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New exhibits in National Headquarters museum

In anticipation of the 100th anniversary of The American Legion, the Library and Museum Division is pleased to announce three newly designed exhibits in the Emil A. Blackmore Museum at National Headquarters in Indianapolis.

Culminating a year of planning and design, these new exhibits showcase several artifacts from the collection and offer visitors a new look at the wartime experience.

The new exhibits highlight three unique stories in U.S. and American Legion history. The exhibit on chaplains in the military honors the service of military chaplains and examines artifacts related to that service. The second case, on homefront scrap-collection drives during World War II, helps explain how recycled, everyday objects helped fight the Axis. While not a new exhibit theme, the exhibit on Pfc. Jessica Lynch's rescue is in a new exhibit case that offers a better presentation of the diorama.

The museum is free of charge and open to the public weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Questions can be directed to the division at library@legion.org.

A tale of two posts: Melbourne post recovers from Irma, serves its community

Hurricane Irma took its best shot at American Legion Post 81 in Melbourne, Fla., damaging the roof, knocking out power and closing the building for nine days.

“For an old building, it's really done pretty good about holding up to all the storms in previous years,” Post 81 Commander Tracy “Stretch” Spence said. “But Irma came through with some pretty strong winds. It didn't take our roof but caused us multiple leaks and damage so we had to fix the entire roof to repair the damage. We couldn't piecemeal it together.”

Post 81 members rallied to reopen the post, taking turns guarding the post and cleaning it up, as well as lending assistance to others in need. A grant from the Legion’s National Emergency Fund (NEF) also contributed to the post’s return after Irma struck in early September.

“We do a lot of fundraising around here,” Spence said. “I'm really proud of our post. We are involved in a lot of various fundraising and our post has done really well. But when it came time to replace the whole roof, we're talking $26,000 that we just didn't really have. The National Emergency Fund was available to us, up to $10,000, and we applied for it and they granted us $8,000, which really helped us because it saved us that money that we're able to roll back into the programs now.”

NEF provides immediate grants to American Legion members and posts that have been affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes. After Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated communities in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, NEF distributed thousands of dollars to posts and individuals. Donate to NEF here.

Post 81 is among Legion posts that have recovered and are back to serving their communities. However, nearly six months after the hurricanes, others like Post 135 in Naples are still working through various challenges to reopen. 

John Gamerl is first vice commander of Post 81. He described the post building as “being in shambles” soon after Irma hit. But he never doubted it would reopen quickly.

“Our commander is a driven man and when he wants something done, he's gonna get it done,” Gamerl said. “He made a vow to not only the post, but to the community in general that we will be up and running. In short order he had us back up, back in business. I'm very proud of that.”

Bruce Thurber, commander for the 12th District in Florida, noted Post 81 was helping other hurricane victims before Irma.

“Two weeks prior to being hit by Irma, Post 81 was helping me collect goods that we sent to Texas in relief for Hurricane Harvey,” Thurber explained. “The day after the truck left, Irma hit us. This post helped raise about $20,000 worth of relief supplies that went over to Texas. Then all of a sudden, they're stranded here with their roof off and unable to continue operating and doing what they do. They are one of the most important parts of this community. When asked by anybody, they always step up.”

The post supports Boys State, Girls State and Boy Scout programs. It also feeds thousands of veterans and others who visit the Melbourne area each year when a traveling Vietnam Wall exhibit is on display. “This is not a rich community,” Thurber said. “If it wasn't for The American Legion, this community would not have the things that they have.”

Post 81 sits in an industrial part of Melbourne. Nearby businesses and residents know that the post is the go-to place when American flags need to be retired. Twice annually, the post holds proper flag retirement ceremonies. In June, Post 81 members retired thousands of flags over the course of two days.

In mid-February, more than 500 flags were properly disposed of during a retirement ceremony at the post. Spence led the ceremony, emceeing the procedures so the audience of 50 or so people understood what was happening.

“It gets them involved,” he said, referring to Legion Family members and citizens in attendance. “As I've started doing these different things — like Pearl Harbor, the flag retirement ceremonies, my POW ceremony — people always come to us afterward and say, ‘I wish you would tell us more.’ Or, ‘Tell us more about what you're doing.’ That's exciting.”

After the flag retirement ceremony, Legion Family and community members were invited to participate and properly dispose of flags in the fire pit. It’s an example of the post’s community service efforts.

“It's all about Americanism,” Spence said. “You do these ceremonies because the more you can do the ceremonies, the more you can get the younger generation involved. They learn to appreciate why we do it. One of the things The American Legion teaches, which I'm trying to instill in our post is, if you are casual about your attitude to America, or to the Legion or anything else, then you're going to have a casual belief. If you're more professional and more honorable and make it important, then your community, your children, your community around you will learn it's important. They'll take more pride in it, therefore hopefully you can pass that message on to the next generation.”

 

 

 

 

 

A tale of two posts: Naples post still recovering from Irma

John Madsen was the first one to see American Legion Post 135 the morning after Hurricane Irma tore through last September.

“I didn’t know what to do,” said Madsen, a Sons of The American Legion member who estimated that 8 to 10 inches of water inundated the building. “We had to wait until the power came back on. But by that time, it was too late — the mold had set in.”

The flooding was severe because the road that sits outside the post is elevated, which created a flow of water directly feeding into the post.

“It’s upsetting but I am optimistic,” said Madsen, the post’s kitchen and bar manager. “We’ll get reopened. We have to get reopened. The community needs us. The veterans need us. We can’t think about ourselves. We have to think about the community and the veterans that we take care of. And that’s the main thing. I could go find another job. But I would rather stay here and help the veterans in this community.

“It’s my job to give back to all the other veterans who have served.”

Post 135 Adjutant Michael “Mickey” Schuh has taken the lead role in working to get the post re-opened. It’s been a long process, from ripping out the damaged materials to getting approval from the local government to securing funds to cover costs.

The post is stripped down to its bare essentials. The carpeting is gone. The interior walls will have to be redone. Storage pods contain the few items that were salvageable.

Schuh estimates that the total cost will be $350,000 to $400,000 for everything from the actual repairs to the mold remediation to the storage pods rental to the new air conditioning unit. Insurance will cover $225,000. “We’re pretty far behind,” Schuh said.

The post has received support locally, around the state and nationwide, including a $25,000 grant from the Department of Florida. “That was really a surprise,” Schuh said. “Department Commander Steve Shuga and District Commander Mike Raymond came down and told us they had a surprise for us. We were all ready for a $5,000 grant. They came up with $25,000. That was a big shot in the arm, it got us feeling a lot better.”

Raymond says Post 135 was the worst hit in his 13th District. “We were flabbergasted at the amount of damage that this post took,” said Raymond, who visited the post about a week after Irma.

Shuga tipped off Raymond about the surprise grant.

“Commander Shuga got to see it up close and I guess it really tugged at his heart,” Raymond said. “He’s been to other posts but this he felt is where it was needed. And when I found out, I couldn’t hold back the tears. When Commander Shuga handed them the check, there wasn’t a dry eye in the building. They deserve it. They have been doing all the work. They have been here every day.”

The post also received a $5,000 American Legion National Emergency Fund (NEF) grant. Two other posts have donated $2,000 apiece. “Everybody has been really supportive. We’ve had a lot of assistance,” Schuh said.

NEF provides immediate grants to American Legion members and posts that have been affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes. After Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated communities in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, NEF distributed thousands of dollars to posts and individuals. Donate to NEF here.

Nearly six months after the hurricanes, Post 135 and others are still working through various challenges to reopen. Meanwhile, others like Post 81 in Melbourne received significantly less damage and are back to serving their communities.

In the 1950s, the Army donated the post building, which the Army Air Corps used as a hangar during World War II. Post 135 uses it for various occasions and fundraisers, especially during this time of the year. More than 100 people regularly show up for special events.

“This is our season,” Schuh said. “This is our time to make the money to get through the summer months. Our activities double during this season. We have dinners on Friday nights. Dinners on Saturday nights. Dances. We weren’t able to have the Christmas party for the kids. We weren’t able to have Christmas dinner or Thanksgiving. Or our Valentine’s Day dinner-dance. They couldn’t go anywhere else because they are in their 70s and 80s and nobody else plays that music that they like to dance to.”

Kateri Sparks, president of Auxiliary Unit 135, was devastated when she first saw the damaged post.

“I walked in the building and I cried,” she said. “I couldn’t believe the damage. There was water, it was moldy, it was so hot. It was heartbreaking. This is home for us.”

Sparks said the unit has agreed to suspend its other activities in order to focus its support efforts on the post and veterans whose lives have been turned upside down by Irma. Unit 135, for example, is supporting a female veteran who lost her job last year, as well as helping the post pay its ongoing bills.

Even amid the slow recovery, post members are still involved in some community activities. They presented the colors during the city’s downtown ceremony for Veterans Day, and will also participate in the Memorial Day commemorations.

While the post navigates the hurdles in reopening, no one is entirely sure when it will be active again. Maybe June, they say. Schuh remains determined. “I’m an old Marine. You can’t give up your post.”

Sparks is eager to celebrate Post 135’s return to its community.

“Oh my goodness, we will do something tremendous and with grateful hearts because people have been so kind and so supportive,” she said.

 

'It really breaks your heart'

For 15-20 years, Legionnaire Loretta Young has worked with the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. She calls the JROTC cadets the best of the best and a source of pride for nearby Arthur R. Lanni Memorial Post 365 in Sunrise, which sponsors the school’s JROTC program.

But on Feb. 14, pride turned to sorrow when three of the school’s JROTC cadets – along with 14 of their fellow classmates and teachers – were gunned down by a former student at the school. And six days later, Young and hundreds of other mourners gathered at Kraeer Funeral Home in Coral Springs to say goodbye to one of those students, 15-year-old Peter Wang.

One week after the loss of Wang and fellow JROTC cadets Martin Duque and Alaina Petty, both 14, Young still was having trouble verbalizing how emotionally difficult the past week has been.

“It really breaks your heart,” Young said. “Really, I can hardly describe how you feel when you work closely with them, when you see them on a regular basis. You admire all that they do. And then to know that their life is gone, I can’t even put it into words.

“We shouldn’t have to go see them put in the ground and to see their families so heartbroken. I’m a mother, so I know.”

Young, the longtime commander of Post 365, has seen the benefits of the JROTC program as both the Department of Florida’s JROTC and Shooting Sports chairman, and as a member of the staff at the Legion’s 3-Position Junior Air Rifle Championship in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“They work very hard,” Young said. “They are the cream of the crop when you speak about the JROTC cadets and their instructors. They are shining examples of what our youth is and what we have to look forward to as a country. To lose any one of them is devastating.”

Post 365 members attend the school’s JROTC events as often as they can, as well as sponsor year-end award ceremonies for military and scholastic excellence. Young recently had met with school officials about the JROTC’s formal inspection program, which was scheduled for the day after the shooting. Young said the formal inspection program, which only takes place every few years, is a “shining example of what the cadets are.”

An Air Force veteran, Young had visited Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School a few weeks ago to prepare for the awards ceremony and had shaken Wang’s hand. And the day of the shooting she spoke with the school’s curriculum advisor.

“I was hanging up saying ‘I’ll see you tomorrow morning at the inspection,’” Young said. “To hang up the phone and then look and the see the school on the news … I was speechless. It’s devastating.”

After their deaths, the U.S. Army presented all three cadets with the Medal of Heroism for the danger and extraordinary responsibility they took on during the shooting. Fellow students said Wang was holding a door open to allow others to escape when he was gunned down.

And the U.S. Military Academy, which Wang had hoped to attend, posthumously admitted the slain youth to the institution on the day of his funeral.

Young, who is a member of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s service academy nomination committee, said the posthumous honors are a good way to honor the three teens, but it doesn’t take away the pain of knowing all three are gone.

“It is a nice recognition, and it is nice that West Point did that for Peter,” she said. “But it doesn’t diminish the fact that I saw a 15-year-old lying in his casket in uniform that I only saw a few weeks ago. And he’s gone forever.”

New York conducting Twitter town hall

The American Legion Department of New York is trying to reach veterans in its state on all fronts – including social media.

On March 1, the department will conduct its first-ever Twitter town hall. Its Twitter account, @NY_Legion, will field questions about membership in The American Legion from 5-6 p.m. ET; those wishing to ask questions should use the hashtag #asknylegion to do so.

David Doyle, a member of the Detachment of New York Sons of The American Legion and a consultant to the department, said his firm – Gramercy Communications – was commissioned by the department to do market research on how to reach new and younger members and potential members. The firm did dozens of phone and in-person interviews with dozens of unaffiliated veterans and active-duty military personnel.

“From these conversations we gathered data that was crystal clear – younger veterans expect a large social media footprint with robust and meaningful activity.” Doyle said. “We are trying to educate and inform a new generation of heroes about the benefits of The American Legion.

“Through a Twitter town hall we can engage and interact on a platform where younger veterans are clearly spending time, so it was a natural fit based on what our research told us.”

Department of New York Membership Chairman Gary Schacher will moderate the town hall and will answer questions on Legion membership eligibility, how to join, why to join, and about the organization's multiple programs and benefits.

'Helping veterans seek employment ... is part of what the Legion stands for'

Hosting a job fair, as American Legion Post 176 in Springfield, Va., did on Feb. 15, is a direct reflection of the Legion’s values, members said.

“Getting people work is an important thing,” Post 176 manager Bob Eidsvoog said. “We talk about helping homeless, helping the veteran homeless, this is a way to help the community and veterans especially get jobs and support their families and live a comfortable life.”

“It reflects the Legion’s values based on the pillars that the Legion is founded on, part of that is helping veterans. Helping veterans seek employment, whether they’re unemployed or underemployed, helping veterans out is part of what the Legion stands for,” Post 176 Commander Ed Amoros added.

The Feb. 15 job fair was promoted by JobZone, a Virginia-based job fair organizer founded in 2005. In addition to job fairs at military bases around the area, JobZone brings a job fair to Post 176 three to four times a year.

JobZone CEO Janet Giles said her company’s relationship with The American Legion is a “win-win.”

“American Legion is always trying to connect and network with the veterans who should be a member, then they enjoy the events because it opens up horizons for companies and members of companies of veterans who can get more involved,” Giles said.

The job fair dedicated the first two hours exclusively to veterans, servicemembers, military spouses and cleared job seekers before opening up to the general public—a reflection of the Legion’s commitment to veterans as well as the community in general.

“We have found it extremely important to be involved in community events,” Eidsvoog said. “This is one effort that has been very successful.”

Giles said job fairs are important because “it’s the perfect opportunity to get your resume out there” to a number of companies at once.

Many veterans leaving service “have no idea what they want to do,” she added. “It builds that comfort zone where they can talk to a variety of industries and start narrowing their focus down, and then it builds that rapport with different recruiters and different industries, different companies.”

Amoros said the networking that can occur at job fairs is another important element.

“Years ago when I was looking for work myself, I came to a bunch of these events. What happens is you sometimes meet people you know, friends, colleagues, former servicemembers, and it helps to network,” Amoros said. “What you’re trying to do and what I’m trying to do might be a little different, but if we talk to each other we can share tips and best practices. I find that’s a great part to these events.”

While noting that many other posts in his area also host job fairs, Amoros encouraged other posts nationwide to sync up with job fair organizations to host events.

“It’s an easy way to help veterans out,” he said.

Legion's 58th annual Washington Conference begins Friday

The American Legion's 58th annual Washington Conference gets underway Friday with veteran career and education events, and follows with commission meetings and an address by National Commander Denise H. Rohan to a joint session of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs.

Rohan's testimony to Congress on Feb. 28 will be live streamed via the Senate VA Committee website. Watch it here.

The Feb. 27 Commander’s Call also will be live-streamed (watch here) and will feature Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., a Legionnaire and chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, who will receive the Legion’s Distinguished Public Service Award. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also will speak during the Commander’s Call. Other awards to be presented during the Commander’s Call include the Patriot Award to Diane Carlson-Evans, a U.S. Army nurse during the Vietnam War, and the VA Physician and Provider of the Year.

Several events and workshops will be held during the Washington Conference at the Washington Hilton, 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW. These include a Hiring Our Heroes job fair and workshops for veterans, military personnel and their spouses Feb. 23; Action Plan for Growth workshop Feb. 28; Boots to Business Reboot entrepreneurial training program Feb. 28 to March 1; and Avenir Life Coaching Mind Fit workshop to enhance overall performance and wellness March 1. Visit www.legion.org/washingtonconference to register for the hiring fair and workshops.

Legionnaires will head to Capitol Hill Feb. 27 to meet with their respective members of Congress.

Follow coverage of the Washington Conference here.

USAA Tips: How the new tax bill could impact homeowners

Content provided courtesy of USAA.

You are a homeowner, and you pay taxes. But if you find yourself absentmindedly nodding along when someone mentions terms like the standard deduction, itemizing and mortgage interest deduction, you’re probably more confused than ever about how the new tax bill (a.k.a. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) will impact you as a homeowner.

Before we get started, it’s important to note that each individual’s tax situation is different. Consult a qualified tax professional before making any tax moves. Take note that the new laws likely won’t affect your 2017 return, which most people are filing before April this year. Also, while many of the provisions in the new legislation are permanent, many will expire after 2025.

Do you itemize?

When you do your taxes, you likely either take the standard deduction or itemize. Itemizing means that you list “item by item” things you may deduct from your income to determine the amount you’ll pay taxes on. The standard deduction simplifies taxes somewhat by assigning a “standard” amount to deduct from your income, regardless of deductions like charitable giving, student loan interest paid or mortgage loan interest. Previously, choosing to itemize only made sense if all of your “qualifying” deductions yielded more tax savings than taking the standard deduction.

Why does this matter?

The new tax bill nearly doubles the standard deduction, from $6,350 to $12,000 for individuals, and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married people filing jointly. Previously about 28% of taxpayers itemized, according to a study by Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center, but with the tax law change, it is likely that more people will opt for the simplified standard deduction.

So what about the housing deduction?

Under the old tax rules, taxpayers often chose to itemize because they could deduct their mortgage interest. Now, with a higher ceiling due to the increased standard deduction, fewer people may “use” the mortgage deduction.

If homeowners continue to itemize, there are two notable changes:

  • Deductible mortgage interest for new purchases is capped at $750,000 on a qualified residence, down from $1 million. To deduct, the debt must be used to acquire, build or substantially improve a primary residence. Existing mortgages as of Dec. 15, 2017, are “grandfathered” in at the $1 million limit.

  • Debt for anything other than acquiring a residence (such as using a home equity loan to consolidate credit card debt) is no longer deductible in 2018, where last year it was deductible up to $100,000.

For example, let’s say the Smith family owes $100,000 on a home worth $200,000. They decide to refinance to a new 30-year, fixed mortgage, and they borrow $120,000 on a “cash-out” refinance, using $20,000 to buy a new car. Interest on $100,000 of the loan may be deductible, but the interest on the $20,000 is not.

An important distinction is that this “acquisition indebtedness,” which is still deductible in 2018, is not based on the type of loan but on how the funds were actually used. Tax forms from your lender don’t reflect how the funds are actually used, so it’s the taxpayer’s responsibility to keep track if they are trying to deduct it from their taxes.

Here’s another example: The Jones family takes out a home equity line of credit on their existing home to build a new bedroom addition. Since this is a “substantial improvement” to their home, the interest may be deductible. If they used the funds to pay off credit card debt, it would not be deductible.

All this adds up discussing your specific tax situation with a qualified tax professional, particularly if you are looking to use a home equity loan or refinance for uses other than buying, building or substantially upgrading your property.

NOTE: The contents of this document are not intended to be, and are not, legal or tax advice. The applicable tax law is complex, the penalties for non-compliance are severe, and the applicable tax law of your state may differ from federal tax law. Therefore, you should consult your tax and legal advisors regarding your specific situation.

American Legion invites Denver area veterans to discuss VA care

The American Legion invites all Denver area veterans and their family members to a town hall meeting to discuss their VA care.

The meeting will be held on March 5 at 7 p.m., at American Legion Post 1 at 5400 East Yale Avenue, Denver.

The town hall is one of many events that The American Legion will conduct around the United States this year. The American Legion hosts these events to hear feedback from veterans about the quality of health care they receive at their local VA facilities.

Staff from The American Legion National Headquarters office in Washington, D.C., American Legion Department of Colorado and representatives from VA and members of the Colorado congressional delegation will be in attendance.

Legion Family comes through for first responders

When local first responders attending a breakfast at Charles J. Fulton Post 382 in St. Clair, Mich., inquired about the post possibly helping out with some fundraising, there was no hesitation to help.

But what Post 382’s Legion Family was able to accomplish was way above and beyond what Post Commander Andy Dupuis ever imagined. In just a few months, the post, Auxiliary unit and Sons of The American Legion squadron raised more than $30,000 for the St. Clair Police Department and the St. Clair Area Fire Authority.

“I was kind of worried, just due to the fact thinking we only put this together in three months,” Dupuis said. “I was really, really kind of 'I hope we pull this off.’ When the final numbers came out, I was blown away. I couldn’t believe we did that much.”

The post regularly hosts fish fries and breakfasts, inviting local first responders to eat for free at both. When the subject of the departments have a fundraiser at the post, Dupuis said 382’s Legion Family took it a step further.

“We said, ‘Why don’t we just help you?’” Dupuis said. “We’re a little town here, and the fire department and the police department, they’re smaller forces. Sometimes their budgets aren’t big enough to handle what they need.”

The post began working on setting up a fundraising dinner, selling yard signs and reaching out to businesses and individuals in the community. The St. Clair Police & Fire Department Appreciation Day dinner and raffle took place in late September and raised more than $9,000. The remainder of the money raised came from the yard signs and the generosity of the St. Clair community, including a late donation of more than $7,000 from a corporate sponsor

“We had a lot of the businesses in town … and some of the local residents made donations,” Dupuis said. “That’s where the bulk of the money came from. Some people … just got real generous and opened up their bank accounts and really laid it on us. We were really taken aback by some of the donations from some of the people in town.”

On Feb. 13, members of Post 382’s Legion Family presented a ceremonial check to the police and fire departments. The police department will spend its part of the funds on miscellaneous expenses, while the fire department used its portion of the funds to purchase a Lucas CPR device that provides consistent and uninterrupted chest compressions during CPR.

"It's a tool worth having,” St. Clair Fire Chief David Westrick told the Times Herald. “The success rate out there is very good.”

Dupuis said the fundraiser had no chance without utilizing the post’s entire Legion Family. “If it wasn’t a total family effort, we could have never pulled it off,” he said. “Our Sons and our Auxiliary are just the best. They all came together. I can’t tell you enough good about them.”

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