There was a lot of great information that came out of The American Legion Washington Conference back in February.
For the second year in a row, we had a women veterans panel in the afternoon session to discuss the many issues that female warriors deal with and male warriors do not. There were many other topics that were discussed, such as electronic access for veterans to check their benefits and health care, rural veteran’s health care, the caregivers program, the new PTS Coach phone app, the national cemeteries and veteran suicides. We are losing approximately 18 veterans a day to suicide. The veterans courts were again discussed regarding the need to have them in every state. And lastly, Laura Balun, national director for Veterans Affairs Volunteer Services (VAVS) with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) spoke.
Balun spoke about all of the great work that The American Legion family does with VAVS, but that we still have a problem with what the SAL is reporting. The VA is reporting that we had less than 20,000 volunteer hours last year. We know this is incorrect because of our consolidated report forms at 35 percent stating we reported over 45,000 volunteer hours. We found a few things that could be the problem:
The VA is not logging our hours in. If not, you need to check this especially if your VA is still logging hours the "old school" way, and you are signing in on paper and not on the VSS computer system. If you are logging in on a computer, is your information correct? The first time I logged in at my VAMC, my organization was listed as the VFW. So we need to make sure that the information is correct and that the organizations code is correct. The SAL code is 303 SOAL. If it is wrong, it needs to be corrected immediately.
Not signing or logging in when you are volunteering.
These are just a few of the simple fixes that can be done to make sure our hours are getting reported.
In the middle of March, we went to Charleston, S.C., for the National Advisory Committee Meeting. The Sons are a voting member of this committee and the recommendations that are passed go directly to Secretary Shinseki for his endorsement. Some of the recommendations are that:
All national representatives/departments have email
The VA replaces the VSS
National representatives/departments have access to read-only reports
AJR’s form the VA’s VAVS website
The VA develops an online registration that will allow volunteers to register as a VAVS volunteer through an online system.
There were also many workshops this year, along with a representative/department training session. If your detachments can afford to send one of your reps or even your detachment VAR chairman, there is a lot of info that they can bring back to your state.
As we enter into May, we have the fifth annual National Veterans Assistance Day on May 19th. Based on our consolidated report form, our numbers keep going up in veterans and families assisted, and the hours and monies donated.
At the end of May, we have Memorial Day, the day when we Americans remember and honor those that served and died for this great country of ours. Traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.
So on May 28 at 3 p.m., take a moment while at a cookout, being with your friends and family, maybe you are one of the lucky few towns that still has a Memorial Day parade, but take a moment to remember and say a quick prayer for those who served and died for our country and for those serving today.
"Together Making a Difference"
Bruno "T" Williamson
National VA&R Chairman