Five American Legion posts and the Loudoun County government in northern Virginia teamed up to honor and reach out to the county’s veterans at the “Salute to Military, Veterans and Families” event on Sept. 27 in Ashburn, Va.
The event was held to recognize the service of local veterans, but also to create a location where they could get help with filing their disability or pension claims. About 15 service officers from The American Legion and other veterans service organizations (VSOs) were on hand to assist.
Bill Bryant, national vice commander for The American Legion, was invited to the event as a featured speaker. He said such events help veterans who have been recently separated from service.
“Oftentimes our men and women who serve in the military aren’t familiar with the areas they choose to live in once they become veterans,” Bryant said. “So they need to know what’s available, who’s there to help them, and where they can go for benefits. It’s difficult for third parties like The American Legion to locate veterans in need” because of privacy concerns. “So this is one of the best ways we can get the veterans to come to us.”
Brian Mullican, service officer for the Legion’s Department of Virginia, said he would love to see “Salute” events all over the state because the department has eight accredited service officers, and "I have about 900,000 veterans.” He said the state’s combined number of service officers from the Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs and 21 VSOs was less than 100.
Speaking to an audience of about 200, Bryant spoke about the Legion’s Veterans Crisis Command Centers that had been operating across the country since June. More than 3,000 veterans and family members received help at the centers, and more than $1million was awarded in benefits and back pay.
“The difference that proper benefit payments can make to a veterans family is sometimes so great that it truly alters their way of life,” said Bryant, who served six years in the Marine Corps. “We are interested in making sure veterans get what they have earned so they and their families can be better off.”
One veteran helped at the event by an American Legion service officer was Kenneth Canterbury, a 38-year veteran of the Army National Guard. He showed up to get help in following up on a VA disability claim. He got the information he needed to move forward, but also found out his wife was eligible for benefits.
“I was unaware that my wife could also draw on my disability,” Canterbury said. “I was never informed about that. Now, I’m on cloud nine, and I’m sure my wife will be, too.”
Another guest speaker, Ralph Buona of Loudoun County’s board of supervisors, thanked The American Legion “because what they are doing is providing not only access to benefits and help, but they’re providing ombudsmen – ombudsmen to help the veterans through their issues.”
Charlie McKinney, commander of American Legion Post 2001 in Ashburn, Va., which spearheaded the event, said, “The main thing we wanted to get out of this is to have people understand that (veterans in need) is a problem that’s not going away, and we may have to endure this for decades down the road. We’re at a point right now where we’ve got a lot of veterans out there who are hurting.”
McKinney thanked all those who made the first “Salute” event possible, especially his post’s 1st and 2nd vice commanders, Chuck Loomis and Bob O’Such.