When American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger addressed the crowd at the North Branch American Legion Hall Thursday, he said, at every legion hall he visits, he takes note of who is in the audience.
“Whenever I see officials from the city, it means to me that the American Legion is an important part of the community,” he said.
In addition to dozens of area Legion members who are veterans of World War II all the way up to modern-day conflicts, numerous city officials were present to greet Dellinger, including North Branch Police Chief Dan Meyer and Officer Ron Rollins, who is a recent American Legion National College graduate.
Meyer said he couldn’t remember a national commander ever coming to the city, so Dellinger’s visit was more than notable.
During his speech, Dellinger thanked all veterans in attendance for their service.
Dellinger was elected to the one-year post of national commander in August of last year. During that time, he’s met with veterans across the United States and the world, and he has fought for veterans’ rights in Washington, D.C.
He criticized the nation’s leaders for what he called “balancing the budget on the backs of the veterans” when lawmakers crafted a deal in 2013 that cut a 1 percent cost of living adjustment from veterans ages 62 and under who retired from the military after 20 years of service.
“A sergeant first class in the Army, retired after 20 years, earns about $23,000 a year,” he said.
“You take the 1 percent COLA away from him, and that equates to about $70,000 by the time he reaches 62,” he said.
“Remember when you took that oath and put on that uniform and said you’d defend this country? Well, it seems to me (lawmakers) had forgotten that.”
In addition to opposing budget deals that have an impact on veterans, Dellinger said he’s been working on reaching out to veterans, offering more resources to veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, improving the VA health care system and helping female veterans who have been the victims of sexual assault.
“We have female doctors take care of them, and we’re pushing for female chaplains because some female veterans just don’t feel right talking to a male chaplain,” he said.
Before he ended his speech, Dellinger stressed the future of the American Legion is dependent upon strong membership.
“We, as veterans, need to stand up and be counted again,” he said. “And it takes membership to do that. You’d think (lawmakers) should listen to us if we only had 10,000 members. We have 3.5 million members of our family, and I still don’t think that’s enough. My motto is ‘building for tomorrow, today.’ I know you need a strong foundation if you’re going to build something that lasts, and the American Legion has that foundation.”