Membership and participation in veterans service organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars have been on the decline for over ten years. The trend reflects a national decline in VFW membership that has led to the closing of hundreds of posts across the country. In Nebraska, the trend is no different. According to Matthew Clausen, National Membership Director for the VFW in Kansas City, the causes are many.
"Veterans don't understand what our organization does," said Clausen. "Ten million veterans are eligible but don't take advantage of us." Clausen said membership is down 17 percent from a peak of 2.2 million in 1992 and continues to shrink as WWII veterans die at the rate of 1500 a day. Out of the 1.5 million VFW members in 2009, 470,000 are older than 80, 230,000 are between 70-80, and less than 1.5 percent are under 50.
The VFW traces its roots back to 1899 when veterans of the Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurrection founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service. At the time, veterans did not receive medical care or a pension and were left to fend for themselves without proper representation. To address their considerable frustration, the loosely organized groups banded together and formed the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
By 1915, membership grew to 15,000; by 1936, ranks had swelled to almost 200,000. The VFW became an instrumental force in the formation of the Veterans Administration, the creation of the GI bill, and was a leading advocate in the fight for compensation for Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange, a defoliant used by the US military as part of its herbicidal warfare program.
Clausen said the VFW's biggest job is advocacy and cites an estimated $1.5 billion that was given back to veterans through the Veterans Administration in 2010 as proof of the organization's continued relevance. The VFW maintains a powerful team of lobbyists in Washington DC, and is currently fighting for the rights of those afflicted with Gulf War Syndrome. To help address the problem, Clausen said efforts have been made to recruit younger veterans.
"We have started campaigns to target those people," he said. "Our biggest percentage are Vietnam vets. Currently only 1.6 percent are Desert Storm veterans."
In postwar WWII America, VFW halls became mainstays of rural communities with nearly 10,000 posts operating nationally. The various local chapters served as gathering spots, social hubs, and outposts for a variety of charitable and civic services for the millions of GI's returning from the war effort. A changing cultural landscape, including the banning of smoking, and the Privacy act of 1974 touched off a steady but slow decline. Today, as the numbers continue to dwindle, local VFW members worry about the future.
People pay their dues but they don't show up at membership meetings nor volunteer. The dwindling participation has become critical.
The challenges presented to VFW Posts across our country, also apply to Bensen VFW Post 2503. Unless we as a Post and Auxiliary acknowledge and act upon those challenges, we will suffer the same fate as hundreds of Posts. One thing that each of us can do is to contact every person in our lives who we know have served in the United States Military and may be eligible for membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It is estimated that there are more than 65,000 veterans in Nebraska eligible to join the VFW.
Why should a veteran join the VFW? They should join because those who have come before them in the VFW have expended considerable energies to ensure that Federal and State Governments are responsible to the need of veterans who have given so much to our country. It is now the obligation and duty of younger veterans to ensure that our governments provide for veterans as a result of the hardships that we have endured in the service of our nation.
Join the VFW here: https://www.vfw.org/Join/
Reference: Mirroring National Trend, Local VFW Ranks Declining.