Ricochet COVID Symposium: A Veteran’s Organization Responds


My local Veterans of Foreign Wars post had been slowly but steadily getting its legs under itself after a few years of hard times. There were several years of younger generation leaders stepping up and the finances were looking solid. Of course, we had a century old building, but it was long ago paid for, owned outright by the local post incorporated for many years. The post had been instrumental in keeping the local Veterans’ Day parade alive and fresh, and was adding new events, like an Armed Forces Appreciation Day street festival on Armed Forces Day. Then COVID-19 lock down orders from the Arizona governor created a new set of challenges. The good news is that we were both in a fortunate posture and had a membership that would not quit.

The fortunate posture was a combination of years of careful stewardship and members’ dedication to get the post financially stable, along with a generous gift from an estate, motivated by the good work the post had been seen doing in the community. With that small financial cushion, we turned the state lock down of bars into a massive renovation effort in our canteen, the veterans’ organization term for an American Legion or VFW post’s watering hole. Since it holds a liquor license from the state, it is naturally subject to all relevant state regulations, including the order to close down for public safety.

As the slowdown and shutdown orders rolled out, our service officer screened requests from veterans with financial needs, passing those that made sense within our rules on to the leadership to seek approval for relief funding. In my present role, I was honored to cut the checks that were needed in time to do some good for veterans.

I was following the PPP announcements but had not dug into the details when a weekly call with my counterpart at the state level prompted a quick dive into our bank’s website. Here, I can report that Bank of America‘s web interface made sense and was easy enough to use without an accounting degree. I am also grateful to Intuit’s QuickBooks Online team for getting the key information about average monthly employee costs wrangled into a standardized and easy to understand report. That number is key, as you may only apply for 2.5 times that amount.

The logic is that you will pay 8 weeks of employee costs plus get the 0.5 to help cover utilities, the cost of keeping the business at the allowed minimal level of operations. Grabbing all the other documentation out of the QuickBooks system was very simple. As a result, we got our loan that we expect to turn into a grant in the expected amount in only a week.

Our post has only one employee, the bar manager on a W-2, with all our bartenders operating as independent contractors on 1099-MISC forms. We resolved from the outset to take care of our own. That meant spending down our savings on keeping our employee full time and keeping faith with our bartenders and janitors by paying them the usual shift minimum in return for a couple hours of helping deep clean and then take the place down to the drywall and underfloor. We had great help from volunteers in both the post and auxiliary membership.

The walls were stripped bare, scoured, patched, and spackled, then got two coats of new paint in a fresh color, making the whole place lighter. Cameras, speakers, wiring, and lighting were all freshened up, with all wires and cables neatly secured. Two high volume smoke eaters, that will scrub the entire room’s air volume every 6-10 minutes, were installed. The old tile and carpet flooring were ripped out. Sub-flooring weak spots were cut out and new plywood sheets cut, fitted, and secured. As I post this, there are large stacks of new laminate wood plank-style flooring, positioned to be installed in another day.

All in all, one of the oldest VFW posts in the region is poised to come out of the COVID-19 shutdown this next week with a completely revitalized space to welcome members, friends, and on special occasions the public, back to share their experiences.

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There are 6 comments.

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  1. MarciN Member

    That is a truly wonderful story! Enjoy the new room. :-) You are all to be commended for helping out your employee and bar tenders and janitors. What a tremendous group of people. :-)

    • #1
  2. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey

    This is excellent, Clifford, and thanks for telling us about it. Clearly, your post knows the need for sensible, reasonable measures to try to help your workforce. My dad, who is 89, is commander of a Legion post in Queens, New York, and has been dealing with some of the same issues. 

    • #2
  3. JennaStocker Member

    Good luck and Godspeed on the ‘new’ opening of the old Post. Well done!

    • #3
  4. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Organize a meet up with your members and ours. We would like to hear their stories. 

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    What an outstanding group you have, Clifford! Very impressed. They not only take care of their own, but they send an excellent message to the community through their actions. God bless all of you!

    • #5
  6. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel

    What a great story!  A different twist on “don’t let a crisis go to waste.”

    FWIW, I had a similar experience with BofA’s web interface for a PPP loan/grant.  Their progressive policies irk me, but their competence serving a business has kept me there (for the business, not personal).

    • #6