Episodes of The Sport Clips Haircuts Hall of Fame Podcast - Haircuts with Heart featuring BJ Lawrence from VFW

Red Banner with HOF Episode

In this episode recorded in September of 2018, we continue our "Haircuts with Heart" series, where we look at a few of the causes and charities that Sport Clips supports. In this podcast, we interview BJ Lawrence from the VFW. BJ is the 2018 Commander in Chief of the VFW. Since 2013, Sport Clips has been the primary supporter of the VFW’s Sport Clips Help A Hero Scholarship program, which provides scholarships for service members and veterans for use at post-secondary schools and trade schools. To date, we have awarded more than 1,000 scholarships totaling $4.9 million. To learn more about the VFW's "Sport Clips Help A Hero Scholarship" program, including details on eligibility, visit: https://www.vfw.org/scholarship/

Chad and BJ standing in front of VFW Banner

Episode Air Date Guest Name Guest Title Topic(s)
October 3, 2018 BJ Lawrence Commander in Chief The mission of VFW and their partnership with Sport Clips

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Chad Jordan:                Hey everybody, this is Chad Jordan, Director of Marketing at Sport Clips. This is another edition of the "Sport Clips Hall of Fame Podcast". Today we're going to be discussing some topics especially around Help a Hero. Help a Hero month's coming up in October of 2018 as it does every October, and so we have some guests that we've been bringing on from the VFW. I'll go ahead and have him introduce himself right now.

BJ Lawrence:                I'm BJ Lawrence. I'm the national commander, which is the Commander in Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Chad Jordan:                We are here in Darlington, South Carolina. We had a race yesterday, a race today. We are literally sitting in an RV in the infield at turn two I believe, and they are doing their qualifying rounds right now, runs. What you might hear in the background will be ... I don't know. Hopefully Eric Jones, maybe Denny Hamlin, screaming by us. There goes one right there. We'll try to ignore it ourselves. I don't know if it gets picked up when you guys are listening to this, but BJ it's a pleasure to have you. Give me, obviously you've served in the military, can you give me just a little bit of background about who you are, where you came from, all that kind of fun stuff?

BJ Lawrence:                I'm from New Mexico. As soon as I got out of high school, I went into the army and served three and a half years in the United States Army. I worked in two different fields in the army. I actually worked air defense artillery, and then I worked nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare.

Chad Jordan:                Wow.

BJ Lawrence:                Yes. I came home and was trying to decide if I wanted to stay in the military or not. When I returned home, the local chief of police offered me a job as a police officer. I chose to take that route for a career path, which I did. I worked in law enforcement. I worked as a narcotics agent. I worked as an investigator. When I retired from law enforcement, I had a private investigation company for about five years before doing the VFW full time. I've actually been a member of the VFW for 20 years, but I became very active and started up in national leadership roles in the last three or four years.

Chad Jordan:                We're definitely going to get into that. New Mexico, narcotics cop, nothing to do with Breaking Bad television show or anything? Any blue meth that was out there?

BJ Lawrence:                No. The closest I got to that was I drove by the house where they filmed it in Albuquerque. I actually live three and half hours south of Albuquerque. I'm on the Texas, New Mexico border.

Chad Jordan:                Let's back to VFW. How did you get involved? You said 20 years, I believe?

BJ Lawrence:                Yes.

Chad Jordan:                How did that start?

BJ Lawrence:                Well, my father was a World War II veteran, and I grew up in the VFW with him visiting the local VFW as a child. Went into the army, and after I got out of the army, I didn't even realize I was eligible to be a member of the VFW even though I grew up in the VFW. It was quite some time later, in fact almost 15 years after becoming eligible in the VFW, someone finally-

Chad Jordan:                Tapped you on the shoulder, and-

BJ Lawrence:                Said, "Hey, you're eligible."

Chad Jordan:                Walk me through that. How are you eligible?

BJ Lawrence:                You have to have served in a combat or conflict area, or you've had to been assigned to an area which you received hostile fire or imminent danger pay. We have certain eligibility requirements. We're chartered through Congress as a veteran's non-profit organization. A veteran has to meet those requirements to join our organization.

Chad Jordan:                Would veterans know this about where they served, or is there a website they go to check eligibility? How does that work?

BJ Lawrence:                It can actually work in several ways. For me, I had a VFW member talk to me and talk me through the process. We also have a national website, which is www.vfw.org which lists our eligibility requirements, gives the viewer information on the organization, what we do for veterans, our military, and their families. They can find out there. We also have folks every day out in communities spreading the word about the good things we do and trying to get our message across throughout communities and let prospective members know what it takes to join. We do recruiting actively every day.

Chad Jordan:                Over two decades, being involved with the VFW, you mentioned some of the good things you guys do. What have you seen over 20 years locally in Albuquerque and now nationally? Give me some examples of things that you guys do.

BJ Lawrence:                I refer to some our long standing traditions, if you will, as our core. Our core programs. Historically, the VFW started in 1899, and it was formed as an organization of veterans returning from war who felt that they needed to band together and form an organization to take care of other veterans. They felt like when they returned from war, they weren't receiving the entitlements they deserved or proper care they deserved. That's how the VFW was formed 1899. Today, as an organization, we still play a part in that. We're very active on Capitol Hill. Some of the things that I've seen evolve in the VFW has only been those things that I would say have even gotten better today. We have a strong presence of 1.7 million members. We also have an office in Washington D.C. that focuses solely on serving veterans lobbying our elected officials on Capitol Hill, advocating on behalf of veterans for entitlement purposes or benefit purposes.

                                    The VFW's been very instrumental over the years in actually writing legislation that affects veterans, our military, and their families. That's something that I have not seen change in 20 years I've been a member. If it's changed, it's only gotten better over time. It's evolved into a bigger presence, a bigger program.

Chad Jordan:                In your role now, how do you get, being involved for 20 years, and then get to the level? First of all, does it take 20 years to get to the level you're at, or could anybody join and take some certain steps to get to this place?

BJ Lawrence:                We serve, as leaders, we serve at different levels throughout the organization. We have leadership structures and levels in the local communities, which we refer to as posts. That's a typical VFW that your listener will see.

Chad Jordan:                That's usually a physical building, right?

BJ Lawrence:                Yes. In their community. Then we have a district structure, which is several of those VFWs from a local area, which form a district. Then we have a state structure of leadership. Then from state then you advance up to the national level. For our positions, and the position I currently serve, I had to be elected by the entire organization to serve in this position.

Chad Jordan:                It's a how many year term?

BJ Lawrence:                It's a three year term. We have a third in command, which we call a Junior Vice Commander In Chief. We have a second in command, which we called a Senior Vice Commander In Chief. Then we have the Commander, the national commander, which my official title is called Commander In Chief of the VFW.

Chad Jordan:                Each year, you serve one of those.

BJ Lawrence:                One year. Yes.

Chad Jordan:                One of those positions. Can you fill me in on any personal connections or stories that you've seen over the last couple decades the VFW doing? Maybe redact the names if you like. Any veterans that just stick out, their story has stuck out with you?

BJ Lawrence:                Actually, in all honestly, hundreds come to mind. I travel a lot, and I see good things happening everywhere I go. From our membership, what our members do in their communities on a daily basis, but I also see the stories from veterans that we've had an opportunity to help. Whether it be that Vietnam Veteran who has been struggling trying to get entitlements and healthcare and benefits that maybe one of our veteran service officers was able to step in and assist him and was able to recover his benefits that were long overdue to a veteran that research out of us, and through one of our mental health partners, we were able to save a life. We're still doing good things like that. We have a program that we stress mental health awareness and recognizing the signs of mental health distress. We have partnerships that we can refer veterans to and get them the information they need. We hear stories every day.

                                    We hear of a veteran who was maybe considering taking their life, and they felt like they had nowhere to turn. Through one of our programs, they reached out to us, and we were able to get them help. Those are the type of stories.

Chad Jordan:                The life saving ones that really get you.

BJ Lawrence:                Correct. We're able to make an impact in veterans' lives and their families in things we do every day. In fact, that's one of the great things about our partnership with Sport Clips. When we partnered with Sport Clips, we felt there was a need there to assist our veterans and military to further their education to maybe give them a better quality of life through education. It's been a great program. We've partnered with Sport Clips to administer the program, and we've been able to provide almost 1,100 scholarships to veterans and military to help further their education. In fact, today those scholarships total about five million dollars of educational assistance.

Chad Jordan:                That's mind boggling. Something that blows me away is people get out, veterans get out, of the military, and maybe they had trained in a certain job or certain type of job, and they're wondering, "Well, how is that going to translate to a real world job?" Right? Then they get this scholarship opportunity, and they get to cross-train somewhere else. Not only are they employable, they're highly employable because of their discipline they've had in the military. It's almost, between you and me, I don't know, an unfair advantage really. They don't think of it that way when they're getting out and they're wondering what they're going to do. These scholarships really do make an impact. Obviously, at Sport Clips, we love doing this. We love what you guys are doing. Can you help me understand, is there a cost for veterans to be in the VFW or to go through this scholarship ...?

BJ Lawrence:                No. Actually, I have a saying I like to use when I describe what we do to people. Everything the VFW does costs money, but everything the VFW does, we do for free. If you think about that, we have numerous programs out there that we're providing as an organization whether it's our huge scholarship programs or whether it's our veteran service programs where we assist veterans with their claims. We've helped veterans recover over seven billion-

Chad Jordan:                You said the B?

BJ Lawrence:                With a B. Seven billion dollars worth of entitlements and benefits.

Chad Jordan:                They didn't know. It's not like somebody was keeping it from them, it was mostly-

BJ Lawrence:                Well, whether they knew, whether they didn't know, we helped and assisted them through the process to recover those benefits entitlements. It's what they deserved. It was the right thing to do is to take care of our nation's veterans. No, these programs that we administer are at no cost. You don't have to be a member of the VFW to come to us for assistance. Any veteran can come in the door any time, and we will do whatever we can to help them or their families.

Chad Jordan:                Awesome. Every October we have Help a Hero. We're going to do that again this year. BJ, I really appreciate you spending some time. First of all, thank you for your service. Thanks for giving up some time today for me.

BJ Lawrence:                It's a pleasure. We're making a difference in veterans' lives, and that's what we need to continue doing. I enjoy the relationship with Sport Clips because together we're making it happen.

Chad Jordan:                Yeah. We are man. Thanks so much.

BJ Lawrence:                Thank you.

Chad Jordan:                All right. Thanks everybody.