National Commander of the American Legion David Rehbein is spending a few days traveling in Minnesota to inform veterans of how their concerns are being handled in Washington, D.C.
Rehbein, a member of Ames, Iowa, Post 37, included Bemidji's Ralph Gracie American Legion Post in his northern Minnesota circuit.
He started the rounds Sunday in East Grand Forks, covered Warren, Mentor, Bagley and Baudette Monday and made stops in Big Falls, Blackduck, Bemidji, Deer River and Grand Rapids Tuesday. On Wednesday, he was scheduled to have breakfast at the Aitkin Post, midmorning coffee in Onamia, lunch in Milaca and supper in Cambridge before returning home.
"One of the leadership principles is to go out and visit your troops," Rehbein said during the Ralph Gracie Post stop. "We travel like this to let the folks know what's going on nationally with the American Legion."
He said a top priority issue among American Legion members is access to health care. Access has improved over the last decade, he said, but some veterans still have to travel several hours to reach a Veterans Administration health care facility. Such distances are especially hard on elderly World War II and Korean War veterans, he said.
"We're also hearing about support for our troops," Rehbein said, noting that many American Legion members wear the Blue Star indicating that a family member is currently serving in the military.
A Vietnam-era veteran who served with the 4th and 1st Armored Divisions in Germany from 1970-1971, Rehbein said the support for the troops is widespread and nothing like the negative attitude toward soldiers during the Vietnam War.
"We have to make sure that mistake doesn't happen again," he said.
On the national level, Rehbein said American Legion members are pleased with President Barack Obama's budget, which increases funding for veterans' services by $5 billion over the spending this year. However, he said there was general disagreement with the president's plan to require that private health insurers pay for service-connected treatment. The opposition of the American Legion to that plan resulted in the president's withdrawal of the measure.
"And we have to make sure it stays withdrawn," Rehbein said.
Rehbein said the northern Minnesota tour is the first time he has visited this area. But he said American Legion members are alike in their dedication to community service and support.
"They don't talk enough about it," he said, adding that part of his mission is to raise the visibility of members' contributions.
The Minnesota American Legion has 102,000 members in nearly 600 posts statewide. The organization is dedicated to watching out for veterans' rights.
The American Legion was founded in 1919 in Paris by members of the American Expeditionary Force after World War I. It is based on the "Four Pillars" -- national defense, veterans, patriotism and youth services.