American Legion Post 32 in Longmont, Colo., held an open house May 20 to provide veterans in the area an opportunity to connect with VA healthcare representatives and work with veteran service officers on filing PACT Act claims. The open house also served as an opportunity to invite families into Post 32 to learn about The American Legion, Sons of The American Legion, Auxiliary and Legion Riders, and the posts many programs.
Getting the word out about the PACT Act “is a primary function of American Legion posts,” said Ralph Bozella, Post 32 commander-elect and past Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission chairman. And with an open house, “you’re exposing the whole scope of what The American Legion can do for our community, for our veterans, for our families.”
About 250 veterans and families walked through the post doors. They spoke with representatives from the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center and the VA Denver Regional Office who answered PACT Act questions and provided insight on other VA benefits, filed PACT Act claims with the three available service officers that included Department Service Officer Will Davis, and enjoyed food trucks, a live band, corn hole, face painting and fast-selling root beer floats.
“I think this event overall was a success in helping our veterans and getting our community involved,” said Chad Wiese, Post 32 trustee who organized a committee to conduct the open house.
As veterans walked into the post, Bozella screened them by asking questions in effort to direct them to the best point of contact for assistance they needed – such as register for VA healthcare or a toxic exposure screening or file a claim. The event resulted in 25 veterans filing PACT Act claims. Two veterans told Wiese that they had problems with their current VA benefits claim and was able to get it resolved by the service officers at Post 32.
Handouts about the PACT Act and a PowerPoint presentation on what it is, who is eligible and presumptive conditions under it was available for veterans. Veterans and their survivors have filed nearly 550,000 claims for toxic exposure-related benefits under the PACT Act since President Biden signed it into law on August 10, 2022.
Many veterans “don’t know how to file a claim,” Bozella said. “The PACT Act is what it is and it is a draw, but regardless of the PACT Act, still, anytime you’re offering an opportunity for people to meet with a veteran service officer to check on claims, to create a new claim, that never gets old.”
Besides the PACT Act being a big draw for the open house, families visiting Post 32 were interested in programs offered such as Legion Baseball, Scouting and the honor guard, as well as VA veteran survivor benefits.
“We have a tremendous honor guard at our post,” Bozella said. “They do something like 200 funerals a year. Not an exaggeration at all. They'll do a funeral for a veteran anywhere up and down this Front Range. You don't have to be a Legion member. You don't have to be from Longmont. People didn't have any idea of this. And we had people inquiring about memorial benefits … ‘My husband died. He was a veteran. What am I entitled to?’ That’s why it's so important that we are engaging with the veterans in the community.
“I hope that we all we all understand this great value of this is who we are, we serve the community.”
The Post 32 Legion Family gained new members from the event and are looking ahead to its next open house and what it will look like. Wiese advises other posts looking to host a similar event to start early and create a team of individuals that are willing to do what it takes to make the event successful at serving the needs of veterans and families.
“I can't say enough about the (planning committee),” Wiese said. “They were phenomenal. They all constantly were putting in the hours to make this happen; it wouldn't have been as successful without them no doubt. When it came time to do something, we all come together and helped each other and made it happen.
“I think overall it was a really good success.”
Bozella is appreciative of Wiese and his continued service through The American Legion in helping make events like this one impactful for veterans.
“I've learned how important it is to continue to serve. I will always serve until I can’t, and we get people like Chad who believe the same way and has a tremendous ability to recruit younger people in and galvanize them to become part of this,” Bozella said.
As post commander, Bozella hopes to make Post 32’s current presence in the community even greater than it already is, and create more communication within the Legion, Sons, Auxiliary and Riders so everyone knows what the post is doing and why.
“Why we're doing it is even more important than what we're doing,” he said. “When you're able to communicate the value of things that’s what it becomes; it becomes your belief system, it becomes part of your values. This is important because we're helping veterans and our family.
“I believe every American Legion post should be a lighthouse in its own community.”