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Employers should be required to pay military reservists and National Guard members called to active duty the difference between their civilian and military pay, the national commander of the American Legion said Friday.

Richard J. Santos, elected in August to head the 2.8-million member veterans organization, visited the area Friday and met with the news media at South Buffalo Post 721, 136 Cazenovia St.

Many reservists and Guard members lost their savings and homes when called to duty during Desert Storm, he said.

"They should not have to take a financial hit on behalf of the nation," he said.

He said employers -- public and private -- should be encouraged to make up the pay difference and he would favor legislation to require it.

On another subject, he said the Legion continuously lobbies on behalf of veterans and is in constant contact with the Department of Veterans Affairs. He said he is "not satisfied" with the VA or the time it takes to deliver benefits.

"We want to see it properly funded to take care of veterans at all times," he said.

The government owes veterans "the benefit of the doubt" when there is a question about entitlement to benefits, especially when timeliness is a factor, he added.

In a "tragic spinoff" from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Santos -- a former Naval reservist who lives in Greenbelt, Md. -- said the Legion has benefited from a membership increase as veterans, too, have experienced the "heightened spirit of patriotism" and joined the organization. Despite the fact that World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 1,000 a day, Legion membership increased by 7,000 last year and is up by more than 60,000 so far this year.

With many people flying the flag, he said, it's also a good opportunity to teach children about the flag, such as why there are 13 stripes and 50 stars.

Also, as flags become tattered and worn, veterans posts should conduct disposal ceremonies so the flags are disposed of properly, he said.


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