At the end of World War I, a bunch of soldiers got together to make sure returning veterans would be taken care of when they settled back into their daily routine in the States.
That group eventually grew to become the largest veterans service organization in the country the American Legion.
Following World War II, returning troops were welcomed with ticker tape parades in many of the country’s largest cities.
Thanks to the G.I. Bill, created and fought for by the American Legion, many veterans were able to purchase affordable houses at generously low interest rates, their loans guaranteed by the federal government.
Still others took advantage of the veterans’ bill that also provided an education benefit allowing them to go on to college and hopefully get a good job after serving in the military.
Military veterans involved in other conflicts over the past several decades, as well as those serving in peace time, also have benefited from provisions of the Legion-protected G.I. Bill of Rights.
The aftermath of all the nation’s battles, though, contains one group of veterans for whom the home front is not the same as the one they left behind those soldiers wounded in combat who are permanently affected, whether physically or mentally, by their battle-front experiences.
Once again, the American Legion has stepped forward to help.
The tradition of veterans helping veterans was extended to the next generation of returning soldiers with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the American Legion and the Department of Defense formalizing the “Heroes to Hometowns” program.
Through an office in the Pentagon, the American Legion will provide direct firsthand support for injured veterans when they transition out of active military service.
Wounded veterans are connected with support networks in their hometowns and are linked with resources long before they return home.
Stories had come to the American Legion’s attention of wounded veterans going home and finding they could not get a job because of their injury; they couldn’t run errands or do simple tasks around the house; they needed to have their vehicles and their homes adapted due to their physical disability; or they simply needed spiritual help in making the adjustment.
Often the newly discharged, combat-wounded or psychologically affected veterans would come home needing help, but would not know where to go to get it.
Because the American Legion has 15,000 posts around the world with hundreds of members in each post, the organization saw fit to organize the effort to help fellow comrades.
One problem that immediately became clear was that many communities were unaware of veterans returning home with the new challenges, and many of the wounded veterans were uncomfortable with asking for help.
By linking with the Pentagon, the Legion has been able to create a new office right at the Pentagon’s Military Severely Injured Center enabling it to connect wounded veterans with support services in their hometowns.
Among the services provided through the Heroes to Hometowns program are financial assistance, converting a two-car garage into an apartment for a double amputee, refurbishing a dilapidated home and assisting a recovering service member as he prepared for medical discharge.
Help also comes in the form of child care, temporary housing, errand running, adapting homes and vehicles, government claims assistance, help with filling out benefit forms and giving spiritual support.
Sometimes the only thing needed is a listening ear and the knowledge that the veteran does not need to face the future alone.
A Gulf War combat veteran with extensive business and management skills has been hired by the American Legion to head its new Pentagon office.
The new Legion Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation assistant director, David Marsh, can be contacted directly at (703) 692-2054 or online at david.marsh@ itc.dod.mil.
In a recent American Legion Magazine article, Marsh said, “These brave men and women have made sacrifices in the service. It is our duty to welcome them home and to assist them in the pursuit of the way of life they volunteered to defend.”
Heroes to Hometowns assistance also can be arranged through local American Legion post service officers who have received resource books to help prepare for the arrival of wounded veterans and establish support networks for them.
As it has done since 1919, the American Legion has stepped up with veterans helping veterans.
Phil Hermanek is a reporter for the Clarion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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