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  • Tuesday, January 26, 2016

    Veterans’ Issues on Minds of Conference Attendees

    ALBANY – Veterans’ issues, including the care they receive through the VA health system, were on the minds of over 1,000 American Legion members as they gathered Jan. 22-24 for the Department of New York’s 97th Annual Mid-Winter Conference at The Desmond Hotel and Conference Center here.

    Believing that VA health care “is a system worth saving,” a New York State American Legion task force has visited nearly half of the VA medical facilities in the state and held “town hall” meetings with veteran/patients, Department Adjutant James Casey told news media. While the VA system has problems, they have found the staff at medical facilities in New York to be very caring and trying to provide the best medical care for veterans.

    Other related issues highlighted at the conference included veteran suicide and Post Traumatic Stress. In addition, seminars covered such topics as children and youth programs, national security issues, troop support, family support, membership recruiting, law and order, junior shooting sports, Scouting, American Legion Baseball, ROTC/JROTC, oratorical contests, Boys State.

    Baseball Hospitality & Band Concert

    The Queens County Legion and Auxiliary provided a refreshing break Saturday afternoon with their annual themed-hospitality, donning NY Mets and NY Yankee jerseys and serving up peanuts and Cracker Jacks, among other things.

    The Yankee Doodle American Legion Band from Fort Crailo Post 471 in Rensselaer turned the hotel’s interior courtyard into a darkened concert hall Saturday evening, performing a stirring selection of show tunes and patriotic pieces.

    The band performance was the highlight of the reception that preceded a jam-packed banquet, where Charles Schmidt of Oregon, leading candidate for national commander, was the featured speaker.

    “I’m proud to say I’m an American Legion member,” said Schmidt, a retired Air Force major.

    He referred to the bond that “carries on after we leave basic training” – a bond of looking out for one another, which continues with Legionnaires advocating for veterans.

    “Our credibility with (the U.S.) Congress is outstanding,” he said, because Washington knows “we are non-partisan” and focus on “what’s best for America.”

    “It’s amazing – the American Legion has sustained itself taking care of veterans for 97 years,” Schmidt said to rousing applause. Headed to 100 years, “the American Legion cannot rest on its laurels. We need to continue to grow in membership and in programs.”

    He added: “We inherited a legacy – and it’s our watch to carry the legacy forward.”

    How? With a little personal investment, you’ll discover “opportunities to make something good happen for your post, unit and squadron.” Just like the post in Astoria, Oregon that decided to sponsor a Boy Scout unit, providing opportunity for youth – a few of whom in turn took the opportunity to bicycle 3,600 miles across America to Ground Zero in New York City this past summer and raise $22,000 for the Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors.

    National Auxiliary President Sharon Conatser of Champaign, Ill., also spoke, pointing to the Legion Family – the Legion, the Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion – as supporting one another in programs and membership. At 96, the Auxiliary has been walking with Legionnaires for nearly as long as the Legion has existed.

    Dressed as Patriots

    Vietnam-era army veteran Andrew Rosa, a 38-year member of Margaretville Post 216, came to the banquet wearing a piece of history on his lapel – a membership pin that belonged to his father, Henry, a World War I vet and charter member of the post.

    And in a sea of patriotic and military-themed neckties, Fifth District Commander Leslie Crossett and Junior Shooting Sports Chairman Lawrence Behling stood out with their competing red-white-and-blue bow ties.

    The Bond of Military Service

    The conference concluded with a general session Sunday morning, where Watervliet Arsenal Commander and Legionnaire Col. Lee Schiller noted that “service to country… has meant that we have done something different,” and it has forged a “kinship” that “the average American cannot understand.” As military veterans, there’s no “thinking twice about helping your buddy.” The colonel is retiring from the army this summer after serving for 28 years.

    The bond among veterans, Department Commander James Yermas noted, is what naturally drives Legionnaires and The American Legion as an organization to advocate for all veterans – and is part of the message that Legion posts need to get out to the public.

    Charles Schmidt, who hopes to be elected national commander in September, issued a challenge to “make something good happen for the American Legion.”

    His focus as national commander will be to “carry the American Legion legacy forward,” and to do that, “we need to make something good happen at our posts.” And then get the word out about what the Legion is doing. “Let’s share our stories.”