American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett visited Batavia Friday and spoke with veterans at the VA Center.
His Fall Meetings in communities nationwide are aimed at publicizing three things, primarily: the Walk with Veterans campaign to raise awareness about veterans; the VA healthcare system and its value; and role the Amercian Legion plays in fighting for veterans' rights regarding education, jobs, and mental health/reintegration services.
He told the local group that he believes the Veterans Administration is a system worth saving, that it provides greatly needed services for veterans and their families.
Barnett mentioned the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act, which the legion successfully lobbied in favor of, state licensing credits, the expanded GI Bill of Rights and new educational opportunties, including the ability to transfer educational benefits to spouse or children.
"We're fighting for benefits that affect them," he said. "We fight for veterans and their families."
Asked about efforts to shore up declining membership, especially among younger vets, Barnett said education and awareness are key. They can't help fix problem if they aren't aware of them.
Since active duty military personnel and National Guards reservists can't lobby legislators about proposed defense cuts, Barnett said, so it's imperative that newly retired and non-active personnel fill that gap, both for the sake of U.S. safety and preparedness, and the benefits and services at stake.
Asked about the alarming rate of suicides among young veterans, he noted that every day 22 veterans take their life. Barnett said the VA is branching out in its efforts to help self-healing, "with less reliance on narcotics, over-medication that may have occurred in hospitals nationwide."
Plus, they've help develop creative programs to help war-weary vets meld back into society and overcome bad experiences, citing a program that pairs vets with horses in Saratoga and another equine program in Montana. There's also the "Dogs for Heroes" program.
And no one is better suited to understanding the wounds of war better than other veterans, Barnett said.
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