By Ralph Bozella, NEC

The Colorado American Legion Family was well represented at the 2011American Legion National Legislative Conference held in our nation’s capitol, March 19-23, 2011. The American Legion Department of Colorado was represented by Department Commander Rick Friend, Alternate NEC Neal Thomas, Department Chaplain Richard Humphrey, District 5 DEC Steve Carter, National Cemetery Committee Chairman Doug Wooddell, and team leaders Past Department Commander Frank McCurdy and NEC Ralph Bozella. Department Auxiliary President Karen Wessling and Secretary Lynn Cody joined SAL Detachment Commander Pete Sierminski and SAL National Membership Chairman Mike Moss to complete the department team.

The weekend was productive with meetings and wreath placements at solemn national monuments like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Vietnam Memorial by SAL and Auxiliary members from across the country. American Legion Family members were invited to meet the national commander candidates at their receptions held at American Legion Post 136 in Greenbelt Maryland.

Monday was a day of learning at meetings and seminars sponsored by various commissions and committees of the national organizations. Two highlights of these meetings included a seminar on a Veterans Treatment Court and a Women Veterans Panel, where Purple Heart recipient L. Tammy Duckworth, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs, made a great impression. Monday evening was highlighted by a reception at the U.S. State Department attended by Past Department Commander McCurdy and NEC Bozella.

National Commander Jimmie Foster brought the conference to a highpoint Tuesday morning at the Commander’s Call where keynote speakers Assistant Secretary Department of Labor Ray Jefferson, and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki addressed the attendees. U.S. Representative Jason Altmire, D-Pa., received a Special Recognition Award from The American Legion in appreciation of his personal commitment to help homeless veterans and for his introduction of legislation aimed at improving the lives of those who have served in uniform. Following the Commander’s Call the two teams of Colorado American Legion Family members went to Capitol Hill for scheduled meetings with staff members of Colorado U.S. Representatives and Senators. Legislative talking points included the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution needed to fund the government which holds the appropriations for the new VA Medical Center at Fitzsimons. Other important items discussed included jobs for veterans, the Caregiver Act (PL 111-163), oversight of the VA healthcare and benefits systems, the Disabled Veterans Tax, the Flag Amendment, and the VA and Department of Defense budgets. The meetings lasted throughout the day and team members were able to meet for a group dinner Tuesday night to debrief.

The American Legion national office hosts this conference each year so that members of the American Legion Family can interact with government leaders in Washington D.C. and impress upon them the need to continue to support veterans health care and benefits through legislation and budgeting. Our organization is well respected in the Halls of Congress because of the work done by everyday legionnaires, auxiliary members and sons. It is truly an honor to represent the Department of Colorado at this event and you can rest assured that those of us in attendance worked hard to represent Colorado. Please feel free to contact NEC Bozella or Alternate NEC Thomas for more information about our national organization.