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American Legion National Commander Thomas Bock spoke with veterans at Okinawa’s American Legion Post 28 last week.
American Legion National Commander Thomas Bock spoke with veterans at Okinawa’s American Legion Post 28 last week. (Courtesy of the American Legion)

KITANAKAGUSUKU, Okinawa — The federal government must provide better care for America’s veterans while also preserving its national symbols, the American Legion’s national commander told veterans Thursday.

Commander Thomas Bock spoke with veterans at Okinawa’s American Legion Post 28 last week as part of a tour of military communities in Asia.

Afterward, he talked about several issues the legion is lobbying for before Congress, ranging from more funding for VA hospitals to a constitutional amendment against flag desecration.

The budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs is subject to a tough annual appropriations battle, Bock said. The Legion is pushing for “assured funding” to prop up annual budget levels, Bock said.

He cited a Maine hospital that he said had to divert funds from its construction budget to fund health-care costs as an example of the need for assured funding.

“Without the construction funding, they had to put up a wire mesh to keep the bricks from falling,” Bock said. “That’s not the way you take care of your heroes.”

Meanwhile, the VA is increasing the health-care burden on veterans, he said. The department recently said it planned to raise prescription drug prices by $1 each month until prices double.

“If they do this once, that means they’re going to do it again next year, and then the year after that,” Bock said. “I know people who have 12 to 15 prescriptions. They’re going to have to make a decision between food and health.”

That difficult choice could be made easier if the administration would allow VA hospitals to accept Medicare coverage, he said, adding that the VA’s budget would increase because of the Medicare income, and veterans could fully use their retirement benefits through the VA.

Along with the health-care battles, The American Legion is doing battle against several issues promoted by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Bock says that an assault on “American values” began in 1989 when the Supreme Court invalidated flag desecration laws in most states by declaring it protected speech.

“For us, (the flag) is much more than a piece of cloth,” said Carol Van Kirk, president of the American Legion Auxiliary, a group open to female family members of servicemembers that provides help for member families with servicemembers deployed overseas. “It represents freedom all over the world.”

Both the American Legion and the auxiliary are lobbying for a constitutional amendment to allow states to pass laws against flag desecration. They also are fighting legislative and court battles to keep the Pledge of Allegiance and its “under God” wording in schools, and are opposing a movement to remove “in God we trust” from U.S. currency.

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