Exclusive: American Legion In Turmoil As Top Exec Resigns Over Background Questions

Former American Legion executive director Verna Jones discussing veterans issues on Fox News in 2017
Screengrab via YouTube | Fox News

The American Legion executive tapped to assume the organization’s top administrative position resigned abruptly on Wednesday amid allegations that she exaggerated her professional and academic credentials, Task & Purpose has learned.

Verna L. Jones, 53, tendered her resignation as she was being groomed to take over for Daniel S. Wheeler, a Vietnam War veteran who has served as the Legion’s National Adjutant since 2008. Sources tell Task and Purpose that a cursory background check, required for her promotion, could not verify that Jones had a law degree or was ever licensed to practice law.

Jones’ colleagues seem to have been completely blindsided by her sudden departure — and also by the discovery that one of the Legion’s most cherished members, a woman highly regarded in policy circles for her strength of character and unyielding commitment to veterans advocacy, wasn’t entirely the person she has long advertised herself to be.

A Gulf War-era Army veteran, Jones started working for the Legion at the grassroots level in her native North Carolina and ascended quickly through the ranks, building a network of powerful allies that spanned Washington. She leveraged her gift for public speaking to help keep veterans issues at the forefront as it became clear that the Department of Veterans Affairs was ill-equipped for the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“When I became the youngest, first post-9/11 veteran to lead one of the biggest organizations, [Jones] was right there for me to lean on,” AMVETS executive director Joe Chenelly told Task & Purpose.

“Standing shoulder to shoulder allowed for us to score major wins,” Chenelly added. “She made a real difference.”     

Jones invigorated the Legion at a time when veterans service organizations, often associated with cantankerous old grunts, are struggling to draw in younger and more diverse members. In 2014, Jones was promoted to executive director, becoming the first woman — and the first African-American — to ever attain that position in the Legion’s almost 100-year history. The historic promotion was covered thoroughly by the media.

Reporters and radio hosts often described Jones as an attorney. One article highlighting her 2014 promotion mentioned her work for veterans while attending law school, adding that “with law degree and North Carolina bar certification in hand she did not practice law, but stayed working for the Legion.” A 2013 annual report of the Veterans Consortium pro bono law program listed Jones, a senior adviser to the program, as “Verna Jones, Esq.”, a title traditionally reserved for practicing attorneys.

“I think of Verna as an extremely qualified and knowledgeable professional veteran that The American Legion is fortunate to have,” then-National Commander Dale Barnett said in a statement following Jones’ promotion. “Her experience as an attorney and department service officer gives me full confidence every day that our Washington headquarters is in good hands.”

With more than 2 million members and roughly 14,000 posts, the Legion is arguably the most powerful veterans service organization in the country — “the biggest dog on the block,” is how Chenelly put it. As executive director, Jones ran point for the Legion in Washington. She was responsible for drafting and proposing legislation, lobbying Senators, and maintaining a direct line in to the White House. In March 2017, she was among a small group of advocates who met with President Donald Trump for a roundtable discussion on veterans issues and the future of the VA.

A representative for the North Carolina State Bar told Task & Purpose it had no record of a Verna Jones as a bar admittee. “If they’re not in the database, they’re not licensed to practice law in North Carolina,” the representative said.

Jones was set to make history once again when she reported to American Legion headquarters in Indianapolis this month. Instead, much of her work for the organization will be clouded by the circumstances around her departure.

“In the VSO world, it’s very buddy-buddy,” a Legion employee told Task & Purpose on the condition of anonymity. “So when people get hired at the Legion, there’s no real vetting. But National Adjutant is the highest paid position and also very high profile. She would’ve been under a lot more scrutiny.”

The American Legion confirmed that Jones resigned but would not comment any further except to say that it “wishes her well in all future endeavors.” However, one of Jones’ now-former colleagues said the atmosphere at headquarters grew tense after Jones was informed that the investigators conducting the background check were unable to verify that she had graduated, or even attended, law school. (Jones declined to speak to Task & Purpose for this article.)

Another Legion employee, who worked with Jones closely, expressed concern over her wellbeing. “She is very bright and competent,” the employee said. “I’m really saddened by all this.”

On Friday morning, the Legion’s human resources director emailed the organization’s entire staff with an urgent request. “Please submit copies of your college transcripts and certifications to the HR Office at your earliest convenience,” it read. “If you have elected to take the voluntary separation agreement, please ignore this request.”

Editors note, 7/20/2018 12:30pm EDT: This article has been updated to note that Jones declined a request for comment.

Correction, 7/21/2018 12:50pm EDT: This article has been revised to clarify that the American Legion is "almost" 100 years old. A previous version inaccurately described the Legion as "more than" 100 years old. 


Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will retire as a chief petty officer now that President Donald Trump has restored his rank.

"Before the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, he had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor," a White House statement said.

"Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified."

The announcement that Gallagher is once again an E-7 effectively nullifies the Navy's entire effort to prosecute Gallagher for allegedly committing war crimes. It is also the culmination of Trump's support for the SEAL throughout the legal process.

On July 2, military jurors found Gallagher not guilty of premeditated murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter to death and opening fire at an old man and a young girl on separate occasions during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.

Read More Show Less
Maj. Matthew Golsteyn in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Philip Stackhouse.)

President Donald Trump has ended the decade-long saga of Maj. Matthew Golsteyn by ordering a murder charge against the former Green Beret dismissed with a full pardon.

The Army charged Golsteyn with murder in December 2018 after he repeatedly acknowledged that he killed an unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Golsteyn's charge sheet identifies the man as "Rasoul."

Read More Show Less
(Screenshot from 'Leavenworth')

President Donald Trump has signed a full pardon for former 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had been convicted of murder for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men, two of whom were killed.

Lorance will now be released from the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he had been serving a 19-year sentence.

"He has served more than six years of a 19-year sentence he received. Many Americans have sought executive clemency for Lorance, including 124,000 people who have signed a petition to the White House, as well as several members of Congress," said a White House statement released Friday.

"The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted. For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history. As the President has stated, 'when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.'"

Additionally, Trump pardoned Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who was to go on trial for murder charges next year, and restored the rank of Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was found not guilty of murdering a wounded ISIS prisoner but convicted of taking an unauthorized photo with the corpse.

Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth first announced on Nov. 4 that the president was expected to intervene in the Lorance case was well as exonerate Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who has been charged with murder after he admitted to killing an unarmed Afghan man whom he believed was a Taliban bomb maker, and restore Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher's rank to E-7.

For the past week, members of Lorance's family and his legal team have been holding a constant vigil in Kansas anticipating his release, said Lorance's attorney Don Brown.

Now that he has been exonerated of committing a war crime, Lorance wants to return to active duty, Brown told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.

"He loves the Army," Brown said prior to the president's announcement. "He doesn't have any animosity. He's hoping that his case – and even his time at Leavenworth – can be used for good to deal with some issues regarding rules of engagement on a permanent basis so that our warfighters are better protected, so that we have stronger presumptions favoring warfighters and they aren't treated like criminals on the South Side of Chicago."

In the Starz documentary "Leavenworth," Lorance's platoon members discuss the series of events that took place on July 2, 2012, when the two Afghan men were killed during a patrol in Kandahar province.They claim that Lorance ordered one of his soldiers to fire at three Afghan men riding a motorcycle. The three men got off their motorcycle and started walking toward Afghan troops, who ordered them to return to their motorcycle.

At that point, Lorance ordered the turret gunner on a nearby Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle to shoot the three men, according to the documentary. That order was initially ignored, but the turret gunner eventually opened fire with his M-240, killing two of the men.

But Lorance told the documentary makers that his former soldiers' account of what happened was "ill-informed."

"From my experience of what actually went down, when my guy fired at it, and it kept coming, that signified hostile intent, because he didn't stop immediately," Lorance said in the documentary's second episode.

Brown argues that not only is Lorance innocent of murder, he should never have been prosecuted in the first case.

"He made a call and when you look at the evidence itself, the call was made within a matter of seconds," Brown said "He would make that call again."

The new Call of Duty Modern Warfare takes gaming to a new level. In fact, it's the best damn video game of 2019 (in my humble opinion).

You can watch video of the awesome gameplay for CoD above, and make sure to follow the Task & Purpose team on Twitch here.

This post was sponsored by GoatGuns.Com. Use the code TP15 for 15% off your next order.

A new trailer just dropped for the upcoming World War I action flick The Great War.

Read More Show Less