As commander of the American Legion in Lowville, Lee Hinkleman has a lot to watch over. But nothing he does is more important to him than taking care of those who walk through his legion’s doors.
“With that very intricate knowledge that you have, you've got the instruments and the knowledge to aid that veteran. Somebody else, quite frankly, might not help. It’s not that they don't want to, they simply don't understand,” he said.
Legion posts are working hard to not only get veterans together, but to have discussions on things that concern them, especially their health care and benefits.
“We've enrolled more people into veteran programs here just in the last year than previously — in Lewis County — had done in years,” Hinkleman said.
That is critical because for veterans, understanding what they're eligible for can be tough. And the more they dug in, the more people like Lee wondered why there were so many eligibility requirements at all.
“These are war injured veterans. These are veterans that have offered to give their life to protect everyone else out there,” he said.
Senator Chuck Schumer visited the community to discuss its veterans and their benefits.
Currently, to receive both a pension and disability, veterans must have served 20 years and suffered a combat-related disability on a scale of 50% or higher. But those who have been disabled in combat often never made it 20 years.
On the trip, Schumer introduced a new bill, the Major Richard Starr Act, which would ensure that all veterans combat disabled — with a minimum rating of 10% — receive both disability and a pension.
“This is just one additional benefit for them that allows them and their families to continue on in our community and serve the Empire State,” Hinkleman added.
Schumer says he hopes this has passed and been put into action by the end of 2024.