National Commander Coronavirus Updates

26 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

I’ve been hearing many great reports about The American Legion’s response to COVID-19 in communities across the country.

Legionnaires in the Blue Grass State have been making people feel, well, less blue. American Legion Post 23 in Bowling Green, Ky., teamed up with our friends in the Good Deeds Club and the Marine Corps League to provide a free hot breakfast by setting up a drive-through in its parking lot earlier this week. According to a report by local station WNKY, the first 200 drivers received sausage, biscuits, coffee donuts and toilet paper. These volunteers did it once again this morning.

Feel free to share these great stories by submitting them to www.legiontown.org or jraughter@legion.org.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

26 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

The American Legion is full of knowledgeable experts but our organization does not offer medical advice. That is best left for your personal physician.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is including much of its response information and services on its va.gov website. Included is this piece of advice:

“If you’re a Veteran seeking medical care, call your VA health facility if you have symptoms of the virus. Or sign in to My HealtheVet and send a secure message. You may be able to get diagnosed and receive care through VA telehealth without having to come in at all.”

Bill Oxford

National Commander

25 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Many times I have mentioned the importance of conducting Buddy Checks throughout this crisis. It is especially vital that we check on senior citizens. Legion College graduate Jennifer Gedney Havlick (Class of 2018) has brought it to a new level. A member of Post 109 in Twin Harbors, Minn., she has formulated a plan called Enhanced Buddy Checks. (click here)

It includes organizing response teams with captains, daily morale calls, and shopping for those who are self-quarantined. Even tasks such as bringing trash cans to the curb are not overlooked. Performing these tasks for others can save lives to those who may be especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

In its early stages, Buddy Checks were seen as a way to improve communication. During this national emergency, it is more important than ever before.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

25 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Your national headquarters is still operating, albeit quite differently, during this national emergency. The staff is complying with local authorities and working remotely from home. Many are still learning to use recently acquired communication tools such as Vonage and Office-365, so please patient if the service and response isn’t as prompt as it has been in the past.

The Emblem Sales call center is closed but customers can email emblem@legion.org and available staff will respond as quickly as possible. Orders may be placed online at emblem.legion.org but shipping delays can be expected during this time. Our printing and production shop will still process membership cards on time.

Thank you for your understanding.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

24 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

A review of our 101-year history offers convincing proof that The American Legion does not decide to cancel national meetings or programs lightly. We understand their importance. The meetings are used as a forum for our membership through their National Executive Committee members to set policy, agendas and vision. Our programs build character.

However, the safety and health of our participants, volunteers and staff must be our top priority. The staff at our national headquarters in Indianapolis has been complying with a directive from the state’s governor to stay home. They have been working remotely so they can continue to serve our members. The same for our Washington, D.C., office.

The decision to cancel the spring meetings of the National Executive Committee is a safety measure intended to limit the exposure and spread of COVID-19. I intend to continue regular communications with the National Executive Committee and the 55 departments through telephone, email and other means.

The cancellation of the National Oratorical Finals, the Junior Shooting Sports championships and Boys Nation should not be interpreted as our assessment of how conditions will be in the coming months. It is intended to remove pressure from the departments and posts who normally conduct earlier local competitions and Boys State programs, which feed into the national programs.

We are still assessing plans for the American Legion Baseball World Series and the national convention. Rest assured that decisions for those events will not be made prematurely but only after thoughtful deliberation based on what occurs in the coming months.

We will get through this because we are The American Legion and we rise to any challenge.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

24 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

When a crisis faces a community, The American Legion has an amazing record of response. We’ve seen this in natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other tragedies. The current national emergency offers unique challenges that we have not faced in modern times. Yet, there are American Legion posts still providing support that can make a vital difference.

Post 28 in Spartanburg, S.C., has become a relief center of sorts. By providing coloring books and board games, they are helping families battle cabin fever that is likely to grow as the pandemic continues. Even more importantly, the post has a food pantry directed toward those who may have lost their jobs or incomes due to the economic shutdown.

The post isn’t limiting its assistance to Legionnaires or even veterans. “If you have a need, we’ll feed you,” Mike Fowler, the activities and chef for Post 28 told the Spartanburg Herald Journal.

We live in an amazing country. And I am humbled to lead an amazing organization.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

23 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

As you may have heard, The American Legion has cancelled its 2020 National Oratorical Contest. Cancelling such a great and worthy program is difficult but when it comes to the safety of the competitors, volunteers and staff, it is a no-brainer.

Today, the Indiana governor recommended all non-essential personnel “stay home.” Many other states are operating under similar orders.

If you are able, please donate blood. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said, “You can still go out and give blood. We’re worried about potential blood shortages in the future. Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement.”

President Trump has compared this pandemic to a war. Given the seriousness, it seems appropriate. Giving blood is another way for American Legion Family members to contribute to the war effort.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

23 March 20, Morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Late last week Congress passed emergency legislation ensuring the continuation of GI Bill benefits through the current COVID-19 crisis. The temporary shutdown of schools does not mean that the needs of the student veteran are also suspended. These veterans will still need to eat. Rent will still need to be paid along with other essential living expenses. Online learning will still occur at many of the traditional universities and colleges.

It was The American Legion that created the original GI Bill and we have championed all of the later versions that have occurred in the 76 years since the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. While the original was widely credited for helping America prosper following the Great Depression and World War II, the current generation of veterans may also rely heavily on this benefit due to the economic hardships that are already being inflicted as a result of this global pandemic.

Many of our fellow Americans will face financial difficulties in the coming weeks and months. Our programs will be needed but even those funds have limits. Small gestures help. I often hear about posts that have helped pick-up the dues for struggling members. Some do so for World War II veterans. Others award complimentary memberships to active-duty military. Resources may be limited, but the generosity of our American Legion Family is always in abundant supply. It’s just another example of why I am proud to be a Legionnaire.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

20 March 20, Afternoon

Dear American Legion Family,

Your Washington-based staff has been communicating regularly with the Department of Veterans Affairs. During a conference call yesterday, VA reported that screening is happening at its facilities and patients are limited to one visitor. No visitors under age 18 allowed. These rules might be difficult for families to accept but they are necessary for the safety of all concerned.

VA also says it has the capacity to meet demand for increased testing. The estimated period to obtain results is two-to-eight days.

The American Legion repeatedly says VA offers great care. During this crisis, VA will be tested like never before. I believe Americans will have a new appreciation for this System Worth Saving.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

20 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

I saw an interesting Facebook meme that reminds people that not all heroes wear capes. Many don’t even wear uniforms. They wear scrubs. I couldn’t agree more.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

19 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Despite some notable and well-publicized exceptions, The American Legion has long-believed that the Department of Veterans Affairs offers the “best health care anywhere.”

Under normal circumstances, VA is for veterans. However, during this national emergency, VA is a crucial player in our nation’s ability to respond to the coronavirus. Delegates to our 2016 National Convention in Cincinnati wisely passed a resolution urging Congress to provide VA with the necessary funding to enhance its ability to respond to national emergencies.

Media outlets report that VA is preparing to request more than $16 billion in new funding to respond to the threat. Given the stakes, we hope the request is given serious consideration.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

19 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

In a Department of Defense COVID-19 Update provided early yesterday, the military reported 49 cases of coronavirus among its uniformed members. By the time you read this, it has undoubtedly gone up. Maybe by a lot.

National Guardsmen were providing support to civil authorities in 22 states. These citizen-soldiers do amazing work on our behalf through every major crisis, disaster and emergency. As do the personnel on Navy hospital ships, which are deploying on both of our coasts. Remember that members of every branch have family at home that they also care deeply about and are as much at risk as the rest of the general public. But yet, our servicemembers still continue on with mission. Just as they always have, throughout our history.

Pray for our military. They are America’s true treasure.

18 March 20, afternoon

The American Legion believes there is strength in numbers. We emphasize growth in membership and participation in our great programs.

However, public safety requires the opposite approach for now. Our numbers must continue to grow, but our gatherings should not. President Trump and his team of health care experts are advising Americans to avoid crowds of more than 10 people. Let’s be smart about this. Video-conferencing and telephones are options for us to continue meeting and bonding as Legion Family members. Our comradeship will continue even if there is some social distancing required. And just like every other crisis that our world has faced, this too shall pass.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

18 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

Channeling the late Mr. Rogers, actor Tom Hanks recently tweeted about “helpers,” the people who are assisting others as we all face this global crisis.

Our organization is full of helpers. A recent Instagram message from Raymond Bernucho, a Legionnaire from Post 38 in Baton Rouge, La., caught my attention. It stated, “I’m a long haul driver with U.S. Express working (a) dedicated route for Walmart. Since this crisis has begun all of the drivers delivering to all the stores, no matter what type of store…Walmart, Target, etc., have been working to keep up with the demands of the people of this country so that (it) can survive and make it thru this world pandemic.

“I feel as though I’m back in the Army, serving this country once and again and it truly feels good for me to be of service not only to my fellow Legionnaires but to the people of this country. So let’s take some time out to get on our knees and pray for all of this to be taken away by God’s mercy. Let us also take time to go help our elderly brothers and sisters who are not able to get…food, medicine or need a ride to their doctor.”

Raymond, I couldn’t have said it better. Thank you helper.

Bill Oxford

National Commander

17 March 20, afternoon

Buddy Checks. This outreach program intended to check on the wellbeing of our fellow veterans is more important now than ever before. Health officials tell us that seniors are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of the coronavirus. They also remain some of the toughest Legionnaires that I have known. Some of them survived the Great Depression and World War II. They should be first on our list of buddies to check on.

We have to be creative. Nursing homes have wisely stopped visitation. Talk to administrators about whether they are assisting patients so they have access to Facetime, Skype or other video-calling technology. Even a simple phone call will do. American Legion Post 330 in Hayfield, Minn., for instance, has collected toilet paper for the elderly. There are many other posts that are stepping up during this crisis. That’s what we in The American Legion do.

--Bill Oxford

National Commander

17 March 20, morning

Dear American Legion Family,

You will be receiving many regular updates from me throughout the coronavirus crisis. I previously announced that The American Legion has suspended all official travel of our national officers and staff through the month of April. Though I am home in North Carolina, I am still actively engaged and plan to communicate with you regularly.

National Headquarters has received numerous requests from American Legion departments and posts who are concerned about closures and curfews. My advice: be patient. Mistakes will be made, but your safety is what is motivating national and local authorities to take these measures. The Preamble to The American Legion Constitution includes the pledge, “to maintain law and order.” We are a law-abiding organization.

It will be tough, but we will get through this. If you need motivation, think about our World War II veterans. They were tough as nails and survived the Great Depression. I will have more to say about them later. We will talk soon.

Bill Oxford

National Commander