Some 10,000 American Legionnaires have settled in Houston for the 95th gathering. Meetings have been held since last week in advance of the official start on Tuesday, which features Vice President Biden. John Raughter with the Legion says they usually don’t miss an opportunity to comment on events that affect them.
“We have four pillars that we’re gonna be taking positions on. We were founded on the four pillars of strong national defense, veterans affairs, children and youth programs and Americanism. We use these conventions an opportunity to renew some of our positions. When a new Congress comes in, we have new resolutions, calling on their action on these important issues.”
As Defense officials tell Congress that scheduled sequester budget cuts threaten to gut the military, he says conventioneers will reiterate their stance on issues without aligning themselves politically.
“There are Legionaires who are Republicans, Democrats, Independants, everything in between, but we do not align ourselves with any political party or politician. We’ve never made an endorsement for any political office. We work with all political stripes, as long as it’s for the betterment of veterans and our military.”
But James Koutz, the Legion’s national commander, says he was disturbed during a recent trip to Europe.
“Just returning from Germany and France. I went to Normandy for D-Day, and it was a shame that no U.S. presence was there, expect for myself as national commander, and the president of the American Legion Auxiliary. The German band had to play the national anthem. That’s a disgrace. Anyone who uses the word sequestration, that’s just a word, an excuse.”
He says it’s important that they keep lawmakers up to date with veterans’ concerns.
“We always express our opinion on any of their concerns, is our concern. Any kind of committment that they have to some program or whatever that we have, we want to be sure that they do the right thing. That’s why we go visit all the offices on Capitol Hill, which we’re going to be doing next month. We got priorities, and our priorities are high, in taking care of our veterans and their families and our soldiers and their families.”
Koutz says the Legion will continue to support treatment programs that make a difference. In 5 years, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that the Veterans Crisis Line has helped keep about 30,000 veterans from committing suicide.