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American Legion News

‘Our goal is to get back': 2023 ALWS champs gear up for new season

With 11 returning players from his 2023 American Legion World Series championship team, League City (Tex.) Post 554 coach Ronnie Oliver has high hopes for the 2024 season.

"We know to just get there two years in a row is tough," Oliver said of his team that became Texas' first ALWS champions last season. "We know we've got a big target on our back and we've got our work cut out for us to get back there again. But we've got some returning players who know what it takes to get there and what it takes to win, so our goal is to get back to the World Series."

League City has a chance to join select company as they pursue a third straight ALWS appearance.

Only nine teams have reached the ALWS three or more consecutive years:

·       Billings, Mont. (1960-62);

·       Rio Piedras, P.R. (1972-74);

·       Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1974-76);

·       Santa Monica, Calif. (1976-78);

·       Boyertown, Pa. (1986-88);

·       Brooklawn, N.J. (1998-2001 and 2011-15);

·       Waipahu, Hawaii (2013-15);

·       Randolph County, N.C. (2017-19);

·       Idaho Falls, Idaho (2019, 2021, 2022; the 2020 ALWS was canceled due to the pandemic.)

"We've got some holes to fill but I'm optimistic about the ones coming back," Oliver said. "If we fill some gaps, we'll have a team to compete for it."

Of the 11 returning players, five started in last year's 1-0 championship game victory over Lincoln, Neb.: catcher Tyler Robinson, first baseman Brice Smith, third baseman Jackson Higgins, left fielder Erik Anchondo and designated hitter Scott Martinez.

Other returning players are Tyler Austin, Alec Beversdorf, Braden Castle, Alex Kudler, Logan Sanders and James Shuttlesworth. Higgins (.387 in national competition last season), Smith (.310) and Martinez (.280) are the top returning hitters and Austin, Beversdorf, Castle and Shuttlesworth all got starts in the ALWS with Austin, Beversdorf, Castle, Martinez and Smith logging innings on the mound. Higgins also was the 2023 ALWS all-tournament third baseman.

"Hopefully, some of these kids coming back that were backups will have maybe a year of college in them and will be improved," Oliver said of his team. "I saw them at Christmas when we had a banquet and some of them have put on some muscle.

"I know we've got big holes to fill but they could fill some of them."

George W. Rulon American Legion Baseball Player of the Year Jacob Cyr, the left-handed pitcher who threw two shutouts — including a no-hitter in the 2023 ALWS opener — is among the departed players. Also gone will be 2023 All-ALWS outfielder Kyeler Thompson, who scored the lone run in the title game.

Oliver knows he can't control whether or not fortune shines favorably on his team this season.

"For me to watch what was going on last year was a blessing," Oliver said. "It was something really great because I've had teams they were even better or equal who didn't make the right plays at the right time and get the right hits at the right time.

"That team was special. They played the game the right way. And, you know, everything bounced our way from state to regionals and then the World Series. It just seemed that everything clicked."

Among the perks of winning the ALWS is a trip to the Major League World Series. League City were special guests at Game 2 last October in Arlington, Texas.

For Oliver and his team, seeing the game was special but their off-field interactions may have meant more, including volunteering at a Play Ball clinic at the Texas Rangers Youth Academy.

"All the boys had a great time," Oliver said. "I think they enjoyed the camp they got to work more than the actual game. They enjoyed the game, but they had a blast doing the camp."

And for Oliver, he got to renew a longtime personal relationship as he's known Diamondbacks' bench coach Jeff Banister for more than 40 years.

"His dad (Bob) coached me (at La Marque, Tex., High School) and I know the whole family," Oliver said. "So it's pretty cool to see somebody from your high school sitting on the bench in the World Series."

 

‘Hangover' actor Rob Riggle joins American Legion podcast

Marine Corps veteran, "The Hangover" actor and comedian Rob Riggle talks about his service, work as an entertainer and more on this week's episode of The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast. And you don't want to miss the "involuntary balloon raise."

Riggle, a retired lieutenant colonel, served for 23 years and earned more than 20 medals and ribbons. His deployments include Albania, Kosovo, Liberia and Afghanistan. 

"I wouldn't trade a thing. I would take all the pain, all the mistakes, all the blunders, all the foolish things I may or may not have done," said Riggle, a member of American Legion Post 43 in Hollywood, Calif. "I wouldn't trade it because that is how you grow. I don't know anyone who was born perfect."

In addition to "The Hangover," his movie credits include "Dumb and Dumber To," "The Other Guys," "Let's Be Cops," and "Step Brothers." He has served as a correspondent on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" (2006-08) and as a key player on "Saturday Night Live" (2004-05).  

Riggle recalls a time when he was about to depart for a "Daily Show" gig as part of a USO tour to the Forward Operating Bases around Iraq and Kuwait. "We were out there in the tip of the spear, which I think was kind of fun because those soldiers and Marines don't generally get USO shows," he said.

Before they departed, Jon Stewart pulled Riggle aside to ask what his plans were. Riggle explained that he planned to do his stand-up act and some comedy sketches, to which Stewart offered some advice.

"Talk to them about their life. That's what they want to hear about."

Riggle set the advice aside and stuck to his original plan for the first show in Kuwait. "It wasn't like a bomb but I don't think it rocked," he remembered. "So I went back and sat down and wrote out 15 things about their life. I did it the next night and it just killed. You just have to talk to them about what matters to them. It made a huge difference. That's the best advice I ever got."

In addition to restarting his own podcast, Riggle recently completed shooting two movies.  He is also a co-commentator on ABC's extreme mini-golf series "Holey Moley."

"We all need a purpose and mine is acting and comedy," he said. "I feel like I contribute that way."

Additionally, co-hosts Ashley Gutermuth and Stacy Pearsall also:

• Correct a misconception about younger veterans and whether they are a fit with The American Legion.

• Discuss what common foods were invented by the military.

• Riff on why ants don't have lungs.

• Reveal which branch was the most common among the 31 presidents with military service.

Check out this week's episode, which is among more than 220 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion's YouTube channel.

Five Things to Know, Feb. 19, 2024

1.   U.S. maritime forces on Saturday conducted five self-defense strikes targeting Iranian-backed Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, U.S. Central Command announced Sunday. CENTCOM successfully conducted strikes against three mobile anti-ship cruise missiles, one unmanned underwater vessel (UUV) and one unmanned surface vessel (USV). It was the first observed Houthi employment of a UUV since attacks began in Oct. 23, according to CENTCOM.

2.   Two young citizen-soldiers who became close friends after enlisting in the Army Reserve were remembered at funerals in southeast Georgia on Saturday, nearly three weeks after they died in a drone attack while deployed to the Middle East. A service for 24-year-old Sgt. Kennedy Sanders was held in the packed 1,200-seat auditorium of Ware County Middle School in Waycross. A similar welcome marked the final homecoming for Sgt. Breonna Moffett, 23, in Savannah. Moffett's funeral at a Baptist church was scheduled for the same time Saturday as Sanders' service 100 miles (161 kilometers) away.

3.   The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Monday was denied access to a morgue where his body was believed to be kept after his death in an Arctic penal colony, and Navalny's allies accused authorities of trying to hide evidence. Navalny's spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said that the Investigative Committee, the country's top criminal investigation agency, informed Lyudmila Navalnaya that the cause of her son's death remained unknown and that the official probe had been extended. "They lie, buy time for themselves and do not even hide it," Yarmysh posted on X, formerly Twitter.

4.   Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday brushed off growing calls to halt the military offensive in Gaza, vowing to "finish the job" as a member of his War Cabinet threatened to invade the southern city of Rafah if remaining Israeli hostages are not freed by the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Israel's government has not publicly discussed a timeline for a ground offensive on Rafah, where more than half the enclave's 2.3 million Palestinians have sought refuge. Retired general Benny Gantz, part of Netanyahu's three-member War Cabinet, represents an influential voice but not the final word on what might lie ahead.

5.   Every day a lone bugler stands at the World War I Memorial across the plaza from a statue of Army Gen. John Pershing. The bugler salutes the American flag, lifts a simple brass instrument without valves or keys, and sounds the 24 distinctive notes of taps — the universal call sounded at dusk at U.S. military installations across the world. To commemorate Presidents Day on Monday, the nonprofit Doughboy Foundation will recognize the 1,000th time that taps is performed since the memorial opened three years ago at 1400 Pennsylvania Ave. across from the White House visitor center.

‘Freezing for a Reason': to help homeless veterans

Fortunately for those participating in the Freezing for a Reason event outside American Legion Trier-Puddy Post 75 in Fond du Lac, Wis., the weather on the evening of Feb. 10 wasn't as bad as it could have been.

But the 20-degree weather was a reminder of just how difficult it can be for homeless veterans who must sleep outside on a nightly basis.

Freezing for a Reason "was carried out with the purpose of raising awareness of the veterans' homelessness crisis as well as raising funds to support homeless and at-risk veterans in our community," said Shawn McCrary, commander of SAL Squadron 75 and one of the event organizers.

Over 20 Legionnaires, Sons and Auxiliary members, as well as members of other veterans groups, spent the night of Feb. 10 in cardboard boxes and tents. That was part of a weekend of events aimed at raising awareness and donations to the cause.

Also on Saturday night, the post served a spaghetti dinner before the Fond du Lac Bears amateur hockey game, where the post's honor guard presented the colors. That was followed Sunday morning by a pancake breakfast.

In addition to those braving the cold Saturday night, hundreds attended the weekend activities. Freezing for a Reason raised nearly $11,000 to help homeless veterans; McCrary said more pledges were on the way.

Before the event, Mark Nesbitt, an Army veteran and one of the organizers, told Spectrum News this would be a way to help the homeless veterans in Wisconsin.

"We can't pay everything, but at least we can give them help that they need," Nesbitt said.

 

Navy Reservist: The Legion Riders saved my life

Stephani Williamson was in a bad place in 2023.

Her mother had passed away, and she went through a divorce. But at a point where she said she'd become emotionally numb, she met a group of American Legion Riders at Chapter 149 in Escondido, Calif., who changed her life. Literally.

Williamson, currently in her 17th year serving in the U.S. Navy Reserve, shared her experience with the riders in the American Legion Friends Facebook group when she was taking part in the group's Be the One chat. It came in the form of a few simple sentences, but it captured exactly how Williamson felt:

"The Riders changed my life! I got to ride along with them and become part of that family. It really pulled me out of my depression and start to find myself. I don't think I'd be here today if it wasn't for them."

One of the page's administrators, Whitney Smith McIntosh, was in the chat and reached out to Williamson, asking if she could share the message on other Facebook pages.

McIntosh – the Department of Iowa chaplain, adjutant at American Legion Post 682 in Altoona and secretary for Baldwin-Patterson American Legion Riders Chapter 274 in Des Moines – wanted to make fellow Legion Riders aware of the impact they have on others.

"I wanted to show, ‘Hey, look guys, this is what we're doing,'" McIntosh said. "I love the Legion. They're my family. But I love the Riders. If there's anything I can do to further the Riders, I'll do it."

Williamson is in the process of joining American Legion Post 93 in Camp Verde, Ariz., and said she'd recently moved to the state when she connected with Chapter 149 while attending a dinner at the post with her son.

Because of lower back injuries that have caused nerve damage, Williamson cannot ride on her own, and while talking with the Riders she remarked how much she'd still like to be able to get on a bike.

That's when the Riders invited her on their next ride. At first, she rode on the back of a friend's trike, but on later rides she rode as a passenger of different Legion Riders.

"They're all my big brothers," Williamson said of the group. "They let me come on rides with them. I've done poker runs with them. All but one of my kids have gone on rides. They've even given each of my kids nicknames."

Williamson said meeting the Riders helped her turn her life around. "They were just a godsend to me," she said. "I was going through my mother's passing and pretty much just became a shell. The antidepressants I was on, they made me feel nothing.

"Riding was so much more than just riding to me. You're not on your phone, you're not multi-tasking. You're not doing anything but sitting there and taking in the scenery and maybe listening to music. It would take the first 10-20 minutes of the ride to calm me, and then … there were times when I literally could imagine my mom flying right there beside us."

But Chapter 149 provided Williamson with more than time on the road. "These guys helped me when I finally decided to leave my husband," she said. "They are the ones that through a trailer on the back of one of their trucks and came over to help me load everything up. They literally just became family."

Eventually, Williamson got connected with the American Legion Friends Facebook group. McIntosh said the group's Be the One chat was set up as a forum for members of the group to ask questions about Be the One and receive mentoring. It also serves as a way to get members who might be approaching crisis mode to get local assistance.

"Let's say if I ran into someone who needed immediate help but they're in Arizona," McIntosh said. "I would hop on the chat and say, ‘Hey, who here is from Arizona? I have somebody who needs you.' And we would kind of branch out like that."

But McIntosh said the chat now has evolved into a "share your stories chat." And that's where Williamson shared hers.

"I saw everyone was talking about suicide prevention. And it reminded me of (the experiences with Chapter 149)," Williamson said. "When I was at my very lowest, these guys and gals, they pulled me out of that. They gave me a family I could count on and a purpose. It kind of woke me up and feel like I wanted to be a part of the Legion and be a part of programs like that.

"From there, it was just a trickle of events that have completely altered the course of my life to being the amazing life I have now. And it all started with being outside talking to two motorcycle riders."

User-friendly dental care products

LEARN HOW YOUR PLANNED GIFT CAN HELP THE AMERICAN LEGION

I have arthritis and experience hand tremors that make brushing my teeth difficult. I have read that electric toothbrushes can help. What should I consider before buying one?

An electric toothbrush can be a practical choice to maintain oral hygiene for individuals who suffer from arthritis or have other hand weaknesses or tremors. At the push of a button, an electric toothbrush takes care of the cleaning for you. Most come with a wide, slightly weighted handle and rubberized grip that make them easier and more comfortable to hold.

How to Choose With dozens of different electric toothbrushes on the market today, here are some points to consider before making a choice.

Cost The cost of electric toothbrushes ranges from approximately $10 for a basic model with replaceable AA batteries, to more than $200 for models with numerous features including rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, multiple brushing modes, smartphone integrations and more.

Brushing action Brush heads tend to be either "oscillating" or "sonic." Oscillating brushes are commonly a circle that rotate back and forth. Bristles may also pulsate in and out. Sonic means the brush heads vibrate side to side or rotate, but at much faster speeds. Both methods are effective and a matter of personal preference.

Electric vs. battery A brush with a built-in rechargeable battery and an electric charging station may be preferable since they are more convenient and cost-effective than toothbrushes with replaceable batteries. For toothbrushes with replaceable batteries, rechargeable options may be a helpful long-term swap for disposable batteries.

Brushing timer Since most dentists recommend brushing for two minutes (most adults average about 45-70 seconds), consider opting for an electric toothbrush with a built-in timer, a feature found in most models. Some brushes will even split the two minutes into four 30-second intervals and will notify you when it is time to switch to a different quadrant of your mouth.

Extra features Higher-priced electric brushes come with extra features like cleaning modes, pressure sensors, a charge-level display and more. There are even "smart" toothbrushes that connect to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth to track brushing habits.

Easier Flossing Tools If traditional flossing has become a challenge, floss picks serve as a convenient alternative. Floss picks are disposable plastic-handle tools that have floss threaded onto them, which makes them easier to hold and use. Several brands offer packs of floss picks at an affordable price, and many come with the option of a toothbrush-like handle for better reach.

Another flossing product that is user-friendly is the water flosser, which uses high-pressured pulsating water to remove food particles and plaque, and will stimulate your gums in the process. There are a variety of water flossing products at prices ranging between $50 and $300. These dental care products can be found at your local pharmacy or retailer that sells personal care items, or online.

"Savvy Living" is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to NBC's "Today Show." The column, and others like it, is available to read via The American Legion's Planned Giving program, a way of establishing your legacy of support for the organization while providing for your current financial needs. Learn more about the process, and the variety of charitable programs you can benefit, at legion.org/plannedgiving. Clicking on "Learn more" will bring up an "E-newsletter" button, where you can sign up for regular information from Planned Giving.

Sailors can finally put their hands in their pockets, as Navy unveils changes to uniform rules

The Navy has lifted its ban on sailors keeping their hands in their pockets along with other uniform changes announced Wednesday in an updated service policy.

"Sailors are authorized to have hands in their pockets [and] when doing so does not compromise safety nor prohibit the proper rendering of honors and courtesies," the service memo said. The policy changes take effect immediately, which resulted from feedback from sailors and requests from commanders, the memo said.

The Navy is also bringing back the female combination cover, known as the bucket cover, which was eliminated in 2018. The female combination cover can be worn by sailors of any rank with the service dress and dinner dress uniforms, as well as by chief petty officers and officers while in service khaki and summer white uniforms. The bucket cover cannot be purchased at Navy Exchange Uniform Centers and must be "privately obtained if desired for wear."

The service is also allowing female sailors to wear the tiara as an optional uniform component when wearing dinner dress blue and white jacket uniforms. Sailors can purchase the tiara from the Navy Exchange online as a "special order item."

Women can now wear false eyelashes or eyelash extensions that "project a natural appearance and are no longer than 14 millimeters in length as measured from the eyelid to the tip of the eyelash."

Female sailors are also allowed to wear T-shirts specifically designed for women if the shirts adhere to the Navy's requirements for color, fabric and neck configuration.

"The intent of this policy update is to address expressed dissatisfaction regarding the required wear of male or unisex T-shirts that are not designed to fit female bodies," the memo said.

All sailors are now allowed to wear black or navy blue leggings or tights with the service's physical training shorts and wear "commercially procured coyote brown backpacks" while in the Navy working uniform.

Other uniform changes include allowing chaplains to wear their new insignia warfare pin, which the service announced in December, and the Navy's forthcoming drone pilots to wear their wings.

Legion Family urged to garner support for Gold Star Spouses

The American Legion is calling on members of the American Legion Family to contact their members of Congress and urge support for H.R. 3651, bipartisan legislation designed to allow surviving spouses of military servicemembers to retain survivor benefits should they remarry.

The Love Lives on Act is geared toward changing the current situation for Gold Star Spouses who choose to remarry before age 55 and face losing critical benefits. Specifically, the legislation will:

·         Eliminate the age limit for remarrying without loss of benefits.

·         Allow remarried surviving spouses to retain education benefits.

·         Preserve Commissary and Exchange benefits for remarried spouses.

·         Enable remarried spouses to regain TRICARE benefits if the subsequent marriage ends.

·         Abolish the "Hold Themselves Out to Be Married" clause, an outdated law causing unnecessary fear and inhibiting freedom.

The American Legion believes in standing up for the rights and benefits of our Gold Star Spouses. They should not be penalized for finding love again. They are still the surviving spouses of our fallen heroes, and they have earned their benefits through their service and sacrifice.

The time for action is now. Contact your members of Congress today and urge them to pass the Love Lives On Act. Do so by visiting our Grassroots Action Center to learn more about the Love Lives On Act and other legislation The American Legion supports. And sign up for legislative alerts by clicking here.

Maryland Legion Family continues support for Special Olympians

For 29 years, the Maryland State Police's Polar Bear Plunge has served a fundraiser for Maryland Special Olympics, raising millions of dollars. And this year, the Department of Maryland American Legion Family was a big part of the effort.

Members of the Legion Family, including Maryland Department Commander Ruth Higgins, Sons of The American Legion National Commander Donald Hall Jr. and Maryland SAL Detachment Commander Joe Lohman were the thousands who took the icy plunge into the Chesapeake Bay on Feb. 2. Those three helped present nearly $24,000 from the state's Legion Family.

Among that total was the $16,000 raised by Maryland American Legion Special Olympics Chairman Bill Ganz, a member of Dewey Lohman Post 109 and SAL Squadron 109 in Halethorpe. Ganz was the top individual fundraiser in the military and first responder division, while the Maryland Legion Family finished second in the division's team competition.

Ganz became interested in the Special Olympics when he realized the scope of what the organization did beyond the Polar Bear Plunge, both nationally and internationally. That led to him taking over as the department's Special Olympics chairman around five years ago.

"I love every minute of it," Ganz said, noting others have seen how passionate he is about Special Olympics, which leads to his success at fundraising. "I'm talking about not only Legion people, but former classmates, people I work with, neighborhood people. They see how enthusiastic I am about this."

Ganz said his involvement with Special Olympics athletes has provided some emotional memories. "I can go to a Special Olympic event … and the kids will come out to me and say, ‘Here comes Wild Bill. Wild Bill's in the house,'" he said. "They'll grab my hand and take me over to their parents and say, ‘Mom and dad, take a picture of me and Wild Bill.' It's hard to contain myself. I've felt tears many, many times.

"These children are so respectful. They're there to have a good time. They're always smiling. I get so pumped up over the Special Olympics."

Being around the Special Olympics participants has brought sone perspective into his life.

"I'm so appreciative that my kids are OK. My grandkids are OK," he said. "But when you're with these (Special Olympics athletes), and when you see them participating in sports, it brings the whole world into perspective.

"I've always thought that God has a calling for everybody. No matter what it is, somewhere along the line you'll know. And I think that's my calling: To help these kids and be with them and cheer them on, give them a pat on the back. Tell them they're doing great. I truly believe that's what I'm supposed to be doing."

VA announces 2024 Equity Action Plan

Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs released its 2024 Agency Equity Action Plan to help ensure that VA delivers on its promise to provide world-class care and benefits to all veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors ― regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation or geographic location.

As a part of this effort, VA also released the findings of a new study today investigating disparities in grant rates for disability compensation for mental health conditions. This study found that recently separated Black veterans have grant rates better than or equal to other veterans when they apply for disability compensation benefits within the first year of leaving the military and use a VA-accredited veterans service organization. This is a critical discovery because ― while Black veterans receive VA benefits at higher rates than other veterans – their grant rates are lower for mental health conditions. In response to this new data, VA will be visiting 15 or more Department of Defense installations to work with transitioning service members, updating its Transition Assistance Program curriculum that is provided to all transitioning servicemembers, updating VA Solid Start scripts to inform recently transitioned servicemembers of their earned benefits, working directly with VSOs to engage with Black veterans, and doing direct outreach to encourage Black veterans to file for disability compensation benefits within the first year of discharge and utilize VA-accredited VSOs when filing a claim.

"It's our job to provide every veteran with the world-class care and benefits they deserve, no matter who they are, what they look like, who they love, where they are from, or how they identify," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said. "That means investigating any disparities in VA health care and benefits and eliminating them – and that's exactly what this new study and plan will help us do. We will not rest until any and all disparities at VA are a thing of the past."

Using the Agency Equity Plan, VA will work to improve outcomes and eliminate disparities in veteran benefits and health care; increase access to VA services; enhance economic security for all veterans, including historically underserved veteran communities; listen to and learn from veteran communities; and more. These efforts are spearheaded by VA's new agency equity team, which was launched in June 2023 to lead VA's equity efforts.

Since releasing its first-ever equity action plan in 2022, VA has taken the following steps:

·         Expanded care for women veterans: Over the past two years, VA has expanded breast cancer screenings and mammograms for veterans with potential toxic exposures; supported access to reproductive health services, including contraception, abortion counseling and – in certain cases – abortion care for veterans and VA beneficiaries; and dramatically expanded one-on-one maternity care coordination for women veterans – the fastest growing cohort of veterans at VA. Women veterans are also enrolling in VA health care at higher rates under the PACT Act, and VA recently hosted its first Women Veterans Experience Action Center, helping more than 340 women veterans apply for the care and benefits they deserve.

·         Reached new, historic agreement with NAACP to improve quality of life for Black veterans: Under this partnership, VA and the NAACP are working to increase the number of Black veterans enrolled in VA health care, increase awareness of VA benefits and services among Black veterans, and increase recruitment of culturally competent providers at VA. VA and the NAACP also meet regularly, share expertise, and coordinate on outreach to minority veteran communities.

·         Removed barriers to benefits for LGBTQ+ veterans: VA closed a gap in benefits for survivors of LGBTQ+ veterans, righting a wrong that was a legacy of the discriminatory federal ban on same-sex marriages. Previously, VA also increased access to benefits for veterans who were given "Other Than Honorable" discharges due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and more.

·         Increased access to care and benefits for American Indian and Alaska Native veterans: In April 2023, VA announced that eligible American Indian and Alaska Native veterans are no longer required to make copayments for health care and urgent care received through VA ― making VA health care more accessible and affordable. VA also lowered the interest rate for VA Native American Direct Loans from 6% to 2.5%, making access to housing loans more affordable for Native American veterans.

·         Updated its mission statement to include all veterans: In March 2023, VA updated its 1959 mission statement to be inclusive of all those who have served in our nation's military — including women veterans ― and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors. The new mission statement is: "To fulfill President Lincoln's promise to care for those who have served in our nation's military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors."

·         Increased service delivery to veterans with other than honorable discharges: Over the past 10 years, VA's eligibility determination rate for veterans with other than honorable discharges has been 74% ― meaning that 74% of those veterans were granted benefits and/or healthcare. VA has also conducted extensive outreach to veterans who received other than honorable discharges, increasing the number of veterans with other than honorable discharges who applied for VA care or benefits from approximately 1,700 in 2012 to more than 10,000 in 2023. 

·         Released new data showing that the PACT Act is helping eliminate disparities at VA: In September 2023, VA released its first quarterly demographic supplement to the PACT Act dashboard, with data showing that the PACT Act is helping VA reach and serve all veterans, including those in historically underserved communities. For example, American Indian/Alaska Native and Black veterans are submitting PACT Act related claims at higher rates than the pre-PACT baseline. Additionally, Asian, Black, Hispanic veterans, women veterans, and the youngest veterans are all enrolling in VA care at higher proportions than a comparable baseline.

·         Created a VBA Equity Assurance Office and Equity Assurance Plan to eliminate disparities in Veteran Benefits: In June, VA announced that it has created a new Equity Assurance Office within VBA to eliminate any disparities in the delivery of earned benefits to veterans ― including disability benefits, housing benefits, GI Bill benefits, and much more. This office released an Equity Assurance Plan, which includes actions like requiring all VBA employees to take unconscious bias and implicit bias training and increasing recruiting from minority-serving institutions such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic-serving Institutions.

As this work continues, updates will be posted on VA.gov/Equity.