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  • Saturday, July 18, 2015

    Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul Tells Vets: ‘We Owe You’

    Kathleen C. Hochul, the lieutenant governor of New York State, brought a message of concern for veterans to the American Legion’s 97th state convention in Buffalo Friday, July 17.

    Kathy Hochul

    Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul

    Pointing to the four marines killed in Tennessee the day before by a gunman, she said: “It struck me that men and women in uniform are still in danger” – even in the U.S.

    But danger, even in Afghanistan, wasn’t always on the minds of troops she visited there as a congresswoman serving on the House Armed Services Committee. “I asked them what is your biggest fear? It broke my heart when they said their fear is going back home and not having a job.”

    “One of the missions of the American Legion is to fight for the military” to have the resources the troops  need.

    The Legion is also there for the returning veteran. “You are the people they talk to. You have shared experiences I don’t have.”

    She added: “They need you. They may not know it, but they need you…to show they can survive this, and it’ll be okay.”

    Hochul urged the Legion to continue to reach out and help them get the resources and services they need.

    “When you put on the uniform to protect us, we formed a pact with you… We owe you for the rest of your life,” she said to rousing applause. “We owe you.”

    VA Task Force and Service Officer of Year

    Michael Suter

    R. Michael Suter

    The second full day of the convention featured more awards, including service officer of the year, and a number of presentations, including some findings from visits to VA medical facilities.

    The Department’s newly formed VA Healthcare Task Force visited a number of VA medical centers and community-based clinics, plus conducted nine town hall meetings with veterans, VA and Rehabilitation  Chairman R Michael Suter reported. Their findings boil down to a need for staffing and a need for better communication between veterans and their care providers. On the positive side, when a cure for Hepititis C was introduced, at $3200 to $3500 per pill, the VA didn’t hesitate to bring in patients with the disease and treat them, despite budget restrictions. Delegates at last year’s convention voted to create the task force, mirrored after the “System Worth Saving” inspections done by the national organization.

    Donna Kestner

    Donna Kestner

    Suter also announced the Department’s “first woman Service Officer of the Year” – Donna Kestner from Oswego County. The Army veteran has been working for more than 15 years as a service officer in the Oswego County Veterans Service Agency.

    “I’m proud to be a woman veteran,” Kestner said, but humbled by the honor and “only a small link” in the county service officer chain. She is a member of Fulton Post 587.

    The Impact of Boys State

    Benjamin Schafer

    Benjamin Schafer

    Boys State Executive Director John Murphy reported a total of 980 youth graduated from Boys State this year, with 59 counties sending delegates. He introduced Benjamin Schafer, a 2014 Boys Nation delegate from New York.

    “The American Legion taught me important lessons,” said Schafer, who plans to attend Harvard University this fall. One of those lessons was the definition of a hero. It’s not someone wearing a cape with super powers. It’s someone who “makes extraordinary sacrifices so the rest of us can live ordinary lives.”

    Oratorical Champ Tried 4 Times

    Jessica Norris

    Jessica Norris

    Oratorical Chairman Tony Paternostro introduced Jessica Norris, the 2015 oratorical champ and $6,000 scholarship winner.

    “This is the fourth year I competed,” Norris said, placing second twice at the Zone level. “It became a running joke in my family. ‘You just have to pick up your thousand dollars and move on’.” This year she decided to change tactics and focus on the question, “What are you doing with your freedom?” Her speech covered the freedoms declared sacred in the U.S. Constitution – speech, press, religion, to peaceably assembly, to petition the government – and sacrifices made to protect them. Then she repeatedly asked the listener, what are you doing with your freedom?

    Auxiliary President Brings Donation

    Outgoing Department President Diane Garber arrived to a standing ovation and presented a $3,000 check to Outgoing Commander Frank Peters for the rehabilitation fund on behalf of the Auxiliary.

    Honoring Employer of Year and Employment Specialists

    James Davies

    James Davies

    Employment Chairman Thomas Rielly announced the employer of the year, but not before honoring employment specialists who help veterans find jobs.

    James Davies and Declan Callan received National Employment Service Awards as the Department’s Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialist of the Year and Local Veterans Employment Representative of the Year, respectively. Davies works out of Binghamton, and Callan, out of Watertown. Both are legionnaires.

    Declan Callan

    Declan Callan

    Logistics One, a Saratoga Springs-based distribution-systems provider offering warehousing, transportation and brokerage services, is the 2015 Employer of the Year, Rielly announced. National Vice Commander Doug Haggan presented the company with a certificate from the American Legion National Employment and Education Commission as a top employer of veterans.

    Employer of Year

    National Vice Commander Doug Haggan (right) gives award to Logistics One Recruiter Keith Prairie (left) and CFO Graham Goffin.

    Rielly pointed out that since implementing its military veteran hiring program in 2011, Logistics One has grown its number of veteran employees to nearly one quarter (44 or roughly 22 percent) of its overall workforce. He said the company also backs a variety of local veteran support groups, including Saratoga WarHorse Foundation, a local program partnering off-the-track thoroughbreds with veterans struggling to adjust to life after military service, and the Saratoga County Rural Preservation Company (Vet House) in Ballston Spa. Accepting the honors on behalf of the company were Logistics One CFO Graham Goffin and Recruiter Keith Prairie.

    Posts Volunteer Man Hours and Dollars

    Children and Youth Chair John “Sean” Powers reported that posts across the state spent over $1 million on children and youth activities  and racked up over 64,000 volunteer hours.

    Earlier Americanism Chair John Konkol noted that 778 of 892 posts in the state submitted Consolidated Post Reports by deadline. Even without timely information from all posts, the statistics reveal the impact of the Legion on local communities. He said local posts spent a total of $1.374 million on Americanism programs (Boys State, oratorical, junior shooting, bowling, Scouting and baseball), with 128,869 volunteer hours (valued at $3.46 million).

    Similarly Education and Scholarship Chair John Murphy reported on Saturday that 67 posts awarded 603 scholarships totaling $346,490.

    PR Award Recognizes Tim Burch

    Public Relations Chair Robert Stronach presented the Department Public Relations Award to Greene County Commander and Third District Public Relations Officer Tim Burch for helping to generate positive publicity for the Legion – in particular, honoring and publicizing Prattsville Post for raising $16,000 for patient comfort items at the VA medical center, and a TV news anchor for doing a story on a World War II nursing home veteran.