

Coronavirus Update 31 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

There is never a bad time to fly the flag of our country. We saw a huge spike of Old Glory being displayed during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. We also see the flag commonly flown on patriotic holidays. It is wonderful to see Americans rally around the flag during times of national crisis or emergency – though The American Legion has always championed the patriotic display of our flag.

If you don’t have an American flag, you need not leave your home to purchase one. Simply visit www.AmericanLegionFlags.com or call 1-888-453-4466. The flag can be delivered to your home and is competitively priced. Moreover, they are 100 percent made in the United States, with some of the proceeds being used to support American Legion programs which are assisting veterans and military families in your community.

If you are reading this message you clearly love your country. This is an opportunity to let your community know that you are also proud of it.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

30 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Yesterday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it was opening 50 beds in New York City for nonCOVID-19 patients who are nonveterans. The request to do this came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will allow other hospitals to better serve the growing number of coronavirus cases.

Under normal circumstances, The American Legion would not support using VA resources for nonveterans. However, these are not normal circumstances. In fact, delegates at The American Legion National Convention in 2016 wisely anticipated emergencies such as the one we are now facing when they passed Resolution No. 188, which calls on Congress to fund VA’s role as a back-up to FEMA in response to national emergencies. While The American Legion believes in a strong VA health system for veterans, we also recognize its vital “fourth mission” to serve as a back-up for FEMA and the Department of Defense in response to national emergencies.

“VA is proud to assist the City of New York while continuing its primary mission of caring for our nation’s veterans.” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in an official statement.

The American Legion has been saying for years that VA offers the best healthcare anywhere. Now, other Americans will see why.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

30 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Buddy Checks have been around long before the coronavirus. In fact, I could argue that Legionnaires have been checking on their fellow veterans since our founding in 1919.

But COVID-19 is a unique emergency requiring a different type of response. Social distancing is needed to protect not only the people we are trying to help but the person conducting the buddy check as well. Moreover, economic uncertainty and health concerns have added to the stress and hardships that many veterans face.

With this in mind, The American Legion is offering a new toolkit for you to download: How to Perform A Buddy Check During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Included are sample scripts, along with tips on how to organize a team. It’s only five pages so it should be easy to print from your home. It’s just another example of how The American Legion is a true brotherhood and sisterhood.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

27 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

I had a conference call with our department adjutants Wednesday afternoon. Many departments have cancelled Boys State, Oratorical Contests, American Legion Baseball games and department conventions. Others are delaying decisions and hoping that conditions improve to a point where these events can either take place or be rescheduled for a later date.

Please be understanding with those who have to make these difficult decisions. They are made with the safety of the participants and the public in mind. Please refer to your American Legion department websites frequently to learn the latest about these events.

Although American Legion departments are keeping their social distance, there is no doubt that they are very much engaged with what is occurring and anxious to continue to serve you – our American Legion Family.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

27 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

The American Legion was only ten years old when the stock market crashed in 1929. Although today’s volatile stock market is the result of a world health crisis, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural address in 1933 included some inspirational words that still ring true today.

“Our greatest primary task is to put people to work,” FDR said. “This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources.”

And, of course, Roosevelt’s most famous passage from that address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The American Legion has always been an active sponsor of job fairs and career training for transitioning veterans. Once society re-opens, you can count on your American Legion to once again be on the frontlines of this important effort.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

26 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

I’ve been hearing many great reports about The American Legion’s response to COVID-19 in communities across the country.

Legionnaires in the Blue Grass State have been making people feel, well, less blue. American Legion Post 23 in Bowling Green, Ky., teamed up with our friends in the Good Deeds Club and the Marine Corps League to provide a free hot breakfast by setting up a drive-through in its parking lot earlier this week. According to a report by local station WNKY, the first 200 drivers received sausage, biscuits, coffee donuts and toilet paper. These volunteers did it once again this morning.

Feel free to share these great stories by submitting them to www.legiontown.org or jraughter@legion.org.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

26 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

The American Legion is full of knowledgeable experts but our organization does not offer medical advice. That is best left for your personal physician.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is including much of its response information and services on its va.gov website. Included is this piece of advice:

“If you’re a Veteran seeking medical care, call your VA health facility if you have symptoms of the virus. Or sign in to My HealtheVet and send a secure message. You may be able to get diagnosed and receive care through VA telehealth without having to come in at all.”

Bill Oxford

National Commander

25 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Many times I have mentioned the importance of conducting Buddy Checks throughout this crisis. It is especially vital that we check on senior citizens. Legion College graduate Jennifer Gedney Havlick (Class of 2018) has brought it to a new level. A member of Post 109 in Twin Harbors, Minn., she has formulated a plan called Enhanced Buddy Checks. (click here)

It includes organizing response teams with captains, daily morale calls, and shopping for those who are self-quarantined. Even tasks such as bringing trash cans to the curb are not overlooked. Performing these tasks for others can save lives to those who may be especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

In its early stages, Buddy Checks were seen as a way to improve communication. During this national emergency, it is more important than ever before.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

25 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Your national headquarters is still operating, albeit quite differently, during this national emergency. The staff is complying with local authorities and working remotely from home. Many are still learning to use recently acquired communication tools such as Vonage and Office-365, so please patient if the service and response isn’t as prompt as it has been in the past.

The Emblem Sales call center is closed but customers can email emblem@legion.org and available staff will respond as quickly as possible. Orders may be placed online at emblem.legion.org but shipping delays can be expected during this time. Our printing and production shop will still process membership cards on time.

Thank you for your understanding.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

24 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

A review of our 101-year history offers convincing proof that The American Legion does not decide to cancel national meetings or programs lightly. We understand their importance. The meetings are used as a forum for our membership through their National Executive Committee members to set policy, agendas and vision. Our programs build character.

However, the safety and health of our participants, volunteers and staff must be our top priority. The staff at our national headquarters in Indianapolis has been complying with a directive from the state’s governor to stay home. They have been working remotely so they can continue to serve our members. The same for our Washington, D.C., office.

The decision to cancel the spring meetings of the National Executive Committee is a safety measure intended to limit the exposure and spread of COVID-19. I intend to continue regular communications with the National Executive Committee and the 55 departments through telephone, email and other means.

The cancellation of the National Oratorical Finals, the Junior Shooting Sports championships and Boys Nation should not be interpreted as our assessment of how conditions will be in the coming months. It is intended to remove pressure from the departments and posts who normally conduct earlier local competitions and Boys State programs, which feed into the national programs.

We are still assessing plans for the American Legion Baseball World Series and the national convention. Rest assured that decisions for those events will not be made prematurely but only after thoughtful deliberation based on what occurs in the coming months.

We will get through this because we are The American Legion and we rise to any challenge.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

24 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

When a crisis faces a community, The American Legion has an amazing record of response. We’ve seen this in natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other tragedies. The current national emergency offers unique challenges that we have not faced in modern times. Yet, there are American Legion posts still providing support that can make a vital difference.

Post 28 in Spartanburg, S.C., has become a relief center of sorts. By providing coloring books and board games, they are helping families battle cabin fever that is likely to grow as the pandemic continues. Even more importantly, the post has a food pantry directed toward those who may have lost their jobs or incomes due to the economic shutdown.

The post isn’t limiting its assistance to Legionnaires or even veterans. “If you have a need, we’ll feed you,” Mike Fowler, the activities and chef for Post 28 told the Spartanburg Herald Journal.

We live in an amazing country. And I am humbled to lead an amazing organization.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

23 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

As you may have heard, The American Legion has cancelled its 2020 National Oratorical Contest. Cancelling such a great and worthy program is difficult but when it comes to the safety of the competitors, volunteers and staff, it is a no-brainer.

Today, the Indiana governor recommended all non-essential personnel “stay home.” Many other states are operating under similar orders.

If you are able, please donate blood. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said, “You can still go out and give blood. We’re worried about potential blood shortages in the future. Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement.”

President Trump has compared this pandemic to a war. Given the seriousness, it seems appropriate. Giving blood is another way for American Legion Family members to contribute to the war effort.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

23 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Late last week Congress passed emergency legislation ensuring the continuation of GI Bill benefits through the current COVID-19 crisis. The temporary shutdown of schools does not mean that the needs of the student veteran are also suspended. These veterans will still need to eat. Rent will still need to be paid along with other essential living expenses. Online learning will still occur at many of the traditional universities and colleges.

It was The American Legion that created the original GI Bill and we have championed all of the later versions that have occurred in the 76 years since the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. While the original was widely credited for helping America prosper following the Great Depression and World War II, the current generation of veterans may also rely heavily on this benefit due to the economic hardships that are already being inflicted as a result of this global pandemic.

Many of our fellow Americans will face financial difficulties in the coming weeks and months. Our programs will be needed but even those funds have limits. Small gestures help. I often hear about posts that have helped pick-up the dues for struggling members. Some do so for World War II veterans. Others award complimentary memberships to active-duty military. Resources may be limited, but the generosity of our American Legion Family is always in abundant supply. It’s just another example of why I am proud to be a Legionnaire.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

20 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Your Washington-based staff has been communicating regularly with the Department of Veterans Affairs. During a conference call yesterday, VA reported that screening is happening at its facilities and patients are limited to one visitor. No visitors under age 18 allowed. These rules might be difficult for families to accept but they are necessary for the safety of all concerned.

VA also says it has the capacity to meet demand for increased testing. The estimated period to obtain results is two-to-eight days.

The American Legion repeatedly says VA offers great care. During this crisis, VA will be tested like never before. I believe Americans will have a new appreciation for this System Worth Saving.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

20 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

I saw an interesting Facebook meme that reminds people that not all heroes wear capes. Many don’t even wear uniforms. They wear scrubs. I couldn’t agree more.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

19 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Despite some notable and well-publicized exceptions, The American Legion has long-believed that the Department of Veterans Affairs offers the “best health care anywhere.”

Under normal circumstances, VA is for veterans. However, during this national emergency, VA is a crucial player in our nation’s ability to respond to the coronavirus. Delegates to our 2016 National Convention in Cincinnati wisely passed a resolution urging Congress to provide VA with the necessary funding to enhance its ability to respond to national emergencies.

Media outlets report that VA is preparing to request more than $16 billion in new funding to respond to the threat. Given the stakes, we hope the request is given serious consideration.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

19 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

In a Department of Defense COVID-19 Update provided early yesterday, the military reported 49 cases of coronavirus among its uniformed members. By the time you read this, it has undoubtedly gone up. Maybe by a lot.

National Guardsmen were providing support to civil authorities in 22 states. These citizen-soldiers do amazing work on our behalf through every major crisis, disaster and emergency. As do the personnel on Navy hospital ships, which are deploying on both of our coasts. Remember that members of every branch have family at home that they also care deeply about and are as much at risk as the rest of the general public. But yet, our servicemembers still continue on with mission. Just as they always have, throughout our history.

Pray for our military. They are America’s true treasure.

18 March 20, afternoon

The American Legion believes there is strength in numbers. We emphasize growth in membership and participation in our great programs.

However, public safety requires the opposite approach for now. Our numbers must continue to grow, but our gatherings should not. President Trump and his team of health care experts are advising Americans to avoid crowds of more than 10 people. Let’s be smart about this. Video-conferencing and telephones are options for us to continue meeting and bonding as Legion Family members. Our comradeship will continue even if there is some social distancing required. And just like every other crisis that our world has faced, this too shall pass.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

18 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Channeling the late Mr. Rogers, actor Tom Hanks recently tweeted about “helpers,” the people who are assisting others as we all face this global crisis.

Our organization is full of helpers. A recent Instagram message from Raymond Bernucho, a Legionnaire from Post 38 in Baton Rouge, La., caught my attention. It stated, “I’m a long haul driver with U.S. Express working (a) dedicated route for Walmart. Since this crisis has begun all of the drivers delivering to all the stores, no matter what type of store…Walmart, Target, etc., have been working to keep up with the demands of the people of this country so that (it) can survive and make it thru this world pandemic.

“I feel as though I’m back in the Army, serving this country once and again and it truly feels good for me to be of service not only to my fellow Legionnaires but to the people of this country. So let’s take some time out to get on our knees and pray for all of this to be taken away by God’s mercy. Let us also take time to go help our elderly brothers and sisters who are not able to get…food, medicine or need a ride to their doctor.”

Raymond, I couldn’t have said it better. Thank you helper.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

17 March 20, afternoon

Buddy Checks. This outreach program intended to check on the wellbeing of our fellow veterans is more important now than ever before. Health officials tell us that seniors are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of the coronavirus. They also remain some of the toughest Legionnaires that I have known. Some of them survived the Great Depression and World War II. They should be first on our list of buddies to check on.

We have to be creative. Nursing homes have wisely stopped visitation. Talk to administrators about whether they are assisting patients so they have access to Facetime, Skype or other video-calling technology. Even a simple phone call will do. American Legion Post 330 in Hayfield, Minn., for instance, has collected toilet paper for the elderly. There are many other posts that are stepping up during this crisis. That’s what we in The American Legion do.

--Bill Oxford

National Commander

17 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

You will be receiving many regular updates from me throughout the coronavirus crisis. I previously announced that The American Legion has suspended all official travel of our national officers and staff through the month of April. Though I am home in North Carolina, I am still actively engaged and plan to communicate with you regularly.

National Headquarters has received numerous requests from American Legion departments and posts who are concerned about closures and curfews. My advice: be patient. Mistakes will be made, but your safety is what is motivating national and local authorities to take these measures. The Preamble to The American Legion Constitution includes the pledge, “to maintain law and order.” We are a law-abiding organization.

It will be tough, but we will get through this. If you need motivation, think about our World War II veterans. They were tough as nails and survived the Great Depression. I will have more to say about them later. We will talk soon.

Bill Oxford

National Commander