Since last October when the National Executive Committee (NEC) of The American Legion met for Fall Meetings, more than $1 million in American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) grants was awarded to Coast Guard families during the government shutdown, the LEGION Act was introduced in the House, the Legion’s 100th anniversary commemorative coin series was released and The American Legion turned 100.
In his opening remarks to the NEC Wednesday morning, National Commander Brett Reistad commended the departments who helped process TFA applications for Coast Guard families and gave generously to The American Legion’s Veterans and Children Foundation, which make TFA grants possible, and he encouraged leadership to ask their senators and representatives to support the LEGION Act. He too paid respect to “an outstanding national commander, tremendous veterans’ advocate and a great friend,” Past National Commander William Detweiler, who passed away March 27 at age 79.
The LEGION Act (Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act) has been introduced in the Senate and House; the legislation would allow any veteran who served honorably under federal orders since World War II to join The American Legion. While it would open membership eligibility to hundreds of thousands of veterans, Reistad emphasized that it’s not the solution to improving membership numbers … engagement is.
The week leading up to the Legion’s 100th birthday, Reistad called for posts, districts, counties and departments to coordinate teams and make “Buddy Checks” by calling Legionnaires and former members simply to see how they are doing.
“I truly believe, and I know it to be true, that those participating in buddy checks will see positive results,” Reistad said and added that the Department of New Hampshire is encouraging posts to contact at least 10 percent of their members each month.
Reistad also reinforced the need to be inclusive and “root out ageism.”
“Veterans of every demographic need to feel welcome in our American Legion Family. It goes without saying that men and women who meet our eligibility requirements need to be welcomed regardless of their ethnicity, religion or orientation. And do they have equal opportunities to advance at the post, district, department and national levels?”
As for age discrimination, Reistad said it runs two ways. “We all love to see new, young members but that never excuses pushing out the experienced, loyal members who have served their country and their American Legion for many years,” he said. “We will always have the common bond of military service and we need to ensure that the bond continues in service to The American Legion.”
Reistad ended his remarks by addressing suicide awareness as May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. While suicide is a nationwide health issue, especially among veterans, it also effects law enforcement, said Reistad, a retired police lieutenant.
“Just like our military members, they risk their lives for us every day that they wear their uniforms. In 2018, more law enforcement officers died by suicide than in the line of duty. The similarities between the life of a police officer and that of a solider are uncanny.
“Our American Legion founders valued law enforcement so highly that they made 'maintain law and order' the second principle cited in our Preamble.”
Reistad is “impressed” with posts that support first responders through volunteerism, financial assistance, American Legion law officer of the year awards and Youth Cadet Law Enforcement programs.
“We should see more of it. Not just because I think it will help attract new American Legion members but because I think it’s the right thing to do.
The NEC met May 8 and the morning of Thursday, May 9. In his closing remarks to the NEC on Thursday, Reistad applauded them for adopting Resolution 18, which calls for Buddy Checks to continue twice a year (Legion Birthday and Veterans Day). "Checking on our fellow and past Legionnaires is something that we should be doing anyway," Reistad said. And he applauded the NEC' for the adoption of Resolution 11, which opposes VA of charging co-payments to veterans for treatment of service-connected disabilities.
"Veterans have no greater advocates than our American Legion. We are Team 100!"