06/21/09 — Lou Cook elected commander of state American Legion

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Lou Cook elected commander of state American Legion

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 21, 2009 2:00 AM

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Lou Cook, elected commander of the state American Legion, wants to bring more new veterans into the organization.

Lou Cook has been working on behalf of veterans for more than a decade -- since the day in 1995 he retired from the Air Force.

He joined several organizations that would allow him to serve as an advocate for others who wore the uniform -- the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans -- where he filed insurance claims, fought for benefits and offered a sympathetic ear.

But as of this week, Cook will have a new role within one of them. The Walnut Creek resident has been elected commander of the state American Legion, a post he says will give him a chance to do so much more.

He has more than a dozen goals for the one-year term. But perhaps the most critical, Cook said, is to recruit the newest generation of war fighters, because in many cases, they are the ones who will benefit the most from the services the organization has to offer.

"Retirees have always got TRICARE to fall back on. Some of them have Social Security, Medicare, all those things," he said. "But just a guy or gal who is a veteran -- maybe served three or four years and got out -- those are the ones who have a hard time getting health insurance."

Many of them desperately need it, as cases of traumatic brain injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are on the rise, he added.

"This is really our charge: To find ways to reach out to these young veterans with TBI and PTSD," Cook said. "As opposed to our Vietnam veterans, who were pushed away without ever really being thanked for their service. So we're here to welcome and help (the country's newest veterans). We're ready to start now."

But the next year is about more than increasing the American Legion's membership.

Cook also hopes to use the "clout" that comes with the position to push veterans' issues on Capitol Hill.

And he vows to be a stern voice in Washington and across the state -- working tirelessly until his term expires.

"Every state commander I have talked to has said the same thing. They wouldn't take $1 million for that year tour, but they wouldn't give a plug nickel for another. At the end of the year, you're drained."

It's a responsibility he welcomes.

Veterans helping veterans, a philosophy he got "addicted to" the day he hung up his uniform.

"Once you get involved, you just can't get enough," Cook said.