Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Exclusive: American Legion In Turmoil As Top Exec Resigns Over Background Questions
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.
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico has deployed almost 15,000 soldiers and National Guard in the north of the country to stem the flow of illegal immigration across the border into the United States, the head of the Mexican Army said on Monday.
Mexico has not traditionally used security forces to stop undocumented foreign citizens leaving the country for the United States, and photographs of militarized police catching Central American and Cuban women at the border in recent days have met with criticism.
Mexico is trying to curb a surge of migrants from third countries crossing its territory in order to reach the United States, under the threat of tariffs on its exports by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has made tightening border security a priority.
Packages containing suspected heroin were found in the home of the driver charged with killing seven motorcyclists Friday in the North Country, authorities said Monday.
Massachusetts State Police said the packages were discovered when its Violent Fugitive Apprehension Section and New Hampshire State police arrested Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, at his West Springfield home. The packages will be tested for heroin, they said.
Zhukovskyy faces seven counts of negligent homicide in connection with the North Country crash on Friday evening that killed seven riders associated with Jarhead Motorcycle Club, a club for Marines and select Navy corpsmen.
'It just happened' — the Iraq War’s first living Medal of Honor recipient recalls his harrowing fight against 5 insurgents
On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.
Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.
In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.
With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.
After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.
Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.
McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.
Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.
The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.
They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.
It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.