Weather Forecast


National VFW commander visits Bemidji: Thien praises local members for continued support of veterans, current military members

William Thien, the national commander in chief of Veterans of Foreign Wars, salutes the welcoming honor guard of the Bemidji VFW during his visit Thursday. Malachi Petersen | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI-- Veterans stood at attention Wednesday as the top brass of the Veterans of Foreign Wars visited Bemidji.

William Thien, the national commander in chief of the VFW, accompanied by Frank Presfield, the state commander, visited the Bemidji American Legion to visit with veterans about pressing issues that are currently being faced by the organization.

In his speech to Post No. 1260, Thien told members the VFW is a "bottom up organization" that is important to helping veterans.

"What you do at the local level, your community service, and all the work that you do at the local level, that's what makes the VFW the organization it is today," Thien said.

Thien praised the Ladies Auxiliary for their continued support of soldiers who are serving overseas. He told of a group of local Lady Auxiliary members who are still putting together care packages for soldiers.

"America is still at war. Most of America has forgot this nation is still at war, but I can tell you this, the Ladies Auxiliary hasn't forgotten."

The national commander also spoke about how important local members were in fighting the sequestration of 2013 and the government shutdown.Thein said the ability of the veterans to stick together helped change the minds of politicians in Washington.

"Some knucklehead -- some knucklehead apparently in Washington, D.C., -- decided since the government shut down, we can't pay death gratuity benefits. Are you kidding me? That's what they said, but when I put that alert out, within 48 hours you changed their mind."

Thein's visit to Bemidji is part of a four-day tour through Minnesota, visiting 20 VFW posts. The tour comes amid a scandal within the Veterans Affairs Administration, where a secret waiting list for treatment at an Arizona VA hospital may have caused the deaths of multiple veterans.

Eric Shinseki, the secretary of the VA, has promised to find those responsible for the incident; however, some politicians are calling for his resignation.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., called on Shinseki to resign, stating the VA needs new leadership.

""It's the right thing to do in light of the systemic, chronic and shameful mismanagement of the care of our nation's heroes," Nolan said in a press release.

The scandal may have happened more than five states away, but the topic is still on the minds of local vets such as Bemidji Post Commander Bruce Malterud.

"All the veterans are watching that. That is absolutely uncalled for. Somebody needs to be accountable," he said. "They always want to put the blame on one or two persons in Washington but there's going to be more than one or two people."

Thien said that the VFW wants accountability, transparency and the truth from the VA.

"If we had veterans that died because some VA administrator was cooking the books, or extremely long wait times, we want them prosecuted if a death occurred, we want people that are involved with cooking the books or hiding things fired," Thien said.

On the subject of Shinseki, Thien said he considers the former four star general a "true patriot" and said the VFW had conversations with the secretary about accountability. Thien said that the VFW will be closely watching the results of the investigation into the scandal and the organization soon will respond to the preliminary report, which came out Wednesday.

"Rest assured that the VFW is going to make the decision on what's best for the veterans," he said. "Sometimes getting rid of one person doesn't solve a problem if it's in the culture. You have to change the culture so that's what we're working towards is taking care of that."