By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, July 26, 2006 – The Defense Department and the American Legion today pledged to mutually support a nationwide program that assists severely injured military veterans. American Legion National Commander Thomas L. Bock signs a memorandum of understanding outlining Legion interaction with the Defense Department in co-management of the Heroes to Hometowns program. Pictured on the right is Leslye Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense (military community and family policy), who also signed the agreement, at the Pentagon Military Severely Injured Center, July 26. The Heroes to Hometowns program assists former servicemembers who've been severely injured in the global war on terrorism.
The American Legion is in a unique position to partner with the Defense Department, the Veterans Affairs Department and other agencies to garner community support for severely injured servicemembers and their families, Leslye A. Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, said at a ceremony held at the Pentagon Military Severely Injured Center. Arsht and American Legion National Commander Thomas L. Bock signed a memorandum of understanding outlining each organization's respective roles in support of the "Heroes to Hometowns" program.
The Legion can help build relationships at the local level to assist injured servicemembers and their families in transitioning to civilian life, Arsht said. "It's a real honor and privilege for the American Legion to fit in on this," Bock said. "We're so proud to be able to join with you to do this," he told Arsht.
Arsht thanked Bock and his organization for their role in encouraging communities to welcoming military heroes home. "We very much look forward to working with you," she said. The Heroes to Hometowns program encourages local communities to prepare support programs for injured veterans and their families, said Pam Crespi, a civilian administrator in DoD's Morale, Welfare and Recreation Policy office who's knowledgeable about the program.
Community assistance may entail job searches, home remodeling, transportation requirements, or anything a family might need to transition back to civilian life, she said. The American Legion is a non-profit veterans-service organization that's active in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico, and the Philippines. The organization has 15,000 posts across the United States and overseas and boasts nearly 3 million members. The Legion's national headquarters is in Indianapolis, and it also has offices in Washington, D.C.
The American Legion is a perfect choice to partner with DoD to provide assistance for returning injured veterans because of their state networks and their local contacts, Crespi said.