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Legion National Commander visits Littleton

Post 68 Commander Jim Krajniak, left, speaks during a presentation of gifts to American Legion National Commander Clarence Hill, right, during the latter’s visit to Littleton Saturday night. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
September 16, 2009
LITTLETON–For the first time in recent memory, the national commander of the American Legion made a visit to the North Country.

This past Saturday, after making a trip up Mount Washington on the Cog Railway, National Commander Clarence Hill, of Jacksonville, Fla., had supper at Post 68 Legion Hall on St. Johnsbury Road where he received a number of gifts from Post Commander Jim Krajniak, of Woodsville.

Around 60 legionnaires and their families attended the event to share camaraderie and concerns with Hill, who was just elected to the post two weeks ago at the Legion's annual convention in Louisville, Ky. The term is for one year and can only be held once.

The Legion is a veterans' organization made up of 2.5 million members. A fraternal organization, it is also a lobbying organization on behalf of veteran issues.

Hill, who is touring all 50 states as part of his job as commander, spoke to the veterans about some of the issues the Legion is dealing with that are important to them. The primary issue every year is getting the Department of Veterans Affairs budget passed.

"It's only been on time once or twice in 23 years," Hill said.

Another issue of importance to the Legion and veterans in general is making sure that any healthcare reform bill going through Congress right now does not affect VA or Department of Defense health programs.

"Those should remain completely separate," Hill said.

Hill said another issue of importance is getting a bill, HB 3365, passed that would allow the VA to collect from Medicare, something it cannot do now. When veterans reach a certain age they have to choose between the VA and the Medicare program they had been paying into their whole lives, Hill said. Getting through a backlog of almost 1 million VA claims is also a high priority, Hill said.

Hill said the GI Bill should be modified so that not just institutions of higher learning can be recipients of funds from the program, as that can be rather limiting for those who do not want to go to college.

When campaigning to become national commander earlier this year, Hill said he ran on a particular platform to try and improve how the Legion serves its members. One way is the increased use of technology for outreach. Pulling out his Blackberry, Hill said he is always in contact with someone and that the machine is never silent. He wants to improve Legion associated Web sites to reach more people. He is even on Twitter.

Among the people Hill most wants to reach are younger veterans who have been serving since the 9/11 attacks. These people will be better reached through technology than older veterans, he said, such as the Vietnam era veterans. This group makes up the largest percentage of Legion members he said and many are now hitting retirement age. He would like to get many of them in the Legion when they retire, he said.

John Neylon, a Legion member from Twin Mountain and the post's deputy commander, said most of the time when Legion commanders tour the state they hit the big population centers. He was thrilled Hill agreed to come this far north.

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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