Friday, April 12, 2013

Koutz Talks of Helping Vets and Wounded Warriors

James Koutz
James Koutz
The political impact of The American Legion. Practical public relations for growing membership. And giving 100 percent to wounded warriors.

Those were the topics that National Commander James Koutz focused on during his swing through New York State April 10-12. He visited Central New York, the Capital Region and finally New York City.

On Feb. 28 -- the eve of sequestration, when budget cuts loomed across the federal government -- Koutz met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, at the president's request, the national commander told over 200 Legion Family members at the Beeches in Rome. They shared, he said, concerns over the backlog of claims with Veterans Administration, which the president told him would be spared sequestration cuts. Koutz expressed appreciation for the administration's support for Legion-backed efforts to get military experience recognized for licensing and credentials in various trades and specialized career fields. The national commander also told the president of the Legion's concerns over VA services for female veterans, noting that the Legion was instituting a women veterans coordinator in every state. Koutz said he then told the president of the need to improve mental health care, with 7 to 9 veterans committing suicide daily.

Legion leaders
Click to See Photo Gallery
Nat'l Cmdr James Koutz, left, chats with Oneida County Legion
Commander Dave Riley, NY Dept. Commander Tim VanPatten,
and Mikel Buczkowski, who chaired the 5th District Committee
coordinating the visit. They were at Leon R. Roberts Post 161
in Holland Patent, which hosted a luncheon for Koutz.

"That tells you the power of The American Legion," he said, pointing to 2.4 million Legionnaires, plus 800,000 members of the Auxiliary and another 350,000 in the Sons of the American Legion.
Regarding membership, Koutz said he knew that the Department of New York was working toward achieving 100 percent of its goal. "We've got to work a little bit harder than we've been doing" and "we need to have more public relations than we do."
For example, he said:
  • Every post represented at the banquet should go back home and submit something to its local paper about the affair.
  • Take advantage of discounts that billboard companies are offering nonprofits like the Legion. He pointed to the Connecticut Department which is putting up 30 billboards promoting Legion membership.
  • Adopt a vet. Visit veterans in nursing homes and other care facilities and adopt them. Pay their membership for the first year so they will start receiving the Legion Magazine. Perhaps they will renew on their own, and if they can't afford it, continue paying their membership.
  • Offer free wireless internet at your post. His post did, and they started attracting young veterans who liked to bring their laptops and iPads to the post.
  • Schedule informational conferences to educate future Legion leaders. Dubbed LEAD, with 21 different topics to choose from, the conferences are offered by national staff. Eighteen have been scheduled around the country so far.
To grow membership, those are the kinds of things "we have to do," Koutz said.

Karleen Tracy
Karleen Tracy led banquet-goers in a rendition of
God Bless America, bringing the event to a close as
everyone held hands. The Ganesvoort Elementary
student also helped to open the dinner by singing
the National Anthem. Behind her is Richard Pedro,
adjutant for the Department of New York.
Saving a favorite topic for last, the national commander said his personal goal is to raise $500,000 for the Legion's Operation Comfort Warriors during his year in office -- and so far it has topped $400,000. He spoke of the tears what well in the eyes of injured service members when the Legion shows up with such comfort items as gift cards, books, iPods, iPads, radios, TVs, sporting and other equipment. Even fishing and hunting trips for wounded warriors and their families.

The Legion, he noted, is in contact with military hospitals and wounded warrior transitional units to find out what the needs and wants are, and then purchases and delivers those items.

And unlike other charities that have administrative and fundraising expenses, 100 percent of all donations go directly to helping injured soldiers, sailors and airmen.

The banquet in Rome culminated with individuals, posts and counties in the NY Department's 5th District stepping forward to donate nearly $3,000 to Operation Comfort Warriors.