Why Veterans Groups Matter

Much is said of those who choose to serve our country by volunteering to join one of our branches of military and defend our land and safety. But once removed from national headlines, it is easy to forget that for those who have served (and for those who active service will eventually end), their sacrifice remains an integral part of their lives in different forms and varying intensities. It is difficult for those who haven’t been a part of the military to understand the comradery that develops when fighting and sacrificing for something larger than oneself. A decent yet insufficient analogue can be understood by those who have participated in team sport, athletic or otherwise, have felt the emotional undulations that come with shared sacrifice. It is no mistake that most people can remember their childhood teammates or have even remained friends with them. The mutual bond that is formed through the countless hours of shared physical and emotional pressure can be nearly impossible to break.

The intensity of these feelings of fellowship are increased exponentially confronted with the serious or even life-threatening situations like that members of the military face on a daily basis. It is even more difficult to participate in this kinship and to internalize the resulting bonds that develop only to have them stripped away once a tour or career has concluded. This is why veterans’ organizations are so crucial to the health and wellbeing of those who have served. It is not simply because these men and women deserve our gratitude, it is because their peers are the only ones who truly understand what they have endured. The three organizations below provide the necessary services to help ease the transition back to civilian life as well as provide their own respective unified forums from which to further the causes beneficial to veterans and those serving in our armed forces. The following groups serve the same general purpose and provide generally the same services, yet they distinguish themselves from one another through different characteristics, however slight. All three are by their very nature noble entities doing their part to repay those who have sacrificed for our freedom.

American Legion

The American Legion was formed in Paris on March 16, 1919 by veterans of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and chartered by Congress in September 16 of the same year. According to its Mission Statement the organization, “is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization with great political influence perpetuated by its grass-roots involvement in the legislation process from local districts to Capitol Hill.” It has followed through with its stated cause by its fundamental participation in the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, the precursor to the Veterans Administration (which the Legion subsequently helped elevate to Cabinet-level status in 1989), its protection of the American Flag through the congressionally adopted “Flag Code,” and the passing of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which renewed “the federal government’s commitment to veterans by providing them with substantially better education benefits.” The American Legion is headquartered in Indiana World War Memorial Plaza in Indianapolis, IN. It is the nation’s largest wartime veteran’s service with a membership of 2.3 million veterans as of 2013.

The American Legion is run very much like a government institution in that it is organized nationally by Departments, state-level Divisions, Counties, and Posts. The Departments are mostly located in Washington D.C. and are divided based on areas of operation such as Legislative, Veterans Affairs, Foreign Relations, Media Relations, etc. Divisions are represented by one or two delegates at national gatherings, and Counties are represented by elected officers who oversee their respective Posts, which are considered the basic unit of the organization. Posts deal mainly with community service projects and local meetings.

Services are geared towards helping veterans acquire proper assistance and guidance in matters concerning career development, personal finance, health care, and education. Listings for career fairs, tips for finances, instructions on how to enroll in the VA, listings for facilities that help deal with PTSD, and the requisite resources necessary to sign ensure proper use of all benefits provided by various GI Bills are available on its website. Members can also keep abreast of relevant issues through the organization’s publication American Legion Magazine.

Other benefits include partnership discounts. A few of which are discounts in membership prices for insurance provider USAA and Mutual of Omaha, moving companies Allied and North American Van Lines, auto rentals discounts through Alamo, and vacation discounts through GOV Vacation Rewards, Veterans Holidays and Wyndham Hotel Group.

Eligibility is reserved for those who have served at least one day of federal active duty in the United States Armed Forces during war eras and have been honorably discharged or are still serving. The specific war eras include World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon/Grenada, Operation Just Cause – Panama, Persian Gulf/War on Terrorism.

AMVETS

AMVETS was formed by World War II veterans of the United States. It is active in U.S. politics and mainly focuses on lobbying for veteran’s interests including pensions and improving quality for the Veterans Affairs hospital system. The group also focuses on protecting the American Flag, and “POW/MIA accountability.” A recent notable achievement for the organization was the May 21, 2014 passing of the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014 (H.R. 4031; 113th Congress), which gives the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs the authority to remove or demote any individual from the Senior Executive Service upon determining that such individual’s performance warrants removal or demotion. This bill written in response to the secret waiting lists and insufficient care in the VA hospital system that may have resulted in the death of veterans awaiting treatment. The Federally chartered group is a 501(c)(19) organization of Past or Present Members of the Armed Forces and is headquartered in Lanham, Maryland.

AMVETS is not just a lobby group, it also provides more specific assistance to the individual veteran. One of the most useful and effective services supplied by AMVETS is its National Service Foundation which, through its countrywide network of National Service Officers who are accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs, provides veterans with advice and “prompt action” regarding claims of compensation, free of charge. Members of the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary devote “as many as 1 million hours of free time a year to brighten the lives of hospitalized veterans.” The group also extends its goodwill through its annual awarding of scholarships to high school seniors, ROTC students and veterans who have chosen to pursue higher education. AMVETS gives out an annual Silver Helmet Award to “recognize excellence and achievement in Americanism, defense, rehabilitation, congressional service and other fields.” The silver World War II helmet replica has been called the “Veterans Oscar” and past recipients include Lee Greenwood, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

The AMVETS Career Center portion of its website provides tools and assistance in order to yield a more successful job search, including help developing a resume and cover letter, and as well as tips for successful self-branding and promotion. The Career Center also provides educational and general resources, interview tips, and the relevant contact information for more direct guidance. AMVETS partners with numerous other entities to provide discounts and exclusive programs; a few of which are USAA, MetLife, Life Line Screening, ScriptRelief RX, Choice Hotels International, LifeLock, TNT Vacations, Wyndham Hotels, Avis, Dell, and Office Depot.

Persons considered eligible to join AMVETS include those currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserves and those who have served at any time after Sept. 15, 1940. For those currently retired, discharges must have been under honorable conditions. Eligible members include those who have served as an American citizen in the armed forces of an allied nation, under honorable conditions, between Sept. 15, 1940 and May 8, 1975. Merchant Marines who served during wartime are also considered eligible to join AMVETS. Proof of eligibility can take the form of a DD-214 and an honorable discharge certificate. Though prices vary, annual dues are around $30 while a lifetime membership begins at $250. These monies help fund the services and representation provided by AMVETS.

VFW

The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States was formed on September, 23 1899 by Spanish-American War veterans. The group formed in order to provide a voice to veterans who were unable to receive the proper medical care when they returned home. Its mission is, “To foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts. To serve veteran, the military and our communities. To advocate on behalf of all veterans.” It has served to provide a singular voice from which veterans can collectively voice their needs on a national forum. Past accomplishments include its help in creating the Veterans Administration, crafting a GI Bill that is more amenable to the needs of those in the 21st Century, and pushing for better services and conditions in the VA medical system. Membership totals around 1.7 million veterans who, through the VFW and its Auxiliaries volunteer more than 8 million hours of their time. It is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri.

Services provided by the VFW include assistance filing VA Claims, one-on-one guidance to ensure all proper educational benefits are received, financial assistance predicated upon certain criteria, and various scholarships and help applying for them. The organization’s website also gives members access to medical service discounts through LifeStation, HBM and Healthcare Alliance, insurance programs with military discounts, as well as pages offering advice from “Transitioning to Civilian Life” which links to SAT/ACT College Test Preparation and veteran employment assistance through VetJobs, to “VFW National Home” which is an organization that seeks to create a community for families who have been negatively affected by war. The VFW remains active in the educational realm and has thus far awarded $3 million in scholarships.

The VFW prides itself on its grassroots origins and it continues this tradition through the VFW Action Corps, which is a network of over 60,000 VFW members who stay apprised of current news affecting active duty military, veterans, and their families. The idea is that banding together locally and nationally gives those otherwise unheard voices a platform from which to voice their opinions on issues pertinent to VFW members and their ilk. The VFW Action Corps members receive a weekly newsletter which “highlights the VFW’s advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill,” access to a nationwide database of elected officials, and “Action Alerts” advising members on how to remain involved. A recent success story is the Action Corps ability to contact Congress “10,000 times to ensure elimination of the 1% COLA [Cost Of Living Adjustment] penalty for future military retiree’s.” The group is currently fighting for comprehensive medical support for veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

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