Legislative Commission discusses four campaigns to be leaders on

The American Legion’s Legislative Commission met virtually March 1 for the annual Washington Conference to discuss legislative priorities for the 117th Congress, which included four legislative campaigns.

The four campaigns – citizenship for honorable service; addressing toxic exposure and burn pits; peer support; and addressing the forever war – are areas that “we (The American Legion) want to be leaders on,” said American Legion Legislative Division Director Lawrence Montreuil, during the meeting.

Citizenship for Honorable Service

On Feb. 25, American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford called on President Biden to issue an Executive Order authorizing the reinstitution of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative and reopening all USCIS field offices abroad for servicemembers and deported veterans.

“It is imperative that we strengthen military naturalization programs, prevent veteran deportation, and repatriate deported veterans,” Oxford said. “These policies would protect our servicemembers and veterans permanently with recognition for their honorable service to the United States.”

The American Legion’s National Executive Committee passed two resolutions in 2018 (Resolution No. 15 and No. 10) that affirmed the organization’s dedication in advocating for the rights of servicemembers who seek citizenship during their military service, as well as those of veterans who have been deported.

“Our goal is to ensure that all servicemembers get citizenship prior to leaving the service,” Montreuil said. “It’s something that we promise to them when they serve in our military.”

The American Legion recommends that Congress pass legislation that would:

- Ensure the process of naturalization through honorable military service is completed prior to discharge.

- Provide training to military recruiters and military chain of command about the naturalization process for the military and its veterans.

- Provide training and resources to educate immigrant servicemembers on how the naturalization process works.

- Provide expedited citizenship applications and the resources to complete the applications to deported veterans if their discharge is honorable, and they do not have a felony conviction.

Plan of action

- Advocate for Executive Order as a quick fix to this issue.

- Follow up with introducing a Comprehensive Bill to ensure that the issue does not come up again

- Build co-sponsorship.

- Show support of the bill through letters of support, testimony, or statements for the record

Address Toxic Exposures and Burn Pits

A disturbingly high percentage of post-9/11 veterans have been exposed to airborne toxic hazards, often the result of personal proximity to burn pits for extended times during service. The American Legion has fought for service-connected disability benefits for conditions linked to toxic exposures for decades and will continue to do so for this generation. The American Legion urges Congress to reintroduce and pass the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act of 2020 and supports further studies into conditions directly related to contaminants in order to establish a complete list of presumptive diseases caused by toxic exposure during service.

The TEAM Act of 2020 “legislation is very bipartisan and has a lot of VSO support,” Montreuil said. “It’s the most comprehensive toxic exposure bill at this time. One of the major things that the Team Act of 2020 would do is to create a timeline that would force the VA to make a determination (on service-connected disability benefits) and explain why they made the determination of whether or not to provide presumptive service connection for toxic exposure from burn pits.”

The American Legion recommends that Congress pass legislation which would:

- Reintroduce and pass the TEAM Act of 2020.

- Require VA to properly study to understand what chemicals veterans were exposed to, where exposures occurred, and develop a list of health conditions related to various toxic chemicals.

Plan of action

- Ensure bill is reintroduced.

- Build co-sponsorship.

- Show support of the bill through letters of support, testimony, or statements for the record.

Peer Support

In October 2020, The American Legion supported a bipartisan effort to pass legislation aimed at combatting veteran suicide. The bill, modeled after The American Legion’s Buddy Check program, will require the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a “Buddy Check Week,” provide resources for veterans to learn how to conduct personal wellness checks, and compel VA to expand resources for the Veterans Crisis Line.

The American Legion also encourages legislation to establish a peer-support program that would offer grants to place peer-support specialists in local posts of veterans service organizations.

The American Legion recommends for Congress to:

- Reintroduce and pass the "Buddy Check Week" bill.

- Require VA to designate one week each year as "Buddy Check Week" for the purpose of outreach and education concerning peer wellness checks for veterans.

Plan forward

- Work with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, to reintroduce her bill from the 116th Congress.

- Work with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, to reintroduce her bill from the 116th Congress.

- Build co-sponsorship.

- Show support of the bill through letters of support, testimony, or statements for the record.

- Ensure bills are passed.

Addressing the Forever War

Nearly two decades after 9/11, U.S. troops continue to wage war in Iraq, Afghanistan and other corners of the world, under the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF). However, the global security environment the United States faces is no longer the same, with the rise of great-power competition and other threats. Too often, the use of military force, as opposed to diplomacy, is considered the primary instrument of national power.

The American Legion urges the renewal of a proper constitutional balance to U.S. foreign policy decision-making by urging Congress to renew its war-making oversight role beginning with repealing or replacing the outdated post-9/11 AUMFs and by properly resourcing civilian tools of diplomacy.

The American Legion’s plan of action is to:

1. Develop a social media campaign to build awareness of American Legion advocacy on the issue.

2. Develop a grassroots campaign to mobilize American Legion advocates on the issue.

3. Engage with interested and likeminded stakeholders in the military and veteran space, think tank community, and others to build a coalition in support of the objective.

4. Visit with legislators.

5. Request to testify or submit Statement for the Record to the relevant foreign affairs committees.

To see The American Legion’s full list of legislative priorities for the 117th Congress, please download the Legislative Agenda brochure here.

Your voice matters

The American Legion’s Legislative Division uses VoterVoice as its grassroots advocacy platform for connecting American Legion members and advocates with their members of Congress. VoterVoice allows The American Legion to contact every member of Congress on large, national campaigns as well as target specific members on key committees that pertain to The American Legion’s legislative priorities.

In 2020, The American Legion conducted five action alert campaigns that resulted in nearly 10,000 emails sent to Congress by Legionnaires and advocates:

May 2020 – Extend the National Guard Title 32 orders during COVID (227 emails)

June 2020 – World War II Means Test Exemption (3,460 emails)

July 2020 – Computers for Vets (1,070 emails)

October 2020 – Buddy Check Week Legislation (2,787 emails)

November 2020 – NDAA Presumptive for Agent Orange (2,320 emails)

The American Legion’s goal for 20201 is to send 25,000 messages to Congress – an accomplishment only achieved with your help.

Contact your congressional representatives

You can contact your representative through our campaigns located on our Legislative Action Center. Be sure to share The American Legion’s legislative priorities using the Legislative Agenda when you contact their office. While you are there be sure to sign up for our legislative alerts so you can stay up to date on all of The American Legion’s legislative campaigns.