American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford kicks off his 100 Miles for Hope challenge in support of The American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation at Broyhill Walking Park in Lenoir, N.C., on Saturday, Aug. 1. Photo by Charles Mostoller/The American Legion The American Legion American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford is calling on Legion Family members and supporters to join his 100 Miles for Hope challenge and push the number of participants over the 5,000 mark. On Oct. 12, exactly 10 weeks after announcing the 100-day challenge, 4,313 people had registered to take the challenge. Participants can walk, cycle, run, ride a motorcycle or cover 100 miles any way they choose in the 100 days leading up to Veterans Day. “I can’t think of a better goal to have than 5,000 participants,” Oxford explained. “After all, 5K has two meanings — one the shorthand for the common 5-kilometer race or fun run. And secondly 5K, meaning 5,000.” More importantly, the commander noted, reaching the 5,000-participant threshold would drive even more donations to the Legion’s Veterans & Children Foundation (V&CF), which covers the costs of American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance grants for military and veteran families with children at home who are facing severe hardships, as well as funding to train American Legion service officers, who provide free representation to veterans applying for government benefits. “I have been so pleased to see this participation and read these amazing accomplishments by our members,” Oxford said. “And, of course, this campaign helps fund our foundation. That provides critical funding for our service officers and military families in need. That’s what it is all about. Continuing to serve while commiting to a healthy regimen of exercise.” To join the challenge, participants need to sign up at Emblem Sales. For a $30 registration fee, they will receive a slick tech shirt (available in men’s, women’s and children’s cuts), a sign to display and a certificate of accomplishment when they finish. Roughly 50 percent of the $30 fee will go toward V&CF after figuring in costs for the shirts, shipping, etc. The last call for registrants is Oct. 19, which will ensure delivery of shirts by Veterans Day. With roughly four weeks to go, there is still time to finish the 100 miles, especially if participants are riding bikes, using elliptical machines or getting on their motorcycles. There have been many inspiring and creative stories of members pursuing their goals from coast to coast. For example: • In California, Charlie Parker may be in a wheelchair but that doesn’t stop him. The Navy veteran is completing his 100 miles, one swimstroke at a time. • In South Dakota, Department Service Officer Courtney VanZanten was inspired to walk 100 miles, and got her children involved, too. The exercise not only benefitted her, but her line of work, thanks to donations going toward supporting service officers. • In Maryland, Michael Bush dusted off his kayak, encouraged other members of his post to participate and is paddling toward his century goal. It’s up to participants on how they achieve the 100-mile threshold. But when they do, they are encouraged to share their success on our Legiontown web page. And once the mission is complete, participants can download this flyer to celebrate their achievement. As the campaign winds down, American Legion posts are encouraged to create celebratory Veterans Day events for members while keeping local social distancing rules in mind. If your post is planning an event, let us know at email@example.com Learn more about this initiative on the Legion website, www.legion.org/100miles and get started by registering at Emblem Sales.
Here is how you can Help A Hero in 2020 GEORGETOWN, Texas – Even in a pandemic, veterans are returning from active military duty to prepare for civilian careers that require them to return to school for additional education and training…often beyond what is covered financially by the GI Bill. To make educational expenses less of a burden on service members, anyone can “Help A Hero” by getting a haircut at participating Sport Clips Haircuts now through December 5. New for this seventh year of the Help A Hero scholarship program is a "text to donate" option. By texting "HERO" to 71777, donors can donate directly to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Foundation that administers the VFW’s “Sport Clips Help A Hero Scholarship” program. Also new, the Sport Clips Clean Certified promise that stores will offer updated, next-level cleanliness and safety precautions for clients who come in for a haircut and donate via the store's kiosk. More than 1,750 military and student veterans have benefitted from Help A Hero Scholarships through the nearly $8 million donated to date by Sport Clips Haircuts and its generous clients and product partners. These scholarships provide up to $5,000 of assistance per semester per family to help cover the cost of tuition and fees for service members and veterans in the rank of E-5 and below. "Supporting our nation's military remains a priority for our veteran-founded business," says Edward Logan, president and CEO of Sport Clips. “Even though all of our stores were temporarily closed to meet state and local COVID-19 mandates, almost all Sport Clips locations are open again, stylists are working hard to make clients comfortable and excited to return to their normal haircut routine, and we are honored to once again support the Help A Hero program for those who have given so much for us. We're grateful to our franchisees, team members, and clients who faithfully support these important scholarships." “Since the start of the pandemic, the VFW and its allies have worked tirelessly to guarantee our support programs remained operational,” said Hal Roesch II, VFW national commander. “The pandemic’s impact has been far reaching, especially for our military and veteran families, and this campaign helps to ensure we can continue to provide as many student veterans with scholarships as possible.” Many Sport Clips locations will offer free haircuts on Veterans Day November 11 to service members and veterans with valid military identification, but it is important to check here for participating stores and store hours. Also on Veterans Day, the company donates an additional dollar for every haircare service to the scholarship program, which added $100,000 to the total raised last year. Help A Hero scholarships are awarded twice a year to help cover the cost of tuition and fees. Scholarship applications are currently being accepted through November 15 for the 2021 spring semester. Apply for a Help A Hero scholarship here today.
'Although I might appear happy and healthy on the outside, on the inside I was truly struggling' (VFW Magazine) Kerry D. Steuart enlisted in the U.S. Air Force with plans for a long military career. But things didn’t go as planned. He was medically discharged only eight years into what he thought would be decades of service. Soon after, the Gulf War veteran began battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in addition to his physical challenges. “Although I might appear happy and healthy on the outside, on the inside I was truly struggling,” said Steuart, who is a member of VFW Post 4171 in Golden, Colorado. “I was struggling to find a purpose, an opportunity to serve. I was angry and bitter because I spent the next 20 years trying to find out the cause of my health symptoms and the VA was not very helpful. All this frustration and anger was taken out on my family, friends and colleagues.” Yoga, Tai Chi and biofeedback were suggested to Steuart during testing at the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center in New Jersey. His oldest daughter had encouraged him to pursue yoga as well, so he decided to give it a chance, and it changed his life. “I started my yoga journey with a practice of mindfulness and meditation, and what I discovered was that for the first time in a long time I felt calm and relaxed,” Steuart said. Over time, Steuart found yoga to be a key part of working through his struggles and he wanted to share his experience with others. He became a registered yoga teacher and has spent the past five years helping others go on their own journey of recovery. He’s particularly proud of his work with fellow veterans and Warriors’ Ascent, a nonprofit dedicated to helping service members and first responders find healing and support. “I have been blessed to work with Warriors’ Ascent which provides a week long opportunity to transform the participants' life at no cost,” said Steuart. In addition, Steuart founded Midtown Yoga KC, a nonprofit based in Kansas City, Missouri, to provide yoga, mindfulness, mediation, teacher training and wellness classes. Donations allow individuals to attend programs for free or at a reduced rate. He also created a YouTube channel to connect virtually with people in any location. While Steuart works with anyone and does corporate events, his focus is on veterans or others who’ve experienced trauma. “Working with veterans and essential personnel has allowed me an opportunity to have a purpose and serve a greater good, just like serving our country in the military,” Steuart said. “I have been told after each Academy of Healing that I saved someone’s life and their family, and before this program they had lost all hope.” Steuart knows there may be misconceptions about what yoga is or who can benefit. He hopes his story will inspire others to try it and find peace, acceptance and love. “Yoga does two things for us each and every day. First, it allows us to realize the things in our life that we are doing well and secondly, those things in our life that need work,” said Steuart. “Yoga is truly for everyone and it transforms our life from the inside out.”
(VFW Magazine) The road toward getting two men their decorations came after a five-year effort by immediate family and a surviving member of the platoon More than 50 years since a firefight killed one and led the other to singlehandedly save his 16-man platoon, Lynwood Thornton and Harold Jantz received their long-awaited decorations last year. Thornton and Jantz of the Army’s 1st Platoon, Bravo Co., 3rd Bttn., 7th Inf., 199th Light Infantry Brigade, each received the Bronze Star during separate ceremonies in July 2019 for their heroics on Jan. 17, 1970, a day that cost Thornton his own life. Signed and approved by then Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper on May 2, 2019, the road towards getting both men their decorations came after a five-year effort by immediate family and a surviving member of the platoon. It began in 2014, when Roger Soiset, a fellow member of the 1st Platoon, delved into getting Thornton decorated for his fatal sacrifice during an ambush by the Viet Cong in the Long Khanh province of Vietnam. “Thornton should have gotten a Bronze Star at the time,” recalled Soiset, a VFW member of Post 5255 in Grayson, Georgia. “But when we eventually submitted a request, it was initially rejected because it wasn’t filled out right. Then it just kept getting rejected.” In 2018, however, Jantz’s sister and brother-in-law, a retired sergeant major in the Army, joined Soiset in trying to get both men the Bronze Star. “I had kind of given up on trying when Jantz’s sister’s husband got involved,” Soiset said. “He was very proficient in filling the forms out and getting the right people involved.” Paula and Tom Beckman first learned of Jantz’s heroics, which included rescuing the bodies of Thornton and James Thonen against orders to leave casualties behind, when he received a military statue and note from Soiset, whom they had met through Jantz at an Army reunion some years back. “I was only five when my brother was drafted, so I never knew all that had happened while he was there in Vietnam,” Paula added. “For 50 years he never spoke about his time in Vietnam. So we took on this undertaking since Roger was trying to ensure that Thornton and my brother be put in for the Bronze Star with V device.” On Aug. 7, 2018, the Beckmans met with William Smith, a veteran’s affairs representative for South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and provided documentation and written statements from surviving members who witnessed the firefight on Jan. 17, 1970. Both Jantz and Thornton were submitted for the Bronze Star with valor device, although Thornton’s was later downgraded to Bronze Star with no device when Sen. Graham sponsored them. After the joint approval on May 2, 2019, by Esper, both men received their separate ceremonies in July. Jantz’s Bronze Star with valor was issued in a private ceremony at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., presented by Sen. Graham himself on July 10, 2019. Receiving the recognition for his heroics on Jan. 17, 1970, is something Jantz, a life member of Post 2913 in Patchogue, New York, said he “can’t put into words,” although he added that, “it made me the man I am today, and I’d do it again.” Thornton’s ceremony happened in his hometown of Thomasville, Georgia, on July 26, 2019. Soiset, Jantz and three other members of the 1st Platoon joined Thornton’s family and more than 60 other guests at a Trinity Baptist Church to honor his heroic efforts during the Vietnam War.
(VAntage Point) The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 gave VA an opportunity to consider new and previously submitted Blue Water Navy claims. Now, thanks to collaboration with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), VA and NARA are helping to determine ship locations and to digitize more than 1,800 vessels’ deck logs. The data contained in these ships’ deck logs is critical in determining qualifying ship locations in accordance with the law. For the first time, VA will have each of these ships mapped with precision, providing a comprehensive view of their locations. VA estimates that there are between 420,000 and 560,000 Vietnam-era Veterans who may be considered Blue Water Navy Veterans. The law also extends benefits to survivors and dependents of those Veterans with confirmed service and whose claims would have been granted as a result of the new law. What Veterans need to know NARA’s and VA’s collaboration has already assisted in granting more than 22,524 claims since Jan. 1, 2020. The effort digitized more than 29 million images from U.S. Navy and Coast Guard deck logs. It has also provided data, such as ship name, date and coordinates to feed an internal claims-related technical processing system that identifies the vessels that may have traveled within the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam. This proactive approach ensures that Rating Veterans Service Representatives have the evidence needed to render a decision the first time a case is reviewed. This effort has resulted in faster service for Veterans and reduced the need for physical handling of archival records which preserves our nation’s historical documents. NARA is in the process of redacting the images to make them publicly accessible on the National Archive’s website. How to file a claim VA works with Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) and other partners to ensure Veterans and survivors are aware of the changes and know how to determine eligibility for disability compensation or Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) when filing a claim. If Veterans, survivors or dependents have previously filed and were denied a claim, they can file a supplemental claim. VA encourages Veterans to work with an approved claims representative or VSO to determine if they qualify. To learn more, please visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/blue-water-navy.asp. Daniel Kuester and Meghan Badame contributed to this blog. Kuester is a Navy Veteran and a Public Affairs Specialist for VBA’s Office of Strategic Engagement. Badame is a Communications Specialist with VBA’s Media Relations team.
VA COMPLETES TRANSFER OF U.S. ARMY CEMETERIES AS PART OF GOVERNMENT REFORM AND REORGANIZATION EFFORT
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today completed the consolidation of various Army post cemeteries, an action first outlined in the department’s June 2018 Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations. VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA) accepted the last Army post cemetery when it took over operations of the Fort McClellan Post Cemetery in Anniston, Alabama. “Completion of the cemetery transfers highlights VA’s role in increasing efficiency and streamlining operations across the federal government. It also spotlights the strong partnership between VA and the Department of Defense,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The former Army post cemeteries join the VA’s 149 national cemeteries and the 4.9 million American Veterans, service members and their families honored in these national shrines.” The plan directed the transfer of the perpetual care and operation of 10 Army post cemeteries and one prisoner of war cemetery located on former active Army installations. The VA’s comprehensive reform plan was built upon Executive Order 13781, signed by President Trump in March 2017. To increase efficiency, limit mission overlap and maintain Veterans cemeteries at national shrine standards, the plan recommended the transfer of operations and maintenance of select military cemeteries to NCA. The consolidation alleviates duplicative mission requirements and increases burial options for Veterans and their dependents. Fort McClellan was established in 1917 as a mobilization camp for National Guard troops in World War I and served as a major training base for troops during World War II, as well as an internment camp for more than 3,000 prisoners of war. After the war, it served as a training facility. The post was closed as part of the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure round. The Fort McClellan Post Cemetery was established in 1918 and contains the remains of 441 U.S. military personnel and civilians. The cemetery is closed to new interments, although it will accommodate requests for subsequent interments in existing gravesites for eligible family members. The Army also transferred to VA the Fort McClellan Enemy Prisoner of War Cemetery, which contains the remains of prisoners who died while in captivity during World War II. These cemeteries will be operated by Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo, Alabama. During the last 15 months, the following Army post cemeteries were transferred to the VA: Fort Lawton Post Cemetery (WA) in June 2019, Fort Missoula Post Cemetery (MT), October 2019, Fort Sheridan National Cemetery (IL) and Fort Douglas Post Cemetery (UT), December 2019, Vancouver Barracks National Cemetery (WA), March 2020, and Fort Worden Post Cemetery (WA), Fort Stevens National Cemetery (OR), Benicia Arsenal Post Cemetery (CA) and Fort Devens Post Cemetery (MA) earlier this month. For more information about Fort McClellan Post Cemetery or Fort McClellan Enemy Prisoner of War Cemetery, contact Steven Weir-Santos, Cemetery Director, Alabama National Cemetery, at (205) 665-9039. For more information about the transfer of other Army cemeteries, contact NCA Public Affairs at (202) 632-8035. To make burial arrangements at a VA national cemetery, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at (800) 535-1117.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that VA is allowing home mortgage loan deferments for Veterans who have experienced financial hardships due to the COVID-19 national emergency. In Executive Order 13924 President Trump directed federal agencies to rescind, modify, waive, or provide exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery. Many Veterans have taken advantage of the loan forbearance program provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Under the Act, borrowers who have federally-backed loans can receive forbearance of their monthly home loan payments, for up to 360 days. Forbearance does not mean forgiveness. As Veterans exit their CARES Act forbearance periods, they must work with their mortgage company to determine when to repay the missed amounts. To protect against predatory lending, VA regulations generally prohibit a large, lump-sum balloon payment from being included in the loan. However, temporarily waiving the regulation in these limited circumstances means Veterans have additional options when resuming regular monthly payments after a CARES Act forbearance — without penalty, additional interest, or late fees. “A loan deferment can work like a reset button to help alleviate economic burdens some Veterans may be experiencing,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Providing loan deferment as an option could be the one thing standing between financial normalcy and foreclosure.” VA cannot require mortgage companies to offer loan deferments. Veterans who want to know whether loan deferment is an option should consult their mortgage company directly. Learn more about VA’s deferment options.
By Rose Thayer/Stars and Stripes Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe is one step closer to receiving a posthumous Medal of Honor after the House passed a bill Tuesday night that waives the federally mandated time limit for presenting him the nation’s highest award for valor. The bill was filed following an Aug. 24 letter from Defense Secretary Mark Esper stating he believes Cashe should receive an upgrade from his Silver Star to the Medal of Honor for his actions in Iraq in 2005. “Alwyn’s a hero in the purest and most profound sense. What he did on that Iraq battlefield really takes your breath away,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., said Tuesday during a conference call. She said she has been working with Kasinal Cashe White, the soldier’s sister, to honor him. Murphy introduced the bill, H.R. 8276, to waive a federal law that generally requires a Medal of Honor to be awarded within five years of the actions that gave rise to the award, a requirement that Congress regularly waives. She introduced the bill alongside Reps. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., and Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, who are both veterans. The House approved the bill by unanimous consent. “With unanimous passage of our bill by the House today, we are one step closer to ensuring that Alwyn Cashe receives the Medal of Honor he earned,” Murphy said. “I am grateful that so many Americans are learning of and being inspired by SFC Cashe’s heroic actions, which are so extraordinary they nearly defy description.” Cashe was 35 years old when he died Nov. 5, 2005, at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio from injuries sustained Oct. 17. While deployed with the 3rd Infantry Division to Samarra, Iraq, Cashe was riding in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that rolled over a roadside bomb that exploded and the vehicle was quickly engulfed in flames. Cashe was relatively unharmed, but drenched in fuel, according to his Silver Star award citation. He then made numerous trips to and from the burning vehicle to extract his fellow soldiers, even while his own clothing continued to catch fire. He suffered second- and third-degree burns on more than 72% of his body. His actions saved the lives of six soldiers. “It’s not every day you read an extraordinary story like Alwyn Cashe’s,” Waltz said in a statement. “His bravery in the face of danger has inspired so many already – and this is a significant step forward to properly recognize him for his heroism. I’m incredibly proud to see the House of Representatives come together in favor of this legislation to award him the Medal of Honor. Now we need our colleagues in the Senate to pass our bill.” Cashe was born in Sanford, Fla., and raised in Oviedo, both of which are located in Murphy’s congressional district. He is buried in Sanford. After reading his story, Murphy connected in with Kasinal Cashe White to rename a post office in Oviedo in Cashe’s honor in 2018. Since then, she has continued to work with White to upgrade his award to a Medal of Honor. White told reporters Tuesday that upgrading her brother’s medal has been her passion and Murphy has “moved mountains” in the bureaucratic process. Murphy, Crenshaw and Waltz wrote a letter to Esper in October 2019 urging him consider upgrading the award. Last month, Esper wrote back and agreed. However, he said a waiver from Congress was first necessary. “Once legislation is enacted authorizing the president of the United States to award, if he so chooses, the Medal of Honor to SFC Cashe, I will provide my endorsement to the president,” Esper wrote. With Murphy’s bill through the House, it now must clear the Senate, where she fears it may not come up for a vote, despite strong bipartisan support. As a backup plan, the congresswoman added language to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 that would waive the time limit for Cashe’s award. “What’s undeniable is that Alwyn Cashe is an American hero who did incredibly brave things and who deserves the Medal of Honor,” Murphy said. “One way or the other, we’re going to get this done.”
Join us on Sept. 23 at 3 p.m. ET to learn what to do during the COVID-19 pandemic KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) are hosting an interactive Facebook Live event to highlight resources available to help veterans facing homelessness to secure safe and stable housing. Join us on Sept. 23 at 3 p.m. ET to hear from experts on VA programs and services to meet the needs of veterans and their families. The event will feature the following speakers from the Homeless Programs Office: John Kuhn, National Director, Supportive Services for Veteran Families National Program Office Eileen Devine, National Director, Health Care for Homeless Veterans National Program Office Jeffrey Quarles, Director, Grant and Per Diem National Program Office During the discussion with the VFW’s director of communications and public affairs, Terrence Hayes, they will explain how veterans can get the support they need and deserve during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can participate right before the event by having your questions ready, as we will dedicate time for Q&A. Learn more about the event and be sure to log on at 3 p.m. ET on Sept. 23!
Army veteran dedicates himself to helping others who struggle with mental health September 21, 2020 As a platoon sergeant in the U.S. Army with 20 years of service, David Sousa knew how to watch out for and help the men and women around him when they faced struggles. He didn’t expect to lose a friend and find that he needed help too. “A good friend of mine committed suicide in March 2013 and it triggered some major emotions with me. I had a hard time dealing with my own struggles, and I made several attempts at suicide,” said Sousa. “I went to a military training called Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) to prevent suicide by recognizing signs, providing a skilled intervention and developing a safety plan to keep someone alive. ASIST opened my eyes to seek out therapy for myself.” Sousa, who lives in Sparks, Nevada, started a journey that led him to dedicate himself to helping other service members and veterans who struggle with mental health. An important early step was getting connected to the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health Office of Suicide Prevention as he began working through his PTSD. “We started a group dealing with the rise in veteran suicides and developed some courses of action,” Sousa said. “In 2014, I was appointed by then-Governor Brian Sandoval to the Veterans Suicide Prevention and Awareness Council. We worked on landmark legislation in the state mandating that anyone with a health care license must get training for suicide prevention.” Sousa retired from the Army in 2015 after more than two decades. Highly decorated for his honorable service, his experiences ranged from humanitarian missions in Kenya and Somalia to combat and security missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seeing so much while on active duty gives him empathy and motivation as he looks for ways to help veterans. One meaningful resource for Sousa is “The Spartan Pledge,” which resonated with him as he met and corresponded with Boone Cutler, creator of the pledge and a fellow veteran. “The pledge is, ‘I will not take my life by my own hand without talking to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family.’ It’s powerful,” said Sousa. The pledge to stay connected and find a mission in life is valuable to Sousa, and he’s proud of making it a part of events with the VFW and a VA hospital. Sousa is a member of Post 3396 and the Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service Representative at the VA Sierra Nevada Healthcare System in Reno. He’s a past Post, District and Department commander and has served on the VFW National Legislative Committee. Currently, Sousa also is involved with several groups that host outdoor walks, hikes and bicycle rides for veterans. It’s become another good way to ensure service members find connection and activities to stay healthy physically and mentally. He’s committed to serving their loved ones as well. “I assist with and create programs for service members, veterans and their families to receive valuable training and to build camaraderie in our communities,” Sousa said. “I also help people in my community that are suffering from suicide to get them what they need. That could be people in need of immediate assistance that have thoughts of suicide as well as being there for families if they’ve lost someone to suicide to help them with resources and community support.” Sousa knows his new mission is vital, and he plans to keep serving as long as he’s needed.