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American Legion News

VA announces $10M in new funding opportunities for state, territory and Tribal governments to help understand, prevent veteran suicide

Source: June 24, 2024

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced $10 million in new funding for eligible states, territories, and Tribal governments through cooperative agreements to better inform veteran suicide prevention strategies.

These cooperative agreements will provide funding and technical assistance intended to establish, coordinate, and manage suicide mortality review committees, which identify and characterize suicide deaths. Suicide mortality review committees help establish a local understanding of suicide, identify populations or locations of special concern, and inform the development and implementation of data-informed suicide prevention strategies for Veterans.

This funding opportunity advances VA's National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, the Biden-Harris administration's strategy to reduce military and Veteran suicide.

"One veteran suicide is one too many, and we will stop at nothing to end Veteran suicide," said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. "Launching this first-of-its-kind initiative will allow us to better understand suicide deaths and, as a result, deliver better interventions to prevent veteran suicide."

This initiative also contributes to the objectives of the Governor's Challenge — a partnership between VA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — which is actively engaging 55 states and territories to develop state-wide suicide prevention best practices for servicemembers, veterans, and their families.

This funding is for one year, with awards expected to be made no later than Sept. 30, 2024. The application period for this opportunity opened June 21, 2024 and closes July 24, 2024 at 4:59 p.m., ET. More information can be found in the notice of funding opportunity.

Next article: Palou continues dominance at Laguna Seca 

Palou continues dominance at Laguna Seca 

Source: June 24, 2024

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Sunday's NTT INDYCAR SERIES' Grand Prix of Monterey was just another affirmation of how Chip Ganassi Racing's Alex Palou has mastered the WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

Palou's win was his second on the road course in three years. Add in a second-place finish in 2021 and a third last year, and it's been an impressive four-year run for Palou.

"I love it. I love this place. I wish we could race here more often," said Palou after picking up his second points race win of the season. "When you love a track so much, I think you get an extra that helps everything. The fact that we had really good cars here helps a lot.

"I would say it's a proper track. You cannot really do any mistakes. It allows you to push really hard. It's not a fuel-save race. You start by pushing. Having these medium- to high-speed corners, yeah, it's been good for us."

Palou put the No. 10 DHL Honda featuring American Legion branding on the pole on Saturday and then led 48 of Sunday's 95 laps. He took his final lead on lap 75 and then maintained the lead on three restarts coming off yellow flags the rest of the way.

"It was a chaotic race, man," Palou said. "I didn't do a really good job on the start and those restarts at the beginning. I lost what we've been working so hard in qualifying to get, that first position. But the team did a tremendous job.

"Too much intensity at the end with those restarts. Overall, an amazing win for the No. 10 DHL car."

With the win, the defending INDYCAR SERIES champ took over the points, building a 23-point lead over second-place Will Power.

Meanwhile, Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Linus Lundqvist, driving the No. 8 American Legion Honda featuring the Be the One livery, qualified 17th on Saturday and had moved up two spots by lap 27. But after an issue on pit road dropped Lundqvist down to 26th, the rookie was able to battle back to a 17th-place finish.

Lundqvist built on his Rookie of the Year lead over teammate Kyffin Simpson, holding a 113-88 lead as the series approaches its halfway point.

"A bit of a rough Sunday for the No. 8 American Legion team, honestly," Lundqvist said. "I had higher hopes going into the race that we would be able to move forward, but it was tough from the start.

"I lost a couple of positions on lap one, and then I made a mistake in the pits. I came in a little bit too hot which gave us a drive through penalty. That put us on the back foot. And then I never really got into the groove, and ultimately not a great Sunday. But I learned a lot. We're going to analyze it and come back stronger."

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES has this weekend off and then heads to Lexington, Ohio for The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the 2025 Civic Hybrid on Sunday, July 7, at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It will be a historical weekend for INDYCAR, which debuts its hybrid power unit after months of extensive, successful testing.

To learn about The American Legion's Be the One veteran suicide prevention program, click here.

 

Next article: Five Things to Know, June 24, 2024

Five Things to Know, June 24, 2024

Source: June 24, 2024

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1.   The viability of a U.S.-backed proposal to wind down the 8-month-long war in Gaza was cast into doubt on Monday after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would only be willing to agree to a "partial" cease-fire deal that would not end the war, comments that sparked an uproar from families of hostages held by Hamas. In an interview broadcast late Sunday on Israeli Channel 14, a conservative, pro-Netanyahu station, the Israeli leader said he was "prepared to make a partial deal -- this is no secret — that will return to us some of the people," referring to the roughly 120 hostages still held in the Gaza Strip. "But we are committed to continuing the war after a pause, in order to complete the goal of eliminating Hamas. I'm not willing to give up on that."

2.   The top U.S. military officer warned on Sunday that any Israeli military offensive into Lebanon would risk an Iranian response in defense of the powerful Hezbollah militant group there, triggering a broader war that could put U.S. forces in the region in danger. Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran "would be more inclined to support Hezbollah." He added that Tehran supports Hamas militants in Gaza, but would give greater backing to Hezbollah "particularly if they felt that Hezbollah was being significantly threatened."

3.   A possible attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Monday targeted a ship further away from nearly all of the previous assaults they've launched in the Gulf of Aden, officials said, potentially part of a widening escalation by the group. The attack comes as the U.S. has sent the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower back home after an eight-month deployment in which it led the American response to the Houthi assaults. Those attacks have reduced shipping drastically through the route crucial to Asian, Middle East and European markets in a campaign the Houthis say will continue as long as the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip rages on.

4.   Four Chinese coast guard vessels since Thursday have repeatedly entered the 12-mile territorial limit around the Senkaku chain, a potential flashpoint approximately halfway between Okinawa and mainland China, according to the Japan coast guard. The last intrusion, the 23rd of the year, occurred Sunday when two Chinese vessels passed the 12-mile limit between 3:16 p.m. and 3:17 p.m., both vessels were still sailing in Japanese waters Monday, according to a Japan coast guard news release Sunday. 

5.   A nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier arrived Saturday in South Korea for a three-way exercise involving Japan as they step up military training to cope with North Korean threats, which have escalated following a security pact with Russia. The arrival of the USS Theodore Roosevelt strike group in Busan came a day after South Korea summoned the Russian ambassador to protest a major deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week.

 

Next article: Ways to make gardening easier

Ways to make gardening easier

Source: June 24, 2024

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LEARN HOW YOUR PLANNED GIFT CAN HELP THE AMERICAN LEGION

What tips can you offer to make gardening easier on the body? I love to putter around and work in the garden, but my back and knees have caused me to curtail my gardening activities.

There is no doubt that gardening can be hard on a body. Joints stiffen up, prolonged kneeling causes discomfort, and bending and reaching can strain muscles. But that does not mean you have to give up your hobby. You might just need to garden differently by adding some specialized tools and knowing your limits. Here are some tips that may help.

Limber Up With gardening, good form is very important, as well as not overdoing any one activity. A common problem is that gardeners often kneel or squat, which puts extra pressure on their knees. To provide relief from these positions, gardeners will then stand and bend over for long stretches to weed, dig and plant. This prolonged standing and bending places strain on the back and spine.

To help protect your body, you should warm up before beginning. Start by stretching, concentrating on the legs and lower back. Once you start gardening, it helps to frequently change positions and activities. For instance, do not spend hours weeding a flower bed. After 15 minutes of weeding, stand up, stretch and switch to another activity like pruning the bushes. You should also take rest breaks.

It is also important that you recognize any physical limitations and not try to do too much at once. When lifting heavier objects, remember to use your legs to protect your back. You can do this by keeping the item close to your body and keeping your back as vertical as possible when squatting.

Get Better Tools The proper gardening equipment can also help. Kneeling pads can protect knees, while garden seats can limit back and knee pain. Lightweight garden carts and collapsible wheelbarrows make hauling mulch, dirt, plants or other heavy objects much easier. Long-handled gardening and weeding tools ease back strain by keeping you in a standing upright position vs. bent over.

There are also ergonomic gardening and pruning tools with larger handles and other design features that can make lawn and garden activities less painful. Your local garden store or online retailer may sell a variety of specialty lawn and garden tools that will ease the stress on your body.

Make Watering Easier The chore of carrying water or handling a heavy, awkward hose can also be difficult for some gardeners. Watering alternatives include lightweight fabric or expandable hoses, soaker or drip hoses that can be snaked throughout the garden, thin coil hoses that can be used on the patio or small areas, a hose caddy and reel for easier hose transport around the yard, or a self-winding hose. There are also a variety of ergonomic watering wands that are lightweight and easy to grip to reach those hard to-get-to plants.

Bring the Garden to You If your backyard garden has become too much to handle, you should consider elevated garden beds or container gardening with big pots, window boxes, hanging baskets, barrels or tub planters. This is a much easier way to garden because it eliminates much of the bend and strain of gardening but still provides the pleasure of watching things grow.

"Savvy Living" is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to NBC's "Today Show." The column, and others like it, is available to read via The American Legion's Planned Giving program, a way of establishing your legacy of support for the organization while providing for your current financial needs. Consider naming The American Legion in your will or trust as a part of your personal legacy. Learn more about the process, and the variety of charitable programs you can benefit, at legion.org/plannedgiving. Clicking on "Learn more" will bring up an "E-newsletter" button, where you can sign up for regular information from Planned Giving.

Next article: Task Force Movement continues to evolve

Task Force Movement continues to evolve

Source: June 24, 2024

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An American Legion-supported presidential task force directed to fast-track veterans, transitioning military personnel and their spouses into careers of need in the U.S. economy continues to make headway on its mission.

Task Force Movement met June 20 at the White House to review the effort, launched in April 2022, at first to speed up the process for veterans and servicemembers nearing transition to obtain commercial driver's licenses and enter a trucking industry hungry to fill positions and strengthen the nation's supply chain, which was severely weakened during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the months that followed, TFM expanded to address critical shortages in cybersecurity, health care and more.

"Task Force Movement has really been a crucial organization that stepped up during a time of crisis in our country and a time of acute supply-chain disruptions but has really now evolved and grown into an organization that can help us strategically in so many of these critical sectors where we need to build long-term resilience," said Special Assistant to the President for Manufacturing and Industry Policy Monica Gorman. "We need you."

TFM has broadened its scope to include aviation and maritime shipping. Reframed as Task Force Movement – Transportation, the initiative credentialed and placed into the trucking industry approximately 750 veterans and transitioning members of the U.S. Armed Forces in 2023.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, explained Gorman, Americans realized how fragile the supply chain is "to daily life, and we experienced unprecedented disruption, and a lot of that was caused by demand for goods. People were working from home. They were ordering things, and we had to keep the goods moving. It became clear that we had not paid attention to the people who kept goods moving in this country. Trucking moves 70% of all goods here. And truck drivers keep America moving, literally carrying on their backs the products that everyday Americans need."

Working various collaborations, TFM was able to secure $300,000 that year in scholarships for veterans and Afghan refugees and generated $3.2 million in funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation for CDL training programs at community colleges. TFM also assisted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in its Drive for Success program that provided 500 scholarships for veterans, military spouses and members of the National Guard and Reserves.

Industry leaders in trucking understand "the importance of transitioning military personnel and veterans as a key pipeline of people who are perfect for these types of roles, who know safety culture," Gorman said. "A quote from the president that I love, ‘If you can handle a tank, if you can handle an armored personnel carrier, you sure as hell can handle a commercial truck.'"

Vinn White, a senior adviser in the Department of Transportation, told meeting attendees that the work of TFM is important and appreciated, as DOT works to "increase the number of states that allow military driver's exemptions to pass the knowledge test for CDLs" and, "we're working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand medical examiners to certify military members who can go out and get their CDLs … we are engaged in military outreach."

The aviation industry, which is facing critical shortages of qualified mechanics, is now a point of emphasis for TFM-Transportation, which is planning to work with the Teamsters to develop a six-week Aviation Basics Course that would serve as a pre-apprenticeship opportunity in technical aviation fields, many of which pay more than $100,000 a year, for transitioning military personnel and veterans.

Seafarers, port workers, shipbuilders and maritime engineers are also in short supply, which impacts the U.S. supply chain, and TFM is now conducting research and working with government agencies, training institutions, labor unions, industry associations and the military to identify ways to break down barriers to employment.

TFM Cybersecurity is working to leverage its growing list of collaborators to offer scholarships and accelerated training programs for veterans, transitioning servicemembers and military spouses. TFM reports that some 650,000 jobs in cybersecurity were unfilled in 2023.

TFM Healthcare aligns employers, industry associations, unions, academic institutions, training providers and veterans groups to put more military-trained medical personnel to work across the country.

Task Force Movement has also expanded to establish its first state-based program, working with universities and community colleges in Illinois to put more veterans to work in medical fields there. "What we're trying to do in Illinois is not trying to put people in jobs; we're trying to put people in careers," said Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Deputy Director Julio Rodriguez. "So, we've been very focused on apprenticeship models, learn and earn models. What we have found – and I think this is true of the military community – people can't just go to training for the sake of going to training. They have families. They have to earn a living. And they have to earn it from the minute they hit the ground. What we've learned about the apprenticeship movement, it's a way to not only grow your own, but to really build real retention. In industries like I.T. and healthcare, oftentimes employers overlook the very people who are already working for them, and I would venture to say we have a lot of veterans and their spouses who are under-employed in this country."

From working to fill gaps in the U.S. economy to connections among diverse stakeholders, on the national and state levels alike, TFM is getting its arms around much more than its initial mission to train more truck drivers.

"We're doing an awful lot with an organization that just has a few people to staff it," TFM Executive Director Elizabeth Belcaster said at the meeting. "It comes from the partners. The partners are passionate about the work that they are doing. I think everybody on our board, everybody that's a partner at some level, has had a relationship with a program for veterans or transitioning servicemembers. That's really what makes us grow and makes the work continue."

TFM Treasurer Brandon McPherson said a key aspect of the task force's progress is "being able to speak different languages. Universities and corporations – they have their languages – and inside some of these organizations, we all have our different languages that we speak. How do you navigate that? What's led us to success thus far, and what has to continue to happen at the state level, is to have a large group of interpreters. Illinois is different from Michigan, which is different from Pennsylvania. There's no manual. It's just kind of up to us, in our groups and cohorts, to bring that out."

American Legion member Patrick Murphy, the 32nd Under Secretary of the Army and the first veteran from the war in Iraq to be elected to Congress, is chairman of TFM, and American Legion Employment & Education Division Director Joseph Sharpe serves on the steering committee.

"One of the reasons The American Legion supports Task Force Movement is that out of about 200,000-plus veterans who leave the military every year, only about 30,000 actually have jobs," Sharpe told the task force. "So, you have about 170,000 who are unemployed. And after six years, 60% of those individuals are under-employed. That's why it is so important that we do what we can to ensure these veterans are gainfully employed. It helps with recruitment and retention, as well."

 

Next article: GI Bill at 80: ‘What has changed? What remains the same?'

GI Bill at 80: ‘What has changed? What remains the same?'

Source: June 21, 2024

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From the World War I veterans who conceived it to servicemembers not yet born 80 years after passage of the GI Bill, a Thursday anniversary event at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., paid tribute to the legislation that changed America and continues to do so, in ways unforeseeable in 1944.

The American Legion – with support from Capital Bank, ARK All-in-One Relocation, National University and the American Gold Star Mothers – led a celebration that spanned the landmark legislation's remarkable history, punctuated by a call to continue improving it for new veterans, their families and a different era. The event included a panel discussion with a diverse group of GI Bill beneficiaries, including first-generation Americans, first-in-family college graduates and the daughter of a wartime veteran who is now pursuing her master's degree thanks to her father's GI Bill benefits.

Nearly every speaker over a 90-minute program spoke of the GI Bill's success over the years, as well as the challenges now before it.

"We've got to do better," explained former Operation Iraqi Freedom combat officer, 32nd Under Secretary of the Army and American Legion member Patrick Murphy, first veteran of the war in Iraq elected to Congress. "I know this is a celebration, but we've got to do better."

Murphy made the point that "one in five military spouses who are looking for work are unemployed." And, he observed, "Most American families are dual-income families."

Seventy-three percent of today's young people, he added, want to serve the country in some way, if they can find a path. The nation can benefit from helping them choose military service, he told a crowd of nearly 200, noting that more than 1.1 million college students – veterans and their family members – are now using the GI Bill across the country and outperforming other students, notably in high-demand science, technology, engineering and math majors.

Murphy called on attendees to encourage young men and women to serve and ultimately do what the original GI Bill did for the nation after World War II – bolster the economy, improve lives and strengthen communities. "We, as leaders in Washington D.C. – as leaders across America – need to make it easier for these young Americans to give back," Murphy said. "They want to give back. Their hearts are in the right place."

American Legion Past National Commander Brett Reistad – who led the nation's largest organization of U.S. military veterans in 2018 and 2019 (the Legion's centennial window) – praised the vision of World War I veterans who worked tirelessly to build a bright future for men and women in uniform.

He posed a question for the audience to ponder. "Today, perhaps we should ask ourselves, ‘Are we thinking enough about the opportunities we are creating for Americans yet to be born?'  That certainly was what the World War I generation was thinking. And their legacy – so well illustrated by the success of the GI Bill – is a lesson for all of us."

Retired Col. Adam Rocke, also a combat officer, Legionnaire and pioneer of the Army's Soldier for Life program emceed the event. "I would not be standing here today if I did not raise my right hand in 1983 and commit to something bigger than myself," he said. "I entered the Army as a young private, served in the Old Guard, got out, and used my GI Bill benefits to put myself through college."

That ultimately led to a 34-year career in the Army – followed by over a decade of veterans advocacy – and the ability to send four of his children through college using the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The 2009-adopted version allowed veterans to transfer their education benefits on to their descendants. "Honestly, I wouldn't have been able to make it – four kids through college – if it wasn't for the GI Bill."

"The success of the GI Bill is well-documented," Reistad said. "Called the greatest social legislation of the 20th century, it launched a new era not only for veterans, but for all of America. An expectation of education. An economy driven by well-paying jobs. Home ownership for ordinary citizens. And, importantly, an all-volunteer military force, incentivized by the benefits of the GI Bill."

Maj. Gen. Trevor Bredenkamp, commander of the Military District of Washington, said the GI Bill has endured and evolved because the needs of veterans – and the nation's gratitude – have not substantially changed over the decades. "What's changed, and what's the same?" he asked, reminding the audience of the challenges veterans, and the nation, faced when some 75,000 World War II veterans a month were being medically discharged and coming home to a support system not yet formed in the early 1940s. "Homelessness, unemployment, a lack of access to education and opportunity. It was our nation's responsibility then, as it is now, to act."

He spoke of 1944 American Legion National Commander Warren Atherton and Past National Commander Harry Colmery and their resolve to ensure the new generation of the time would be treated differently than those who came home from World War I. The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 – which Colmery assembled from hundreds of transition-assistance American Legion resolutions and congressional bills – "transformed the landscape of American society, offering returning veterans a pathway to education and prosperity. In its first seven years, it allowed 2.3 million veterans to attend college and 7 million veterans to train in critical labor skills. By 1955, 4.3 million home loans would provide $33 billion to veterans, effectively transforming the American middle class and elevating our veterans into that category.

"But the GI Bill represented more than just a government program," Maj. Gen. Bredenkamp said. "It was a promise, a promise to honor the sacrifices of those who had volunteered to serve our country and a recognition of the value of military service to our nation. Again, what has changed? And what remains the same? It embodied the fundamental principle that those who had borne the burden of defending our freedoms deserve the opportunity to pursue the American dream."

He explained that the evolution of the GI Bill since the Post-9/11 version was adopted has allowed servicemembers to extend opportunities beyond themselves. "There's a soldier in my organization currently who uses student loan repayment to help repay his parents' Plus Loans under his mother's name," Bredenkamp explained. "He used the (DoD) Tuition Assistance Program to complete his bachelor's degree and has already passed along his Post 9/11 GI Bill to his daughter. That's three generations positively impacted because of the service of this soldier and the opportunity provided by the GI Bill and its evolution."

Department of Veterans Affairs Executive Director of Education Service Joe Garcia, a U.S. Air Force veteran, shared with the audience the overall investment the federal government has made in veterans over the past 80 years. "At VA, we have paid out over $400 billion in GI Bill benefits to about 29 million beneficiaries. Those are very large numbers, right? But behind those large numbers are individual stories. I have to share one myself … my own."

Garcia said that after an eight-year enlistment in the Air Force, he was a student veteran at the University of Arizona. "For two years, I relied on the GI Bill to help me get through my education. I had to work a part-time job. I had a family. But the GI Bill was a primary resource to complete my degree, get a commission as an officer, and serve another 20 years. I would not be here if not for the GI Bill."

Garcia, whose granddaughter has used her own Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to become a second lieutenant in the U.S. Space Force, discussed the various iterations of the measure over the decades and the newest development: the Digital GI Bill. "What's important about that are two things I will share with you. An automated claims for that original submission, to get your certificate of eligibility. When I did it… where is my 214? Where is my paperwork? … you've got to mail it in, and it takes weeks, maybe even months to get that certificate of eligibility. That was my road, years ago. Now, with the Digital GI Bill, we've automated that original claim, and a lot of that information is pre-populated from DoD. You've got a running start. So, instead of waiting weeks and maybe months, you can get a certificate of eligibility that same day. That's huge."

Another benefit of the Digital GI Bill, he said, is supporting "those that support the veteran, like the school-certified officials at all the colleges. They are the first touchpoint often for the veterans at a college." The new system, which has had some 6 million enrollments since 2023 using the new system, makes life easier for those who "in turn can help the veteran beneficiaries on the spot. So, a lot of progress has been made."

More important than any of that, he explained, is the GI Bill's longtime value as "a tangible way for a grateful nation to say thank you."

The World War I generation, which founded The American Legion, could never have envisioned such a thing as a Digital GI Bill. Their primary purpose in the years between the world wars was to correct the nation's treatment of those who had served and sacrificed. "(Wartime veterans) wanted more than a suit of clothes, a few bucks and a bus ticket home after facing death against a foreign enemy," Reistad told the crowd. "They wanted a chance to succeed in the nation they had vowed with their lives to protect and defend. The World War I generation said to every politician and every reporter who would listen, that veterans deserved better. And America deserved better. Changes these veterans demanded would forge a stronger nation, they argued."

"The GI Bill changed everything," said Army veteran and American Legion member Joe Wescott, legislative liaison for the National Association of State Approving Agencies, which oversees colleges that accept GI Bill-using veterans and their families. "No one could have foreseen the far-reaching effects it would have on our nation and on our society. Indeed, it opened doors that had been closed to minorities, to the poor and to women. Indeed, that GI Bill led to the greatest expansion of education in the 20th century."

Its evolution, however, must continue, he said. "Now, all of us have a great opportunity to do more for those who have given so much for us. Now is not the time to rest upon our laurels. Now is not the time to be slack in our efforts on behalf of our veterans. In fact, our nation calls upon us to dream, design and do more."

He said much more can be done to improve transition assistance, work with states and rein in bad actors who aim to exploit veterans using their GI Bill benefits. "This is our moment, to act audaciously for our heroes," Wescott said. "And I call upon our friends in Congress to at least convene a roundtable to address these new, innovative ideas and other ideas … so that we might ensure that we make good on the promise of the legacy we have discussed here this evening."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Next article: INDYCAR heads west for Firestone Grand Prix

INDYCAR heads west for Firestone Grand Prix

Source: June 20, 2024

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After a two-week break, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES heads to the West Coast this weekend for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

It's an opportunity for Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Linus Lundqvist – the driver of the No. 8 American Legion Honda featuring Be the One branding – to build on one of his best weekends of the season.

Lundqvist earned his first-ever INDYCAR pole during qualifications for the XPEL Grand Prix at Road America in Wisconsin. But on the race's opening lap, Lundqvist was pushed into a spin by CGR teammate Marcus Armstrong, who had qualified third.

The contact, which resulted in a penalty for Armstrong, happened in Turn 1 and allowed the field to pass Lundqvist. But he was able to battle back, running in the top 10 at times before settling into a 12th-place finish, his second-best finish in a points race this season.

The finish helped Lundqvist move to 18th in the overall INDYCAR points race and maintain his lead over CGR teammate Kyffin Simpson by 19 points in the Rookie of the Year standings.

Also featuring American Legion branding this weekend will be CGR's Alex Palou in the No. 10 DHL Honda. Palou, the defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champ, currently sits just five points behind first-place Will Power in the current points race. He's coming off a fourth-place finish in Wisconsin and won the Firestone Grand Prix in 2022.

The 95-lap, 212.61-mile Firestone Grand Prix will utilize a paved road racing track used for both auto racing and motorcycle racing. The track is 2.238 miles long and features a 300-foot elevation change. The course includes 11 turns, including the famous "Corkscrew" at Turns 8 and 8A. 

Race Notes (via INDYCAR):

·       There have been six winners in seven NTT INDYCAR SERIES races in the 2024 season. Pato O'Ward (Streets of St. Petersburg), Scott Dixon (Streets of Long Beach, Streets of Detroit), Scott McLaughlin (Barber Motorsports Park), Alex Palou (Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course), Josef Newgarden (Indianapolis 500) and Will Power (Road America) have all won in this season. The record for most different winners in a season is 11 in 2000, 2001 and 2014.

·       There have been six winners in the last 10 NTT INDYCAR SERIES races: Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Alex Palou, Scott McLaughlin, Pato O'Ward and Will Power. Dixon (World Wide Technology Raceway 2023, Laguna Seca 2023, Long Beach 2024 and Detroit 2024) and Palou (Portland 2023 and Indianapolis GP 2024) are the only drivers to have won multiple races over that stretch.

·       The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will be the 27th INDYCAR SERIES race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, but just the fifth since 2004. Teo Fabi won the first INDYCAR SERIES race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 1983. Scott Dixon won the race in 2023.

·       Scott Dixon, Alex Palou and Colton Herta are the only former winners entered in this year's race.

·       Thirteen INDYCAR SERIES drivers have won at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca from the pole – Teo Fabi (1983), Bobby Rahal (1985), Danny Sullivan (1988), Rick Mears (1989), Danny Sullivan (1990), Michael Andretti (1991, 1992), Paul Tracy (1994), Alex Zanardi (1996), Bryan Herta (1998, 1999), Helio Castroneves (2000), Cristiano da Matta (2002), Patrick Carpentier (2003) and Colton Herta (2019, 2021). Team Penske has won six times at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Penske's winning drivers are Danny Sullivan (1988, 1990), Rick Mears (1989), Paul Tracy (1993, 1994) and Helio Castroneves (2000). Chip Ganassi Racing has four wins with Scott Dixon (2023), Alex Palou (2022), Alex Zanardi (1996) and Jimmy Vasser (1997). Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has three wins with Bryan Herta (1998, 1999) and Max Papis (2001).

·       Twenty-one drivers entered in the event have competed in past INDYCAR SERIES races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Scott Dixon has six starts, most among the entered drivers. Eight entered drivers have led laps at the track – Colton Herta 175, Alex Palou 118, Will Power 23, Dixon 22, Pato O'Ward 15, Felix Rosenqvist 11, Romain Grosjean 6 and Josef Newgarden 5.

·       Rookies Luca Ghiotto, Linus Lundqvist, Christian Rasmussen, Nolan Siegel and Kyffin Simpson along with veteran driver Pietro Fittipaldi will race an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the first time this weekend. Rasmussen won at Laguna Seca in INDY NXT by Firestone in 2022 and 2023.

·       Milestones: Scott Dixon will attempt to make his 330th consecutive start, extending his record streak … Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will make its 1,000th INDYCAR SERIES start at this event.

This weekend's broadcast schedule (all times ET):

Friday, June 21 – NTT INDYCAR SERIES Practice 1, 5-6:15 p.m. (Peacock)

Saturday, June 22 – NTT INDYCAR SERIES Practice 2, 1-2 p.m.; 5:15-6:45 p.m., NTT INDYCAR SERIES qualifications (both Peacock).

Sunday, June 23 – NTT INDYCAR SERIES warmup, 3-3:30 p.m.; Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, 6-9 p.m., (USA and Peacock).

To learn more about The American Legion's Be the One veteran suicide prevention program, click here.

Next article: ‘Overpowered and overwhelmed': Black veterans pay tribute to fallen troops to commemorate Juneteenth

‘Overpowered and overwhelmed': Black veterans pay tribute to fallen troops to commemorate Juneteenth

Source: June 20, 2024

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Army veteran William Jones was handed a machete and M60 machine gun as the "point man" whose job was to advance first through the jungles of Vietnam to clear a safe path for other combat troops to follow.

"I was the first person to see the action or take a hit. I did not know if I would make it out alive," said Jones, 76, who stood with his adult daughter, Timika Jones, at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., to remember the troops who did not make it home alive.

Jones on Wednesday was part of a group of 27 Black veterans, along with family members serving as chaperones, on the first-ever honor flight to commemorate Juneteenth at war memorials and monuments in the Washington, D.C., area.

Juneteenth is a federal holiday on June 19 to remember the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Lincoln issued in 1863 declaring the end of slavery. The federal holiday was first observed in 2021.

Under a blazing hot sun, the veterans participating in the honor flight — many in their 70s and 80s — embarked on a daylong tour of Arlington National Cemetery, the World War II Memorial and Lincoln Memorial, among other sites.

The group traveled on an all-expenses-paid trip courtesy of the Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit organization that has hosted nearly 300,000 veterans on flights and tours of Washington, D.C., since 2005. At 101, World War II veteran Calvin Kemp of Georgia was the oldest veteran to make the trip.

"I'm being treated like a celebrity today. I'm like Denzel Washington. I feel very honored," Kemp said, seated in a wheelchair at Arlington National Cemetery.

Kemp, a Navy veteran who served from 1943-1946, and the other veterans witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as several reporters from local TV stations filmed them.

The veterans had traveled from Atlanta to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport early Wednesday, where they were met with a water cannon salute as the plane taxied to the gate. The group then boarded two commercial buses for a day of activities.

The first stop was the Marine Corps memorial. An American flag atop a 60-foot-high bronze pole was the first sight the veterans saw as they arrived.

"It hurts me to my soul to think about my brothers and sisters who sacrificed their lives on the battlefield," said Army veteran Dennis Brazil, who paused at the memorial to pay tribute to fallen soldiers. "It doesn't matter [which branch] they served. I am overpowered and overwhelmed."

"I was a draftee out of college when I entered the military. I saw people die on the battlefield. These are my fellow veterans," he added.

Brazil, who served as a corporal in Vietnam from 1968-1969, said the honor flight was his first trip to the nation's capital.

The mission of the Honor Flight Network is to recognize the service of U.S. military veterans — including many who are aging and infirmed — with tours of national memorials.

"Black veterans were charged with defending our nation, while also battling various limits placed upon them by society. This trip highlights their extraordinary courage and demonstrates gratitude for their tremendous service," according to the Honor Flight Network.

Jones, who is from Georgia, said he worked with the veterans group Disabled American Veterans prior to his retirement and has visited war memorials in Washington many times. But this trip was the first time he was able to visit with his daughter.

"I knew about my father's military history. But I felt I needed to learn more," Timika Jones said. "I trained for two weeks on how to survive in Vietnam and spent the next 11 months on the front lines," Jones said. "I was fortunate to make it out with just shrapnel injuries."

Next article: PRIDE shines, heals veterans

PRIDE shines, heals veterans

Source: June 20, 2024

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It began simply enough with a question from a veteran in Tuscaloosa, Ala., seven years ago: "What services are available for LGBTQ veterans?" 

"There were not a lot of visible services, you had to look around and know people," said Michele Hilgeman, a clinician psychologist investigator who works in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in Tuscaloosa. "Many providers were unaware of how to serve LGBTQ veterans. Many veterans were unaware services existed." 

That's when VA began to ramp up, expand and promote what was available for the LGBTQ community. Hilgeman networked with another psychologist in Virginia to develop the pilot program in Tuscaloosa. The two-year project kicked off in 2018 and evolved into VA's PRIDE in All Who Served. 

"We got to see how people were dealing with stress, see their sense of being affirmed in their identity, their resilience, social connectedness — the things we were hoping to impact," she recalled. "We started spreading the word and it spread to 10 sites in the next year." 

Now, PRIDE is in more than 30 states, with more expansions planned. 

Gabrielle Metz, a licensed clinical social worker in the mental health department at the Birmingham VA, draws a comparison to the challenges of the LGBTQ community with the civil rights struggle in the south. 

"There is resilience, there is coming together, there is a story of overcoming," she said. "Obviously the work isn't finished. There is a societal nucleus that wants to see societal change. They want to see equality. At the end of the day, every veteran deserves the best health care we can give them."  

Metz, who works in the PTSD therapy program, is about to start her fourth group sessions with LGBTQ members.

"It's been really successful and amazing to see the transformation and connection between the veterans," she said. "It's an honor to facilitate a group like this where honesty, transparency and acceptance rule." 

Jaime Jennings (she/her pronouns), a pansexual transfem nonbinary veteran who lives in Birmingham, is among those who have attended sessions conducted by Metz. 

Jennings, who left the Army in 2021, came out in her 30s to her wife of 10 years. "She's been my biggest supporter, thanks to a lot of honest and open communication. She helps me out at every turn." 

A Birmingham resident, Jennings' next stop was for counseling at the local VA. It was a critical time since Jennings was suicidal and had a plan. "I just did not want to be around anymore." 

Taking the prescription drugs didn't work. That is until the talking began. 

"I had a gay man as my counselor and felt comfortable talking to him," she said. "Honestly after our first conversation, it was about being transgender. It was no problem. I have not had a single problem with VA in getting to where I want to be. I have been treated so well. I'm no longer in that state where I don't want to be around anymore. I'm just overall happier." 

Jennings describes a photo of she and her wife that illustrates the change. Jennings had a mustache, high fade and smile. 

"But the way I was conducting myself, you look at our eyes in that photo, they're just dead," she said. "Now, just looking at myself, I see so many changes, just being more open and honest to just being happier. Overall, I've just changed so much for the better. Now, I like me." 

Jewel Forest retired after 20 years in the Army, including time during Don't Ask, Don't Tell. 

"My experience in the military was wonderful, but being LGBTQ in the military was not," she said. "It was very difficult in the beginning. You have to live a double life. I just had to learn how to live my life by serving my country and being me."

Forest, a member of American Legion Post 171 in Birmingham, started as a patient with Metz a year ago. 

"It's been wonderful for my healing journey," she said. "I'm very appreciative of Gabrielle. It has uplifted me so much." 

Hilgeman credits The American Legion for being engaged in the effort to improve care for LGBTQ veterans. 

"It's about having conversations, talking about women veterans and talking about LGBTQ veterans," she said. "A lot of it is having conversations, relationship building and awareness building. When they were here (for a System Worth Saving visit), they were interested in LGBTQ veterans and what we're doing in terms of suicide prevention. And that really matters."

So whatever happened to the veteran in Tuscaloosa who posed the initial question? Marine Corps veteran Cassandra Williamson is still an active collaborator with the PRIDE in All Who Served program.  

Next article: Connecticut post facing possible closure of building stages six-digit fundraising effort

Connecticut post facing possible closure of building stages six-digit fundraising effort

Source: June 20, 2024

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Bolton-Kasica-Patterson Post 68 in Berlin, Ct., was charted in 1920. Around 27 years later, its membership built a facility to call home. But that facility was in danger of possibly closing down a few years ago. The roof needed severe repairs, and the post was out of money.

But after what amounted to close to a two-year fundraising effort, the post has a repaired roof and a little bit of money left over to make the day-to-day operations and any future repairs a little easier. And it's because of a complete American Legion Family effort, along with support from the community, that allowed Post 68 to raise nearly $130,000 during that span.

"We've come a long way," said Vince Triglia, who has served as post commander for 13 years and has been a member for 23. "We were kind of living paycheck to paycheck. We do have a canteen, but once COVID hit, obviously all operations were shut down. And that nearly killed us. We had literally no income. I thought this was it, that we were going to have to give everything up but our charter.

"But we made it through. We really sort of defied the odds. We're not exactly rolling in dough, but … we went from not having anything in our pockets to having something at least to fall back on for that just in case, rainy day type of thing."

Triglia said that before the pandemic hit, the Town of Berlin received funding to provide grants for façade upgrades throughout the community – one of which was designated for Post 68. The only condition was that the grant would pay for half of the cost of the upgrade, while the post would cover the other half.

"The bottom line was, we had no money," Triglia said. "Through the years there was regular wear and tear. And we didn't have the money (to match the grant), so we got bypassed on that."

Triglia said a veteran who served on the Berlin Economic Development Commission started to help the post get local contractors to help with low-cost/no-cost maintenance. "But our biggest problem was that we were having roof problems," he said. "Any heavy rainfall and we would take in as much as two to four inches of water."

At that point, a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 68, Karen Mortensen Cote, led a unit effort that took the lead on fundraising efforts. "Her backstory was that she had done fundraising … and these ladies put together all kinds of fundraisers, from dances to comedy shows, car shows to dinners," he said. "There was a whole list of that they did and assisted us with. We did it as a Legion Family, and she kind of spearheaded it."

Word of the fundraising effort spread through local media outlets, as well as social media.

"The guy who did our roof, he's from the southern part of the state, and he heard our story," Triglia said. "And he happened to be a Marine. He contacted me, and he gave us a sweet deal."

With the cost of the roof repair taking up a large brunt of the money raised, the post has benefited from its members, some of whom are tradesmen and have been able to do additional repairs necessary.

"Everything else we're doing – the façade upgrades – are all done by sweat equity and whatever cash we have to buy materials," Triglia said. "We've been able to save a lot. And if it wasn't for the sweat equity of it, we'd be broke again, because the cost of labor is through the roof. So, we've been very fortunate in that way."

Triglia said the post also has benefited from local government leaders, who have used their network connections to get construction experts to assist with efforts at a reduced cost, including a landscaping project this summer that won't cost the post a cent. He's also thankful to the around 300 people who donated during the fundraiser.

"There were a lot of elements to this whole thing, and it grew to where it was almost overwhelming," he said. "But that's appreciated."

The community support didn't come without some public relations work first. Triglia said the post had developed a poor reputation within the community, being seen as only a bar where occasional trouble took place. "It took us awhile to get out of that stigma of what people thought we were," he said. "But once we started getting back into the (Legion) programs … we sponsor the Boy Scouts. We do scholarships again. That made a difference."

The post's actually made it to the American Legion World Series in 2009 but had since dropped off; Triglia said the post has recently started sponsoring a baseball team again.

Rebuilding the post's image also included Triglia and a few other members go "post-hopping", where the group would visit other Connecticut Legion posts to see what they were doing and to reintroduce Post 68.

"It was just a whole group of people that cared enough," Triglia said. "I promised my older guys … I would never shut that building down. They built that specific to them. And so far, we're not shutting the building down. It's still a struggle. But it's a lot easier knowing there's the support between the town, individuals, private companies in our town that have really given us the boost that we needed to be where we're at."

 

Next article: VA announces $10M in new funding opportunities for state, territory and Tribal governments to help understand, prevent veteran suicide