Post commander: ‘It feels amazing to help a fellow veteran’
BLUE EARTH — The Minnesota American Legion Foundation’s Veteran Assistance Fund made all the difference in helping a veteran get back on his feet.
Blue Earth Post 89 Commander Paul Kafka said the veteran approached the Department of Minnesota directly. Department Adjutant Mike Maxa and Benefits Coordinator Sarah Schlicht then reached out to Post 89 and explained how to take advantage of the Veteran Assistance Fund.
“Five days later, we got him the help he needed to get back on track financially,” Kafka said. “Before this, we didn’t even know the program existed.”
The Veteran Assistance Fund is for when struggling veterans do not qualify for other assistance programs or — even when they do qualify — there are times those programs take so long they end up being too late to actually help. Veterans in dire straits can receive assistance, with a max lifetime amount of $5,000.
It is Minnesota American Legion Foundation Fund 85, and any request for assistance starts at the local posts, which then bring the requests to the Department of Minnesota. Information is available on the department website.
The fund, made possible through the generosity of a deceased member, presently has $135,000. Posts may donate gambling funds to it. Members, if they donate $20 or more, will receive a 2022 Department of Minnesota calendar. (Available here.) A new American Legion Riders motorcycle ride next summer will aim to expand the fund.
“This is the only quick veteran assistance that we know of,” said Lloyd Ricker, chairman of the Minnesota American Legion Foundation.
The Minnesota Legionnaire interviewed the veteran.
“This assistance brought life to me, and to the Legion members,” he said. “To be honest, I was really surprised.”
He said he is a Gulf War era veteran who, after a personal setback, had to get alcohol treatment at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center. He has two young children and an ex-wife.
He said his time at the VA felt like being at home. The VA offered him vocational rehab employment, but he couldn’t afford to move and had past rent to pay off to a helpful landlord. He said Post 89 members were willing to help him with any paperwork he had.
The Veteran Assistance Fund paid for $300 in gas cards, $1,400 to the landlord, $1,200 for moving expenses from the Blue Earth area to St. Cloud and $500 to a cellphone provider.
“It feels amazing to help a fellow veteran,” Kafka said. “This is a primary reason I joined a veterans organization. When you get a chance to help a brother out, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
He said it reminded him of a time eight years ago when a local Marine got out right at the same time as a government shutdown, which prevented him from receiving his separation pay. He had no means by which to live in the civilian world. Post 89 took care of him until the shutdown was over and his paycheck came.
Maxa said the reason the assistance originates at the posts is The American Legion is a grass-roots organization.
“We want our posts to get more active on this,” he said.
Some posts get so wrapped up in the bar and restaurant management that they neglect the Four Pillars, one of which is veterans rehabilitation.
“I think sometimes we lose a little bit of focus,” Maxa said.