National VFW commander visits Spring Lake Park

The Kraus-Hartig VFW Post welcomed National VFW Commander William Thien May 30.

National VFW Commander William Thien, center, greets Spring Lake Park Mayor Cindy Hansen and Kraus-Hartig VFW Commander Don LaCroix May 30. Hansen and LaCroix honored Thien with tokens from the post and the city’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon committee when he visited the post May 30.

National VFW Commander William Thien, center, greets Spring Lake Park Mayor Cindy Hansen and Kraus-Hartig VFW Commander Don LaCroix May 30. Hansen and LaCroix honored Thien with tokens from the post and the city’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon committee when he visited the post May 30. Photo by Olivia Koester

Approaching the end of his one-year term as national commander, Thien has spent the months of April and May traveling to 112 posts in five states, meeting veterans “where the rubber meets the road,” or where all of the organization’s volunteers live out the VFW’s mission, serving veterans, he said.

Thien came directly from Memorial Day festivities in Washington, D.C. to Minnesota, where he visited 18 posts across the state in four days, traveling as far north as Thief River Falls.

Spring Lake Park was his second to last stop. Kraus-Hartig made the itinerary because its the home post of Minnesota’s next state commander, Gary Anderson, who will be sworn in June 8.

Veterans and auxiliary members lined up to greet Thien and state VFW leaders, and when they walked through the door May 30, it was a frenzy of handshaking and camera-flashing.

Thien invited VFW post and auxiliary members to the membership room to discuss the state of the VFW and answer any questions.

Thien has heard people say that the VFW is dying, but that isn’t the case, he said. With the United States engaged in war for 13 years, since 9/11, “we’re as relevant today as we ever were,” he said.

Americans sometimes forget their nation is at war, but the VFW doesn’t ever forget about veterans or their families, Thien said. “When we stick together – we stay strong, we make a difference.”

Thien discussed some of the many programs that volunteers make possible. The VFW wouldn’t exist in six months if there were no volunteers carrying out its mission daily, he said.

Kraus-Hartig prides itself on its volunteerism. With 84,466 volunteer hours logged last year and donations valued at $577,327, Kraus-Hartig should know whether it has been named an Outstanding Community Service Post for the sixth year in a row by Friday, June 6, Post Commander Don LaCroix said. The information was not available at press time.

Thien was asked to comment on the operation of Veterans Affairs health care facilities nationally, a timely request with the announcement of United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki’s resignation earlier that day. Shinseki resigned days after a report unveiled falsified wait times at a VA medical facility in Phoenix, Arizona.

Thien said there should be more oversight and promoted a resurrected hotline for individuals to report both bad and good situations they encounter at VA hospitals and nursing homes. People can call 1-800-VFW-1899 to make a report.

Overall, Thien brought positive news to Spring Lake Park: The cavalry’s coming.

General membership has been on the decline, but since 2008, the number of women veterans joining the organization has doubled, and young men and women are starting to take advantage of all the VFW has to offer, Thien said. “The changeover is occurring.”

Before Thien’s arrival, LaCroix helped meet the needs of Kraus-Hartig’s newest member, a young man fresh out of the Air Force.

“It’s all about us taking care of veterans and their needs and their families,” LaCroix said.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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