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A powerful ally for veterans

In his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865 — just over a month prior to the end of the Civil War — President Lincoln stated: “… let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Soldiers maimed in battle and sick from diseases contracted in war would not be systematically cared for until the 20th-century.

Veterans of the 1898 Spanish-American War and the 1899-1903 Philippine Insurrection, founded organizations seeking government benefits for their service and suffering. The first such veterans groups were established in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Some of these organizations united and were known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, later the Veterans of Foreign Wars or VFW. It was the first national organization to represent returning military personnel who served in combat zones overseas. VFW membership increased from 5,000 in 1915 to approximately 200,000 in 1936 when it was granted a congressional charter signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Today there are nearly two million VFW and Auxiliary members in approximately 6,800 Posts in the United States (mostly) and worldwide. The VFW is dedicated to veterans’ service, legislative advocacy, military and community service programs. The VFW lobbied for passage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 — the “G.I. Bill” — that provided an estimated 8 million World War II veterans with housing benefits as well unemployment insurance and funds for attending college. Korean War and Vietnam War era G.I. Bills helped over 10 million veterans of these conflicts attend trade schools, colleges and universities.

The VFW was a strong advocate for passage of the (2022) Honoring Our PACT Act which provides medical help for veterans harmed by burn pit fumes and other war related toxins. The VFW considers this bill to be “the most significant piece of veterans legislation in history…providing veterans who served in countries such as Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq expanded access to VA health care and earned disability benefits.”

The VFW is community oriented with members donating approximately $45 million annually to local community service projects as well as over $3 million in college scholarships and savings bonds to students. The VFW estimates that its members annually contribute more than 8.6 million hours of community related volunteer work.

VFW membership is contingent on meeting two requirements: First, an individual must have served in the armed forces of the United States and received an honorable discharge, or a general discharge “under honorable conditions.” An individual may be currently serving in the military.

Second, the individual must have served “in a war, campaign, or expedition on foreign soil or in hostile waters.” Validation of this information is usually available on a veteran’s DD-214 (separation from active duty papers) or other military documents. The following is a partial list of these campaign medals:

¯ China Service Medal

¯ American Defense Service Medal

¯ European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal

¯ American Campaign Medal

¯ Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal

¯ Army of Occupation Medal

¯ Navy Occupation Service Medal

¯ Korean Service Medal

¯ Afghanistan Campaign Medal

¯ Iraq Campaign Medal

¯ Navy Expeditionary Medal

¯ Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal

¯ Vietnam Service Medal

¯ Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal

¯ Southwest Asia Service Medal

¯ Kosovo Campaign Medal

Although most VFW members are Vietnam War veterans, since 2005 more than half of all new members are under 40 years of age with women veterans one of the fastest growing groups. (While most VFW members do not list their gender on the application form, according to one report approximately 8% of members are female).

The VFW has made it a priority to “enhance programs and services for women and underserved veterans.” A recent VFW report states the Veterans Administration needs to:

¯ Improve outreach to women veterans.

¯ Allow women to choose the gender of their VA health care providers.

¯ Train VA’s workforce to treat women veterans with respect and dignity.

Saranac Lake VFW Post 3357 (established in 1935) is seeking new members who may need assistance or want to help provide services to veterans and the local community. Please pass this commentary on to friends and relatives who qualify for VFW membership. For additional information and/or questions contact VFW Post 3357 Commander Joe Fisher: vfw3357@gmail.com.

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George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale and is retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego. He served in Okinawa and Vietnam with the First Marine Air Wing. He is a member of the Saranac Lake VFW Post 3357. A list of sources accompanies this guest commentary online.

Sources

“About Us” (accessed 2024) Veterans of Foreign Wars – New York, https://vfwny.com

Ertes, C. (2023) “The VFW is focusing on recruiting women who may be missing out on their benefits,” July 27, National Public Radio, www.npr.org

“No one does more for veterans” (accessed 2024) Veterans of Foreign Wars, www.vfw.org

“‘The most significant piece of veterans legislation in history'” (2023) February 23, Veterans of Foreign Wars, www.vfw.org

“Veterans of Foreign Wars” (accessed 2024) National Public Radio, www.pbs.org

“Veterans of Foreign Wars Eligibility Worksheet” (2023) February, Veterans of Foreign Wars, www.vfw.org

“VFW works to ensure women receive proper care” (2024) March 18, Veterans of Foreign Wars, www.vfw.org

“VFW salutes new Agent Orange decision” (2015) June 15, Veterans of Foreign Wars, www.vfw.org

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