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posted: 4/30/2014 5:30 AM

VFW commander-in-chief visits Elgin

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  • John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comBill Thien, Commander-in Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, meets other veterans and listens to questions at the Elgin Watch City VFW Post 1307 Tuesday.

      John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comBill Thien, Commander-in Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, meets other veterans and listens to questions at the Elgin Watch City VFW Post 1307 Tuesday.

  • John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comBill Thien, Commander-in Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, talks with a group of Elgin firefighters at the Elgin Watch City VFW Post 1307 Tuesday.

      John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comBill Thien, Commander-in Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, talks with a group of Elgin firefighters at the Elgin Watch City VFW Post 1307 Tuesday.

 
 

Veterans must take care of each other and work to ensure that younger and female veterans are embraced into the ranks for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Those were among the key points that William "Bill" Thien, the VFW's commander-in-chief, made Tuesday night during a visit to Elgin VFW Post 1307.

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He also touted the millions of community service hours put in yearly by the 1.9 million members of the VFW and its Ladies Auxiliary.

"The greatest title in this organization is you, comrades," he said.

Thien is on a four-day tour of 21 VFW posts between Springfield and the Chicago area. Earlier in the day, Thien's group stopped in Streamwood.

While in Elgin, he talked about his 25-minute meeting with President Barack Obama in March, during which he discussed veterans benefits, quality of life for veterans, servicemen and women and their families, and suicides among veterans, he said.

"We need more clinical psychologists in the field," he said.

Jerry Cowsert, senior vice commander-elected of the Elgin post, asked about benefits for veterans exposed to the chemical known as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

"We'll fight to make sure they don't take anything away," he said.

Chris Pawley, senior vice commander of Winthrop Harbor Post 7448, pressed Thien on the inclusion of women, for example, by ensuring that all pronouns are used in the masculine and feminine.

"We are working really hard on that," Thien said, adding the VFW successfully pushed for proper care for women at Veterans Health Administration hospitals.

Thien, who lives in Indiana, was elected to his post in July 2013. He spends about 320 days a year on the road; next, he'll visit Michigan, Minnesota and North Carolina, he said.

It's been several years since a commander-in-chief has visited Illinois, Illinois VFW state commander Matthew "Fritz" Mihelcic said.

"This is really a big coup for us to have him here," he said.

Several members of the Elgin Fire Department attended the event, including Fire Capt. Tony Bialek, who served in the U.S. Navy in the 1970s.

"(Thien) seemed very down to earth," Bialek said. "He's informed on what's going on, and wants to improve things."

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