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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Nearly a year after WA Legion suspended for ‘dysfunction’ is department now on track?

By Becca Most News Tribune (Tacoma)

Nearly a year after the Washington state chapter of the American Legion was suspended for “dysfunction” and disbanded, the Legion’s national chapter says the chapter is on track to get its charter back.

Last year the American Legion’s National Executive Committee took the rare step of taking over administrative control of the American Legion Department of Washington as the committee developed a new constitution and installed new officers. A resolution at the time said the Washington American Legion “did away with their constitution” and that lawsuits, “existing, occurring and nascent, have put an unbearable financial burden on the department.”

The American Legion Department of Washington is a nonprofit veterans’ organization that offers a variety of services to veterans and their families across the state, as well as youth programming and sports. It has more than 150 posts across Washington, and its latest Form 990, filed with the IRS in 2021, listed 24,000 volunteers and 27 employees.

An ongoing lawsuit brought about by three legion members alleged former officers at the Washington American Legion paid themselves and others more than $417,000 in unauthorized bonuses and hid that activity from members and the public, as reported by the News Tribune.

The national arm of the American Legion is still cleaning up “a few issues” with the Washington department, but the department should be on track to getting its charter back in the next six to eight months, Mark Seavey told the News Tribune on Tuesday. Seavey is the American Legion national judge advocate, who serves as the national legion’s chief legal officer, he said.

“While the department has been shut down, the districts and the posts within the department have really stepped up their game and have done all the things that we want them to do: be out in the community, work to strengthen the community, things of that nature,” Seavey said. “Washington Legionnaires have done the right thing. It was only at the department level we were seeing problems, and we think we have that fixed now.”

New constitution, leaders approved in July

Seavey said there wasn’t any “crazy embezzlement going on” in the Washington chapter but that “they had kind of lost touch with what they needed to do as a nonprofit entity handling their business.”

At some point within the last five years the American Legion Department of Washington filed paperwork for a for-profit derivative shareholder company rather than a nonprofit agency, which needs to be rectified before the department can return to its charter, he said.

“We’re not actually sure how they got out of code, … nobody has been able to give us the final answer,” Seavey said. “But we have no reason to believe that anything was done maliciously.”

The department is on track to finish drafting a new constitution and bylaws. At the mid-July state convention, members will vote on those, as well as elect new department leaders, Seavey said. The American Legion is trying to avoid disrupting or putting any programs on hold during the transition, he said.

The national chapter will continue to oversee Washington Legion department-level programs for another year, as well as have a national department staffer remain in the office to oversee meetings and train new leaders to ensure procedures are being followed, Seavey said.

As for answers to how the department “did away” with its constitution for years, Seavey said the American Legion is not interested in holding individuals accountable or looking into what happened but rather is focused on moving forward and finding solutions.

Under federal law, the national legion chapter only has the authority to suspend a department, not hold specific individuals accountable, Seavey said. That authority remains within the post or department agency receiving complaints, he said.

In terms of the financial impact of lawsuits that “have put an unbearable financial burden on the department,” Seavey said he couldn’t comment on specifics but said the department is “going to be fine.”

“They have enough money in their operating budget to handle everything,” he said.

Issues like not having a constitution, which detailed fiduciary duties, rules and election procedures, have been “ironed out now, so we don’t think that’s going to be an issue anymore,” Seavey said.

“We’re going to get the Department of Washington back to doing what they’re supposed to be doing, which is looking out for veterans in Washington,” he said. “I think that the excitement and the level of interest that we’ve had from Legionnaires in Washington to get this fixed has been great. So I’m feeling pretty confident.”