2018: An eventful year at Legion National Headquarters Mar 4, 2019
The theme of Remembrance deeply infused the work of The Royal Canadian Legion in 2018, as it commemorated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War. Individual activities at the national and regional levels culminated in Remembrance Day ceremonies with special touches to reflect this milestone.
Thanks to a combination of strategies, the membership base grew by more than 25,000. A new Veterans Welcome Program launched in mid-November introduced a complimentary one-year membership to serving or retired military or RCMP veterans—and close to 400 people joined in the final weeks of 2018 alone.
The newly established Going Forward Committee helped facilitate initiatives ranging from a full operational review of Legion House and its programs to a comprehensive strategic plan and the development of a new Code of Ethics for Elected Officers and Staff.
This was a dominion convention year for the Legion. New ideas and initiatives came to the floor in Winnipeg in August, including the national strategic plan that serves as a model for all commands. Implementation will continue into 2019 and beyond.
Objectives include membership growth, a governance review, infrastructure improvements, communications and marketing plans, fostering a welcoming culture, and increasing member recognition as well as strengthening the organization’s value proposition.
With the change in national leadership came new goals and priorities, which align with the strategic plan and will see renewed energy put into initiatives to make the Legion an increasingly attractive organization for veterans and their families. Modernization and innovation will be key in upcoming years.
Serving veterans and their families
The Legion’s direct work with veterans results in heartwarming feedback, in particular via the Veterans Services department. “With you in my corner, I always feel like I have a real fighting chance,” wrote one veteran, who reflected the overall tone of comments received by Legion service officers.
When Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) amended its policy on partial entitlement for disability claims, the Veterans Services department was quickly inundated with thousands of inquiries and applications a busy outcome but a positive result since more veterans are now receiving increased financial benefits, which in some cases have changed their lives. In 2018, service officers across the country experienced an increased workload due to the changes and to the continued backlog of claims within VAC.
The Legion’s National Headquarters handled numerous requests for benevolent funding in 2018, and its Poppy Trust Fund helped almost 80 veterans and spouses needing emergency assistance. Just over $75,000 helped with short-term relief, for things like shelter, food, fuel, prescription medicine and hearing aids.
Making a Difference On The Ground
Legion volunteers working with VAC’s Outreach and Visitation Initiative made more than 4,000 visits to veterans in long term care facilities last year. A renewed contract means volunteers can visit 5,000 veterans in VAC-subsidized long-term care facilities in 2019 and 2020.
An important part of the Legion’s work is reaching out to Canadian Armed Forces members on active duty. More than 5,400 care packages were sent to deployed soldiers as part of the CAF’s yearly Operation Santa Claus and Operation Canada Day initiatives.
Research and advocacy
National Headquarters continued to advocate on behalf of veterans on a multitude of issues. Notably, requesting an improved rollout of the new pension plan option for veterans; more research into the use of the anti-malarial drug mefloquine; and with the legalization of marijuana, a renewed call for research into cannabinoid-based therapy for veterans.
During the course of the year, letters from the Legion to the minister of Veterans Affairs delved into several topics, including what to do with unspent funds at VAC, reaction to the Veterans Ombudsman’s report, and a push for promised standards for service dogs.
Through the Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Research, the Legion once again provided a $30,000 master’s degree scholarship for research specializing in military and veterans health research. The scholarship went to University of British Columbia student Massimo Cau, who is working on a project designed to help increase the survival rate of soldiers who suffer gunshot wounds on the battlefield.
The Legion’s National Headquarters supports veterans and widows in 16 Caribbean countries with funding from commands, branches and other donations through the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League (RCEL). In 2018, almost $300,000 went to veterans and widows in the Caribbean to provide at least one hot meal a day for the year. The Legion also provided poppies and remembrance items for their local commemorative events.
Being the North American contact for allied veterans and widows living in North America, the Legion distributed more than $302,000 for immediate and long term assistance. This work was on behalf of several international trust funds and associations.
The National Poppy Campaign and Remembrance Day ceremonies across the country are central to the Legion’s efforts to promote remembrance. Countless dedicated volunteers provide Canadians with meaningful opportunities to remember the fallen.
In the weeks leading up to the 2018 Remembrance period, National Headquarters co-ordinated the Bells of Peace initiative—the ringing of bells at the setting of the sun in communities across the country. The effort in commemoration of the Armistice 100th anniversary was extremely well received.
Newly launched in 2018 was the digital poppy, a virtual version of the iconic lapel poppy and one that enabled people to donate online. More than 18,000 people chose a digital poppy this year; that number is expected to grow in 2019 with the ability for donors from other parts of the world to contribute.
For the third year, the Legion produced the nightly Virtual Poppy Drop on Parliament Hill during the Remembrance period. As virtual poppies were projected onto the Centre Block, a nearby video screen displayed the names and pictures of Canadian veterans. Thousands of viewers, online and in person, had another way to stop, remember and show gratitude. The Legion’s National Headquarters also coordinated the ceremonial launch of the National Poppy Campaign with the presentation of the first poppy to Governor General Julie Payette at the National Military Cemetery at Beechwood in late October.
The Legion co-ordinated the National Remembrance Day Ceremony on Nov. 11, in front of an estimated 35,000 people. The Governor General, government representatives, and community leaders placed wreaths and paid respects. Notably, the 2018 National Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother Anita Cenerini also placed a wreath to remember her late son Private Thomas Welch, who died by suicide.
The 2018 poster and literary contests attracted thousands of entrants across the country who produced impressive pieces of remembrance related art. The senior category winners also participated in the national ceremony in Ottawa. The Legion also entered winning posters and poetry in a related British international competition. One of the entries took second place.
In 2018, the Legion selected Ryan Ference of Saskatchewan to take part in the Nijmegen marches in the Netherlands over the summer. The Legion later named a second participant by invitation of the Canadian Armed Forces team. David Anderson of Ontario also made the journey and both members returned to share their stories about the march, which for many military participants means four days of walking more than 40 kilometres a day with a 10-kilogram backpack.
Supporting our communities
Support for our communities at the National Headquarters includes facilitating the work of our commands and branches by filling poppy product orders, responding to public and media inquiries and running national sports initiatives.
In 2018, the Supply department processed and shipped 8,500 online orders and handled 41,000 shipments of goods. Two bestsellers in 2018 were the Armistice 100 baseball caps and pins, which completely sold out. Fraudulent websites posing as the Legion were discovered and shut down; this is a reminder to members that the only legitimate online sites for Legion products are legion.ca and poppystore.ca.
Educating the public and increasing awareness of the Legion’s work is a key focus of National Headquarters. Among several highlights of 2018 was participation in the Amazing Race Canada, which highlighted the spirit of Legion members and branches, and the sharing of stories about veterans in refreshed public-service announcements, via traditional media, online and social media.
Volunteers helped ensure the success of the 42nd annual Legion National Youth Track and Field Championships in Brandon, Man., in August. The games were preceded by Legion-organized instructional clinics, practice sessions and social events. Some 650 young athletes, including more than 300 sponsored by the Legion, competed. In addition to extensive local media coverage, the events were live-streamed on Athletics Canada TV, attracting thousands of spectators on site and online.
The Dominion Member Sport Championships were held in April and May for national competitors in cribbage (in Victoria), darts (in Mascouche, Que.) and eight-ball (in Estevan, Sask.). In 2018, the move from paper to online registration helped to streamline the related operations.
The distribution of Legion Lager beer expanded into British Columbia and Manitoba in 2018, and sales of the beverage continue in Ontario with plans for wider distribution in the future. Five per cent of the proceeds support Legion programming to benefit Canada’s veterans.
In 2019, the Legion is setting the stage for further modernization. Advocacy work by National Headquarters will include increasing pressure on VAC to release a national homeless veterans strategy and service dog standards and policies.
“Without [the Legion’s] support, there would be no way I could be where I am as an athlete or as a person,” said one winning competitor. In all, seven meet records and two national records were broken.
This includes investigating more robust statistical reporting practices for provincial commands related to homeless veterans in Canadian communities, ultimately allowing for better service provision and planning. In addition, the Ritual Awards and Protocol Manual will be amended to bring it completely up to date.
The 75th anniversary year of D-Day will play a key role in the Legion’s work across the country in 2019, including as the theme of the Track and Field Championships slated for Sydney, N.S., in August. Legion members who volunteer or help increase awareness about the program, which helps build stronger youth and communities through sport, are welcome.
Maintaining and increasing membership remains the Legion’s key challenge. Several new projects and initiatives are underway to welcome recent veterans. Current members can help by being strong Legion ambassadors to facilitate online membership renewals. National Headquarters is working with branches to ensure all members will eventually have the opportunity to renew online.
Finally, those who may have a service-related disability should contact a command service officer for assistance. In addition, those who have had an unfavourable decision related to hearing loss prior to 2007, or who received a partial entitlement decision, should also contact a command service officer for up to date information on benefits to which they may be entitled.