American Legion national commander visits Brainerd
The national commander of the American Legion shared his priorities for the organization with dozens of area members in Brainerd Tuesday. Michael D. Helm, who was elected to the position last August, stopped at American Legion Post 255 as part of...
The national commander of the American Legion shared his priorities for the organization with dozens of area members in Brainerd Tuesday.
Michael D. Helm, who was elected to the position last August, stopped at American Legion Post 255 as part of a four-day tour of Legion posts throughout the state.
An Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War as part of the 82nd Airborne Division, Helm was welcomed with speeches by numerous Legionnaires, including Brainerd Post Commander Ed Spilman and Brainerd Mayor James Wallin, who said he's been a member of the Legion for 40 years.
Helm told the veterans and their families that it is up to the Legion and its members to ensure Americans remember the sacrifices of the nation's military. Some of his plans to further the mission are to continue emphasis on youth programs, reinvest in helping legal immigrants obtain U.S. citizenship, increase awareness of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder among the veteran population and to monitor organizational improvements within Veterans Health Administration (VA) hospitals and clinics.
"We continue to stand for a strong national defense," Helm told the crowd. "I'm not just talking about our military strength. ... What I'm talking about is how we treat our military families and make sure they have proper salaries, health benefits, housing and retirement. So those same quality people continue to be willing to step up and serve this country, and that they would be able to offer that service and not have to worry about how their family was being taken care of back home."
He said changes to how the VA system is administered and a nuanced approach to mental health treatment are keys to supporting military families.
When news of misconduct throughout the veterans' healthcare system came to light last spring, the American Legion called for the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. The new secretary, Robert A. McDonald, is addressing the needs of the system and ensuring more timely medical treatment, Helm said. Although he voiced concerns about the speed with which veteran claims and compensation for injuries are paid, he said the Legion will continue to support the VA medical system.
"We're just there to help the VA and encourage the VA to continue doing good things," Helm said following his speech. "We actually believe that the VA is a good, solid medical situation that we need to continue. We see some good gains happening within the VA right now."
One of the good things Helm pointed to is the Veterans Bridge to Recovery program, which according to the VA's website is a rehabilitation program for veterans with serious mental illnesses. The program focuses on goal-setting, education and community involvement as a means of recovery.
Helm said he is concerned about over-medication of veterans with mental health issues and traumatic brain injuries and in part attributed social problems such as homelessness and suicide to overuse of medication.
"You take our best and our brightest young men and women and then send them to war," he said. "Then, they're coming home from that war in that hopeless condition. That's just not right. We've got to do better."
Helm said there are numerous outcome-based treatments he would like to see utilized such as music therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and acupuncture.
"I really believe that in a family setting where the whole family can come in and talk about the issues ... we can come to a fuller recovery," he said.
Continuing to emphasize youth involvement within the American Legion will help to teach the country's children about the sacrifices made by veterans.
"As we work those programs, they become weaved into that fiber that we are a part of, that great fiber of America," he said. "And as we get old and we pass on, that fiber of America continues to remain strong."
Helm discussed his wish to increase the number of volunteer hours completed by members, particularly at VA facilities, but noted with an aging membership, obtaining this goal has become more difficult. He said flexibility in how posts operate is important to attracting younger membership. Incorporating technology, such as offering computers or Wii video game systems, is one way some posts are working to broaden interest.
"We just have to keep thinking of what's best for the American Legion family," he said.
Helm concluded his speech by encouraging the audience to continue serving their communities for the good of everyone.
"If you do your part in your community, then certainly your community is going to be OK, Minnesota is going to be OK, and this great country, America, is going to be OK," he said.
CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 855-5874 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .