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New Jersey Legionnaires salute the GI Bill

An American Legion department that prides itself in bridging the gap between military service and civilian career success welcomed “The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill” traveling exhibit Thursday for its summer convention.

American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad participated in the Department of New Jersey event that reflected on the history and ongoing vitality of the GI Bill, the first version of which was drafted and pushed to passage 75 years ago as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944.

“Veterans weren’t looking for handouts – nor were they looking to be considered a special class,” Reistad told the crowd in an opening ceremony. “Veterans just wanted a shot at the American dream that they fought so hard to defend.”

The multi-media exhibit produced by the Legion’s 100th Anniversary Observance Committee has toured the nation since June 2017, sharing the story of the GI Bill – conditions leading up to its emergence, the blue-ribbon American Legion team that drafted it, the nationwide campaign to build support for it, the dramatic effort to bring the legislation out of a deadlocked congressional committee for signing by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the half-century of economic impact it made and the continuous need to update it and improve it for new generations.

Speakers at the ceremony included a VA health-care system director, a university vice president and representatives of two members of Congress.

Fresh off his trip to Normandy, France, where The American Legion commemorated the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that began the liberation of Europe in World War II, Reistad reflected on the price U.S. military personnel have paid for the portfolio of opportunities they have under the GI Bill.

“They paid, and continue to pay, for the GI Bill through sleepless nights induced by post-traumatic stress, through grafted skin put together after rocket attacks, through aching backs incurred after years of heavy packs and infantry gear. The truth is, our founders understood the horrors of war as soon as they experienced World War I. But others required some reminding.”

Reistad and others spoke of early resistance – from some members of Congress, higher education officials and even a few other veterans groups – to the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Even President Roosevelt, who would sign the legislation into law in June that year, was an early skeptic.

All critics were proven wrong, Reistad said. “Not only was this initial investment a cost of war – in other words, payment to those who gave so much – but it paled in comparison to the higher tax revenue gained from an educated working class and a housing boom that came as a result of millions of new homeowners, courtesy of the GI Bill. This is why I keep referring to the GI Bill as an investment rather than a benefit or a welfare program. It was an investment that paid off big-time.”

He noted that by the mid-1950s, one third of U.S. housing starts were funded by GI Bill financing.

He also reminded attendees of another milestone this month – the 50th anniversary of the first moonwalk. “Not surprisingly, many of the NASA astronauts, scientists, business and political leaders who made it possible were educated by the GI Bill.”

As the years passed, the education benefit for veterans gradually diminished, he explained, setting the stage for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, passed in 2008, a major overhaul that modernized and improved the package. Since then, The American Legion has worked with Congress and VA to continue improving it and will continue to do so, Reistad said. “Just like The American Legion created the original GI Bill, we will fight to ensure the GI Bill indeed lasts forever and that the benefits are worthy of the GI Bill name. This is why we have an American Legion. This is what we fight for. That is who we are.”

John Kamin, a U.S. Army Reserve staff sergeant and American Legion national policy associate on the GI Bill, acknowledged the role VA plays in the fulfillment of the GI Bill promise. “We are well aware, just as we were in 1944, that although we were critical in drafting these concepts, it is a competent VA that brings them into being.”

And beyond the well-documented economic benefits of the GI Bill, something more occurred, Kamin said. “Servicemembers were coming home to a country that was saying, ‘We believe in you.’ That was the first time in history that really happened. It fostered a faith between citizens and government. Veterans deserving this was predicated on their willingness to serve America, and America reciprocated. When we have that faith in government – when benefits matter and we are able to prove that they matter, by our individual acts – it builds harmony, not just with public officials that we trust but with each other … greater community bonds. I think that’s the true legacy of the GI Bill and the true charge it gives to us, to give to our generation and future generations to prove our country’s faith in them to make our country better.”

Jeff Sagnip Hollendonner, district director for former House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith, D-N.J., told the crowd that “Congressman Smith feels (the GI Bill) is perhaps the most successful program ever launched by the federal government. It helped create the modern middle class that did not exist before. And it serves as the Armed Forces’ top recruiting tool in an era where we have an all-volunteer force.”

A letter from U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., echoed Smith’s message. “It wouldn’t have happened without your organization,” he wrote of the GI Bill. “Shockingly, it was an uphill battle. But The American Legion and its members did not get deterred. With great vision and a sense of responsibility to their brothers and sisters at war, the Legion was successful at changing the course of history for our veterans and our country. Since 1944, the GI Bill has helped millions of veterans pay for college, graduate school and other training programs. This monumental legislation has exceeded all expectations and created opportunity for generations of servicemembers.”

Wilmington VA Medical Center Director Vince Kane told the group that because his father was a World War II veteran who used the GI Bill, opportunities were created for him. “I wouldn’t be here without the GI Bill. We wouldn’t have had what we had without the GI Bill. The greatest legislation happened because we had the greatest generation. It was a tool that allowed them to lead our country in a totally new, different and vitalized direction. We would not be here today without this bill.”

He said it’s important to continue to support military service and veterans of the future who can use their experiences and opportunities to drive the nation forward. “As a community, as neighbors and families, we need to make sure that we’re training the next generation to be the leaders that this nation needs. That is what the GI Bill is about. The best benefit of the GI Bill is what it’s done for the generations to come. We can never repay their debt, but if we work together, we can ensure they are that generation that makes the next generation better.”

Stockton University Vice President E. Michael Angula said student veterans on his campus make a positive impact on all others. “No one stands up more for liberty, freedom and the ability of under-represented individuals and immigrants coming to our country in pursuit of a better life – the American dream. Our military service organization students participate, encourage and support these groups in a way that makes us so proud. They value the Constitution. They value the ethics of our founding fathers and the principles of justice equality. The GI Bill opened doors for veterans, regardless of gender, regardless of race, and that really helped create the middle class that made that generation the greatest we have seen.”

The American Legion’s GI Bill exhibit will continue to travel the nation throughout the organization’s centennial year.

Bipartisan LEGION Act passed by the Senate

A bill expanding membership eligibility for The American Legion passed on June 11 by unanimous consent in the Senate. The Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act — also known as the LEGION Act — is a bipartisan effort introduced by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

Because The American Legion’s membership periods are congressionally chartered, the organization is prevented from expanding membership eligibility without an act of Congress. The act expands membership eligibility to honorably discharged veterans who have served in unrecognized times of war since World War II.

The LEGION Act was a focus of American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad’s Feb. 27 testimony before a joint hearing of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans' Affairs. He called on Congress to take action amending the charter, thereby giving tens of thousands of veterans access to American Legion benefits and programs they are not currently eligible for.

“Nearly 1,600 brave American men and women were killed or wounded since World War II, while defending our nation during times not officially recognized as periods of war by the U.S. government,” American Legion National Commander Brett P. Reistad said during his testimony. “These veterans are unable to receive some of the benefits and recognition available to their counterparts who served during official wartime periods."

When the LEGION Act was introduced Feb. 14 in the Senate, Sinema said, “The American Legion provides critical resources to our veterans, but currently, only veterans who served during formally recognized conflicts can belong to the Legion. That restriction leaves out thousands of former American servicemembers who signed up to defend our country. Our legislation rights this wrong and ensures veterans have the opportunity to join the American Legion.”


June impact report features job assistance, 2019 high in ALOU clicks

The June 2019 Membership Impact Report highlights The American Legion’s dedication to helping servicemembers and veterans – and their spouses – find jobs, as well as its growing media program.

In May, the Legion participated in 10 career fairs/summits in eight states, getting in front of an estimated 1,400 job-seekers. The Legion also participated in a Yellow Ribbon event that reached 429 more.

The May 16 edition of the American Legion Online Update e-newsletter garnered 55,673 click-throughs, the highest so far of 2019. With updates on the LEGION Act and the Bladensburg Cross Supreme Court case coming soon, there’s no better time to subscribe; go to to do so.

Also last month, $1,122,624 in American Legion Legacy Scholarship funds was awarded to 57 applicants, the children of U.S. military personnel who lost their lives or became over 50-percent disabled on or after 9/11.

Click here to see the June Membership Impact Report. For previous reports, go to

Blue Water veterans legislation passes Senate, heads to White House

American Legion-supported legislation extending disability benefits covering medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure to Blue Water Navy veterans unanimously passed in the U.S. Senate June 12 and will now go to the White House. H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, passed 410-0 in the House of Representatives on May 14 and will become law once signed by President Donald Trump.

Veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if diagnosed with a medical condition associated with the herbicide, according to the Agent Orange Act of 1991. However, this act applied only to veterans who served on land and in Vietnam’s inland waterways, excluding those who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam, known as “Blue Water” Navy veterans. H.R. 299 will extend these benefits to the Blue Water Navy veterans.

H.R. 299 further expands coverage and includes the provision that every veteran exposed to herbicides like Agent Orange should receive the same presumptive benefits. A provision in H.R. 299 states, “A veteran who, during active military, naval, or air service, served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975,” will be eligible for disability compensation for presumptive conditions of herbicide exposure. This will allow veterans who fall into that category and whose claims have been denied or held in pending status to gain access to VA medical care for conditions on the presumptive list.

H.R. 299 will afford spouses of certain veterans whose death was caused by a service-connected disability access to pension benefits. The bill also provides the children of veterans of covered service in Thailand who suffer from spina bifida access to health care, vocational training and rehabilitation, and monetary allowance.

Passage of the legislation came just over a week after the Department of Justice announced it would not appeal a federal court ruling, Procopio v. Wilkie, extending disability benefits for Agent Orange exposure to Blue Water Navy veterans.

New Jersey Legionnaires on pace to break record to help kids needing organ transplants

Lenny Hart, a U.S. Army combat infantry veteran of the Vietnam War, chokes back tears as he begins to explain how and why his American Legion mission over the last decade has been to raise money for the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA).

“My daughter passed away in a car accident in 1995, and we donated her organs,” he says from a table next to the COTA display at the American Legion Department of New Jersey Convention Thursday in Wildwood, N.J. “That’s when I took the bull by the horns.”

Since 2009, Hart has led a department-wide effort to support COTA, in memory of his daughter, Susan Ann. The annual event he organizes at American Legion Post 493 in Mystic Island has raised nearly $400,000 in that time. The October fundraiser includes an antique car show, bands, an auction, a bake sale, pumpkin painting and more. Each year, a Disney theme is chosen for the activity, and when they do it again on Oct. 13 at Mystic Island Post 493, “Pirates of the Caribbean” is the selected theme, and many families of children who have received or await organ transplants will be on hand.

The entire American Legion Family – American Legion, Sons of The American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and Legion Riders – also raise money at their local posts across the department for COTA, adding to the October event’s contribution, making New Jersey one of the nation’s most generous supporters of the program, which assists families with the often-staggering costs of organ transplants for children. According to COTA, organ transplants can cost up to $800,000. TRICARE, VA and insurance do not always cover all of the expenses, explained COTA President and CEO Rick Lofgren, who was at the convention. “In most cases, the bigger costs are transportation and lodging for families,” he said.

Lofgren said the American Legion Families of New Jersey, Florida and Indiana are among the nation’s top supporters of COTA, which began its New Jersey relationship about 30 years ago. “The Legion makes a huge impact,” he said. “New Jersey and Florida are always fighting it out for No. 1 and 2. It’s always a battle.”

Hart is hopeful 2019 will be a record-breaking year for the Department of New Jersey’s effort. The total raised for COTA by the department in 2018 was $48,652.57, he explained. Already in 2019, The American Legion of New Jersey has exceeded that, with $48,832.50 collected by the June department convention, with more donations expected over the weekend and the big October event yet to come.

“We have 45 kids across the state of New Jersey who have received organs or are waiting for them right now,” said Hart, who is so devoted to COTA, his personalized license plate is the organization’s acronym. “Giving them a second chance at life – that’s what it’s all about.”

TALARC to have presence at national convention

American Legion National Headquarters has asked TALARC members to staff a booth in the 2019 National Convention Exhibition Hall from Friday, Aug. 23, to Tuesday, Aug. 27, in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Planning is still underway, but we expect to have a need for volunteers to come and help at the Exhibition Hall and our K9TAL booth, answering questions about our great hobby to approximately 8,000 attendees. If you’d like to help (if even for a few hours) and meet Legion Family from all over the country, send a note to

Memorial service for ambush incident at JSA, Korea

In mid-April, Col. Lewis L. Millett Post 38 Legionnaires Chris Vaia, Bill Beatty and Steve Tharp attended a memorial service at Joint Security Area (JSA) for four soldiers who were killed during an ambush on April 14, 1968, by North Korean soldiers. Two American soldiers and two South Korean soldiers of the United Nations Command (UNC) were killed. The North Korean soldiers ambushed a UNC truck transporting UNC relief guards to the JSA.

New cabin to honor Gold Star families

For more than 90 years veterans, military personnel and their families have been guests at the Department of Wisconsin’s Camp American Legion. Located on hundreds of acres along Big Carr, Little Tomahawk and Magrath lakes in the state’s Northwoods, the camp is open to any Wisconsin veteran or active-duty servicemember with a physician-documented physical or psychological illness, injury or disability; active-duty military returning from a deployment in the past nine months; and any surviving family of a servicemember killed in the past year.

Now an effort by Department of Wisconsin Commander Frank Kostka is geared toward permanently honoring that last group: Gold Star families. Kostka has made raising money to construct a Cabin for Families of the Fallen his commander’s project for nearly a year. Ground was broken on June 9 for the newest addition to Camp American Legion.

“This is my project,” Kostka said. “I wanted something to keep here in the state of Wisconsin to support our veterans. We, as the Wisconsin American Legion and the camp, support our fallen families. It’s important. And we have an environment up there at the camp that allows for the healing process.”

The cabin will feature two bedrooms and a full kitchen, and be handicap accessible. Gold Star families will have first consideration for use of the cabin. Kostka said an older cabin was started to wear out and was torn down; the space the cabin occupied will house the new cabin.

“We felt focusing on that one piece of property, that one lot where the cabin had to be taken down and destroyed because it was falling apart. And now we’re going to rebuild it,” Kostka said. “It’s kind of like you’re dealing with a Gold Star family that’s had these drastic things changing their whole life … but now they can be brought back up with this new cabin. It’s kind of a metaphor.”

Well over 1,000 veterans, military personnel and their families visit the camp annually. “We’ve talked to many veterans over the years, and being in that solitude and quiet in the Northwoods brings something to the table when it comes to healing in an individual veteran’s life or in a family’s life,” said Kostka, who began promoting Camp American Legion long before he was elected department commander. “I’ve encouraged Legionnaires to come to the camp. There’s many who have never been there. They’ve seen pictures of it, articles in the paper. We talk about it. But until you actually go there, put your feet on the ground and look at what’s there – at that point in time you realize what a great piece of property that we have and an asset to the organization.”

Bringing Legion Riders, scholarship recipients face to face

During a stop at Struck-Klandrud American Legion Post 336 in Onalaska, Wis., during the 2018 American Legion Legacy Run, American Legion Riders on the run were able to meet Legacy Scholarship recipient Ally Niven and her father, disabled U.S. Army veteran Lee Niven.

The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund provides college assistance for the children of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, as well as children of post-9/11 veterans with a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher. The 2018 Legacy Run raised a record $1,300,804 for the Legacy Fund, the fifth-straight year the ride has raised more than $1 million.

Lee, who is 50-percent disabled, said that being unable to work his regular job, the Legacy Scholarship “means the world to me that I can, in some way, support my daughter going to college.”

Those words stuck with Legacy Run Chief Road Captain Bob Sussan, which is why Sussan has collected a list of Legacy Scholarship recipients in each of the seven states that this year’s ride will pass through, with the goal being to have at least one at each evening stop.

“I wanted the Riders to see the impact their efforts have on the kids,” said Sussan, chairman of the National American Legion Riders Advisory Committee. “It really shows what the Riders have done and continue to do to care for these children. Riders ride for the kids, and it’s really touching seeing these big, burly bikers that are doing this.

“You stop at these gas stations and people asked the Riders what they are doing, and they’re so touched by what (the Riders) do that they reach into their pockets and give us money at every gas stop. It’s a wonderful thing.”

This year’s ride will leave American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake, Fla. – the nation’s largest Legion post – and travel through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky before ending up at Kenneth N. Dowden Wayne Post 64 in Indianapolis. On Aug. 16, Harley Davidson in Lady Lake will have food vendors and a live band for the ride participants, with proceeds going to the Legacy Fund. And on the night before the ride kicks off, Post 347 will donate the meal for all participants of the Legacy Run.

American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad will accompany the ride, and in fact is getting his ride to the American Legion World Series via Legion Riders. The Run will stop in Shelby, N.C., on Aug. 20 for an afternoon parade in downtown Shelby, and afterward Reistad will be taken to Keeter Stadium for the ALWS championship game.

Sussan said that other highlights from this year’s ride will include a stop in Waycross, Ga., where the mayor, members of the local tourism board and possibly a Gold Star family will meet the Run; stops at lakeside posts in Gainesville, Ga., and Spartanburg, S.C.; a lunch stop at Cumberland Bowl Park in Jonesville, Va.; a dinner stop at Wildcat Harley-Davidson in London, Ky.; and a lunch stop at Post 9 in Madison, Ind., before the ride comes to an end in Indianapolis.

And on some stops, smaller flights of Legion Riders will visit American Legion posts in the area that are not scheduled for stops by the larger Run contingent.

“It looks like it will be pretty interesting,” Sussan said. “We’re engaging more Legacy Scholarship recipients. We’re (visiting) posts virtually everywhere. We’re starting from the largest post in the world. It should be a good ride.”

USAA Tips: The multiple interviewers experience

Content provided courtesy of USAA

It may happen to you someday. You’ll get that long-awaited phone call inviting you to the next interview. But something’s different this time – you learn that you will participate in a series of interviews with different people at the same company.

Let’s call this the “Multiple Interviewers” experience.

Now that your heart rate has risen a bit, I’d like to share some thoughts on how you can navigate the “Multiple Interviewers” environment and hopefully get that job.

  1. Make sure you’ve got a consistent story. You need to make sure you don’t waver in your answers during your time with multiple interviewers. Any inconsistencies will be discovered. You need to think about your answers to interview questions carefully and demonstrate continuity in your work, goals, motivation, and choices.

  2. Connect with the person across the desk from you. You want to somehow build good rapport with whoever is conducting the interview. You need to do this carefully too. This is probably more of a time to keep things more personable rather than personal. Remember what you’re there for and be cordial, be polite, but also be aware of the risks of overdoing it. Think about it.

  3. Don’t spill your guts. You don’t need to tell your life story during interviews. I see this a lot at career fairs when a veteran comes up to the employer’s booth and holds up the line telling a “Once upon a time…” narrative. And, don’t let your guard down when meeting and interacting with the people you’ll work with on a daily basis. I’m talking about your interactions with potential future co-workers and peers. You’ve got to stay on point. Don’t be too brief, but don’t be too long-winded either.

  4. Show a genuine interest in each person’s job and job function. Yes, there’s usually a set of mandatory interview questions prepared ahead of time that you need to be ready for, but you need to figure out how to tie in what you’ll be doing with what the person you’re talking to does. How does my skill set benefit you? How can I help support your work? Some well-planned questions might help you uncover unmet needs that you might be able to support in your specific role as a new employee.

  5. Do your homework on each interviewer, if possible. Keep this on a professional level. (Think LinkedIn rather than Facebook, for example.) You’ll want to know something about each person’s career. You’ll especially wish to know some of the highlights and headline news they’ve created at their current company. Some research on your part might reveal some areas of interest they have and can guide you to asking great questions that will set you apart from others applying for the job. Also, if you study the company’s news release section on the website, you might discover some info that helps here. You might ask, “What was your role on Project X?” for example.

  6. Ask for their business card. Although each interviewer will probably hand you their card at the outset, don’t forget to ask for one if need be. Thank them and give them your business card. (Yes, you should have some business cards with your basic information on them.) You might wish to ask, “What’s the best way to follow up with you?” Be prepared for how they answer and make sure to follow their guidance to the letter. For example, some interviewers may ask you to go through someone else (i.e. the hiring manager, their executive administrative assistant, or human resources, etc.), so it never hurts to ask. Just be careful how you follow up.

  7. Send a thank you card. Now that you have their contact information, you need to decide the best way to give thanks. You can opt for email. You can send a hand-written note. You can call them and leave a message. Remember, these interviewers maintain busy schedules so don’t be surprised if they don’t respond directly to your chosen form of thank you. Some companies have specific rules on this and communication with prospective employees may get re-routed through human resources or the hiring manager.

Ultimately, you want to impress everyone you interview with. You want to show your true colors, and leave no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who you are and what you can bring to the organization. If you appear to be “the right fit” you can expect that call offering you the job.

The more thumbs up you get during the multiple interviewers experience, the more you increase your chances of getting hired.

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