When I’m at the PX at Nellis Air Force Base or at other locations across the country, I often hear a group of new veterans discussing whether or not they should join one of the national veterans’ organizations. Although there are many veterans’ organizations to join, most are composed of older veterans.
After two world wars, the conflicts of Korea and Vietnam, and the current Middle East conflicts of the 1990s and today, veterans continue to wonder if they would fit in with those older veterans.
In the 1970s, WWII and Korean War veterans led veterans’ organizations and Vietnam-era veterans felt like outsiders. They had fought a different kind of war. Today, those Vietnam veterans hold many of the leadership positions in those veterans’ organizations.
History repeats itself. Today’s veterans also fought a different type of war. They are now asking the same questions that former Vietnam-era veterans asked: Will I fit in?
Most organizations welcome new, younger blood. The expectation and hope is that Vietnam veterans will also welcome the new desert camouflage-wearing veterans into their midst.
It will be to their mutual advantage. Many older veterans need help with computer technology and the newer veterans often need assistance with processing veterans’ benefits applications.
The Beginnings of Veteran Organizations
The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) traces its roots back to 1899, when veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) founded local organizations in the United States to secure rights and benefits for their service. Today, the VFW and its auxiliary membership are comprised of nearly 1.7 million people.
In 1919, veterans returning home after World War I founded The American Legion. During that same year, Congress chartered The American Legion as a patriotic, wartime veterans’ organization devoted to mutual assistance. Currently, The American Legion is the largest veterans’ organization with a membership of 2.2 million men and women in nearly 15,000 American Legion posts worldwide.
The American Legion Was Founded in Paris
According to the American Legion’s Post Officers Guide, Allied Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Headquarters in France asked a group of officers to suggest ways to improve troop morale. One officer, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the eldest son of former President Theodore Roosevelt, proposed the creation of an organization for war veterans.
In 1919, this group formed a temporary committee and the first organizational meeting took place in Paris in March, with about 1,000 officers and enlisted men attending. The meeting, known as the Paris Caucus, adopted a temporary constitution and the name “The American Legion.”
Both Organizations Have Helped Veterans Gain Numerous Benefits
The VFW and The American Legion brief Congress on policies and laws affecting veterans. They have successfully lobbied for the GI Bills that have helped veterans’ education, for improvements to the Department of Veterans Affairs and for other veteran benefits. It is beneficial to have these advocates in Washington, D.C.
On a more personal level, veterans have experiences that few civilians understand. Those experiences form a common bond among veterans. They can discuss their shared experiences without having to explain military terms.
These organizations operate in the spirit of veterans helping veterans. All local posts and chapters have service officers who assist veterans with VA application processes. They often visit military and VA hospitals to provide comfort and conversation to their fellow veterans recovering from illnesses or battlefield injuries.
Newly transferred veterans can find assistance in locating housing, schools and colleges for family members from fellow veterans who live in the area. Additionally, servicemembers transitioning out of the military need a network of contacts to search for employment. Older veterans who run companies and need employees can often refer or hire younger veterans.
Veteran Organizations Are A Supportive Community
Veterans’ organizations support various veterans’ situations in life, from getting a job to hospital convalescence to elder care. APUS does its part in supporting veterans as well through the APUS Veterans Center and a large Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter. The benefits of SVA membership include:
- Peer-to-peer networks for fellow veterans
- Campus activities
- Networking opportunities
- Connections to off-campus resources
Many civilians think veterans’ organizations are simply a place where former members of the military can gather to tell war stories and reminisce about the past. However, they also exist to take care of the current challenges in any veteran’s life.
It seems to make sense to build a support community of veterans helping veterans. That community can survive only if new veterans join the ranks of their elders.
About the Author
James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.
Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 45th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. In 2017, he was appointed to the position of Adjutant for The American Legion, China Post 1. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book published in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017, “Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”