By:Pat Smith Department Adjutant, as published in the December 2015 Issue of the Internet Observer
In recent years as the veterans from the Global War on Terror have returned to the civilian ranks it has become apparent that The American Legion needed to respond to the changing environment of veteran’s assistance. Many of our returning veterans have had multiple tours resulting in extreme hardships for the families they left behind. Many couples are a two veteran family which creates its own set of challenges. Unlike the returning Vietnam Vets most of them have children.
On a regular basis we are confronted with veterans who seek our assistance for just the basic subsistence needs. Many are in danger of losing their living quarters and are on the brink of homelessness. The kids need diapers, food and clothing. Some need help with keeping heat and electricity in the home. Many of these veterans have some sort of disability which causes them to be unable to find suitable work to support their families. Most of the time the compensation they receive is not enough to pay all of the bills.
Several years ago our Past Department Commander Jim Gates was concerned about the kids of these veterans. He sought a solution and started what is now known as the “Colorado Veterans Kids Fund, (CVKF).” He set out on a fund raising effort during his year to raise funds for this special account. One of his requirements was that 100% of the funds he raised would go exclusively to providing those basic subsistence needs. A special account was set up and in the course of a year he raised over $30,000. He set up a Department Committee to manage the money and make decisions on veterans qualified to receive the funds. To say it was successful is an understatement. This article is not long enough to tell you of the success stories of veterans we have helped but let me tell you one short story.
Young Veteran, wife, two kids aged 5 and 3 years old showed up at our office. They recently got an eviction notice and were facing homelessness. Veteran was disabled from his combat tour and waiting on his VA compensation. Wife had no income but was looking for work. Needed money for rent and food for kids. Darrell Myers, our Homelessness Veterans Chairman, and our staff processed the application and the CVKF could not provide the total amount needed so we sent a request to the national Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) program. We successfully provided the funds to give the family some breathing room. On the exit interview with me as Department Adjutant I noticed on the financial statement that they were paying $753 for a truck payment. I looked at the veteran and said, Really? No other words were spoken and they walked out the door knowing the American Legion was there for them.
About a year later we were at lunch at Village Inn. The bills came and I did not get one. The waitress told me that someone had paid my bill but was told not to tell me. As I was walking out the door I saw a veteran wearing a Marine baseball cap. He turned and looked at me and said, Hi, Mr. Smith do you remember me? I said tell me the story. He did and I asked him how they were doing. Great, he said he got his compensation and his wife is now working. As we were shaking hands and walking away he said, and oh by the way, I joined the American Legion and I got rid of the truck. Enough said.
Thanks to the strong leadership of Commander Gates this fund is still making a difference today in the lives of young veterans.
Fast forward to today. Our current Department Commander Tom Florez has looked at the success of the CVKF. His theme for the year is “Making a Difference.” He came to the obvious conclusion that not all veterans who need help have kids that qualify them for the fund. Tom worked for the Veterans Administration and came across many of those veterans. It seems that as the Vietnam generation is retiring and living on fixed income they also need financial assistance to keep the lights on and food on the table. So he decided that we need a new fund raising effort for this class of veterans. Patterned after the CVKF Tom’s new effort is called the “Colorado Veterans Assistance Fund, CVAF.” It seems we love acronyms. As Tom goes through his year he will be asking for donations to this fund. His goal is to exceed that $30,000 mark accomplished by Commander Gates. A little competition between commanders is good.
The need is great. Daily, Darrell Myers turns down 3, 4 and sometimes 5 veterans asking for assistance. These veterans don’t have young children living with them so don’t qualify for CVKF or TFA assistance. Daily we, The American Legion, whose mission is to help a veteran, are not able to successfully accomplish that mission. Your donation to the CVAF will provide a hotel room, food, gas for their car, help with their rent, the money won’t be there without your help.
To help raise those funds we have established a special page on our website, www.coloradolegion.org/donations/assistance/. Again 100% of the amount you donate will go directly to veterans. They will be no administrative charge against this fund. For donations of $100.00 or more you will receive a letter from us that may qualify you for a tax deduction.
Both of these funds are meant to help veterans in the State of Colorado. But we cannot do it all alone. We have 165 American Legion Posts spread out in our communities. We know veterans are everywhere. We know some will need assistance. We know that assistance to veterans is our mission in life. In fact, in 1926 the then National Adjutant put our mission statement in just 3 words. REHAB: THE HEARTBEAT. Taking care of veterans and their families is what makes us tick.
Our Department Commander wants all of our American Legion posts to make a difference in veteran’s lives. Ask your Post Commander if your post has any kind of financial assistance available to help veterans in need. If not work to establish one similar to our CVKF and the CVAF. Together we can make a difference.
My best to all of you during the Christmas and holiday season. Make sure Santa Clause comes to a needy veteran family near you.