February 19, 2015 at 3:16 p.m.
Helm was elected to his position last August. He served in the U.S. Army, with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., from 1972-1973 and completed Army Ranger training.
He has been active with the American Legion since his discharge, and he is a member of a post in Lebanon, Neb., near the place of his birth in McCook, Neb. However, he lives now where he spent most of his youth in Norcatur, Kan., where he worked 33 years as a rural mail carrier, after the Army.
He served in roles of post adjutant, post commander, county commander and district commander before being named Nebraska state commander in 1987-1988 and a national vice commander in 2003-2004. He has chaired a Foreign Relations Commission and the National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission.
Helm visited North Branch during a four-day Minnesota tour of American Legion posts for meals and meetings, from Moorhead to Grand Rapids to Redwood Falls and also including metro-area stops in Roseville and Apple Valley.
The North Branch post was honored to receive a national commander’s visit for the second consecutive year. “In 2014 we applied for, and were granted the visit, but this year (our state office) called us to request our post to be a stop on the current commander’s schedule. We must have done something right,” North Branch Post Commander Randy Koivisto said. “I’m unaware of any other service organization that has the ability for average members to spend time annually with their national leader. The National Commander spends more than 300 days each year on the road visiting with American Legion members in every corner of our nation.
“While being granted a visit by our leader is certainly an honor, it’s also important to note that it’s a chance to rededicate ourselves to the mission of helping veterans and our communities.”
Helm told the Chisago County Press in North Branch that he looked forward to speaking before Congress later this month on veterans affairs and on national security and defense.
He said the American Legion is focused recently on ensuring timely health care for veterans and on preventing homelessness, drug abuse and suicide among those men and women who have served.
He said that with the rate of recent veterans lost to suicide, their numbers have surpassed the total number of personnel who have died in active duty during the current war on terrorism.
A federal suicide bill received unanimous support from the U.S. Senate on the day of Helm’s North Branch visit, after passage by the House, and President Obama later signed the Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act into law.
“It’s going to allow us to hire more psychiatrists to meet a need that we really do have,” Helm said.
Being active with the American Legion is “something that an individual owes his fellow veteran,” he added.