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Thousands Of Veterans Expected In Kansas City As VFW Convention Begins

Nicolas Telep
KCUR 89.3
An elaborate arrangement of poppies, the official flower of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, is on display as part of a contest at the organization's national convention in Kansas City.

Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States opened its 119th National Convention in Kansas City Saturday morning. President Donald Trump will address the gathering early next week.

The convention runs through Wednesday at the Kansas City Convention Center. 10,000 members of the VFW and VFW Auxiliary — family members of veterans — are expected to attend.  President Trump is set to appear Tuesday.

The VFW, which is based in Kansas City, is hosting its first national convention in the metro since 2007. Incoming VFW national commander Vincent Lawrence says hosting the event in Kansas City gives members the opportunity to see the organization's headquarters and meet with staff.

Lawrence says Trump spoke at a previous national convention when he was a candidate, and this is the first time he will appear as president.

"We have a long-standing tradition; we invite the sitting president to every convention," Lawrence says.

In addition to the festivities and the President's speech, the organization will also be conducting business meetings and outlining its priorities for the next year. Lawrence says one of the biggest issues the VFW deals with is health care, especially through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The department has been involved in some controversy over the past few months since President Trump fired its secretary in March. Then Trump's first nominee for a new secretary withdrew. However, acting Secretary Robert Wilkie has been nominated to fill the post permanently, and Lawrence is optimistic.

"The VA is making a lot of improvements," Lawrence says. "We're excited to see what the new secretary will bring to the VA, and we're also excited, of course, to hear the President's vision for the future of the VA."

Wilkie will also speak at the convention on Tuesday.

Lawrence says one of the biggest accomplishments of the VFW over the past year was assisting in the passage of the VA Mission Act, which he says improves veterans' access to health care.

In addition to business and the address from President Trump, the convention will include a concert from country singer Trace Adkins, health screenings for veterans and the VFW's annual "Buddy Poppy" Display Contest.

Nicolas Telep is KCUR's morning news intern. You can follow him on Twitter @NDTelep.

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