The American Legion has named Verna Jones its new executive director, making her the first woman to lead the veterans’ organization in its nearly 100-year history.
Jones, an attorney and Army veteran who served as a personnel sergeant, stepped into her new role on Nov. 1. Legion spokesman Marty Callaghan said he believed that Jones is the organization’s first African-American executive director, but he couldn’t confirm it absolutely. Previously, she served as the director of the Legion’s veterans affairs and rehabilitation division.
“We’re still focused on the [Department of Veterans Affairs], the quality of health care, timeliness, the backlog, benefits — all the things that we’ve been focusing on, and the things that veterans need. Access to health care is huge for us,” Jones said in an interview with The Huffington Post in her new office.
Jones became the most animated when asked about sexual assault in the military, an issue that several members of the Legion, including Jones, have testified about before Congress. The organization has said the military needs to have a “zero tolerance policy” on the issue.
“To those people who may assault people, [we need to] let them know that we’re not going to stand for that, and there are some very serious consequences the first time,” said Jones. “So we’ve got to create programs, we’ve got to create awareness, and we have to be willing to say that military sexual trauma exists. Stop sweeping it under the rug and pretending it’s a small thing, because it’s not.
“There needs to be punishment,” she added. “Something punitive needs to happen. If you’re in the military and you sexually assault somebody, then you don’t need to be in the military anymore.”
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