Photo by William T Bulger

Legionnaires head to Washington

The American Legion’s 52nd annual Washington Conference kicks off Feb. 27 with various commission meetings, continues on with guest speakers and roundtable discussions, and wraps up on the 29th with the National Commander’s Public Relations Luncheon.

The Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation (VA&R) Commission will hear from several guest speakers, including Richard Stark, director of primary care operations at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); Robert Petzel, VA’s under secretary for health; Matt Stiner, director of development and outreach for the organization Justice for Vets; and Janet Kemp, national suicide prevention coordinator for VA.

VA&R will also host a women veterans panel on Feb. 27; part of its focus will be on rural health care. Guest speakers include Mary Beth Skupien, director of VA’s efforts in rural health care; Hilda Heady, chair of the Rural Health Research and Policy Group; Steve Muro, VA under secretary for memorial affairs; Allison Hickey, VA under secretary for benefits; and Joe Paiva, executive director of VA’s Virtual Lifetime Electronic Records.

The Economic Commission is featuring a employment roundtable at its Feb. 27 meeting. The discussion will center upon the federal government’s Veterans Hiring Initiative, transition issues for servicemembers and veterans, licensing and certification, job training, veterans’ preference policies, and private-sector opportunities for veterans and their families.

Roundtable participants include Seth Harris, deputy secretary at the Department of Labor; Susan Kelly, special advisor for the Transition Assistance Program; Dennis May of VA’s veterans employment coordination service; Sara Roberts, military relations manager for; Kevin Schmiegel, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; David Wallace, military relations manager at Lockheed Martin Corp.; and Kelly Woodall, veterans employment program, Office of Personnel Management.

That same day, the National Security/Foreign Relations Commissions will hear from Lt. Col. Joseph Gallagher, USMC, who currently serves as a senior military observer for the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization in Jerusalem; Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; and Bob Calvert, founder and host of the Talking with Heroes program.Commander’s Call on Feb. 28 will begin with opening remarks by National Commander Fang A. Wong, presentation of the Legislative Council Member of the Year Award, and remarks by the president of the American Legion Auxiliary, Kris Nelson.

W. Scott Gould, deputy director of VA, will be the first guest speaker at Commander’s Call, followed by Rep. Bob Filner of California; Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania; Holly Petraeus, head of the Office of Servicemembers Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (who will also sign a memorandum of understanding with the Legion to hire more veterans); and Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota.

On Feb. 29, the National Commander’s Public Relations Luncheon will honor retired Marine Corps Capt. Dale Dye with its annual award, recognizing Dye’s professional contributions as an actor and military advisor for feature films.

Several American Legion programs will precede the official start of the Washington Conference. On Feb. 22 and 23, the Legion is co-hosting a National Credentialing Summit with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at 1615 H St. NW. The two-day event will bring together many stakeholders and experts to examine issues and problems related to the licensing and credentialing of veterans in the private sector, and to recommend best practices for translating military work experience into meaningful resumes for the civilian job market.

The American Legion, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and RecruitMilitary are co-hosting a career and benefits fair on Feb. 23 at the Washington Hilton Hotel. Online registration is available here.

The Legion’s Economic Division is hosting a Homeless Veterans’ Roundtable on Feb. 24, a Veterans Education Symposium on Feb. 26, and a Small Business Development Workshop on Feb. 28-29. All three events will be held at the Washington Hilton Hotel.

The Homeless Veterans Roundtable will discuss VA’s five-year plan to eliminate veterans’ homelessness and the department’s new preventive initiatives. Representatives from the departments of Labor and HUD (Housing and Urban Development) will talk about programs and services for homeless veterans. Community-based service providers will also participate in the roundtable.

The Veterans Education Symposium will explore the needs of returning veterans as they make a transition to the academic environment. The roles of colleges, universities and veterans service organizations in providing support and services to student veterans will be examined.

The Small Business Development Workshop is intended to help entrepreneurs with military backgrounds. Experienced mentors will be available to share their knowledge and experience with veterans who want to start their own small business, or are already operating one. The practical aspects of setting up veteran-owned small businesses will be discussed, as well as the development of effective business plans and best practices for securing government contracts.

Except for the National Credentialing Summit, all events will convene at the Washington Hilton Hotel, 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW. For more details about the Washington Conference, visit