CASSADAGA – Veterans from throughout Western New York gathered Thursday in Cassadaga Memorial American Legion Post to greet National Commander Michael D. Helm during his official visit to the Eighth District of New York.
Helm, elected in August to the one-year post during the organization’s convention in Charlotte, N.C., has embarked on a worldwide tour that will include a second New York State stop in Canandaigua.
He spent Thursday at several Chautauqua County sites.
“I was really impressed by the lighthouse and museum in Dunkirk,” said Helm, who toured the veterans museum at the historic lighthouse at Dunkirk Harbor.
“You know as a person who lives in Nebraska, I don’t get to see too many lighthouses,” said Helm, who worked as a rural mail carrier for 33 years.
His other official stop on Thursday was the Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Dunkirk, where he met with the staff.
“That clinic is an example of how local veterans’ health care should be run,” said Helm, whos chief role as national commander will be to lobby for better health care for veterans. He added that it is important that the public understand that health care for veterans can be improved and the process and waiting time need to be streamlined.
“What happened at one hospital cannot keep happening around the country,” he said.
Helm said oversights at veterans hospitals were often because of low staffing and systems that did not allow for the most needy patients to be seen in a timely manner.
“We are urging members of Congress to help us to change these things,” he said.
Helm said he also will be visiting Asia and Europe, with a stop in Vietnam on his itinerary.
The national commander is considered the chief executive officer of the American Legion.
The American Legion has 2.4 million members and is the largest veterans organization in the country.
An Army veteran who served with the 82nd Airborne Division, Helm is the past chairman of the System Worth Saving Task Force – a team that provided in-depth analysis of VA health care to Congress. He has also served as a member of the American Legion committee studying traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders.