Veterans Organizations Struggle To Bring In Younger Vets

Once dominated by veterans of World War II and Korea, military organizations’ memberships are dwindling as the country losses its oldest veterans.

Nationally, American Legion membership is about 2.5 million, down from a recent high of 3 million members.

The same is happening in Kokomo, American Legion Post 6 Commander Larry Hedges said.

“We’re dwindling like everybody else,” Hedges said. “The membership nationally has been declining for the last few years. As our World War II and Korean vets pass on, we are not replacing them with the vets of the Middle East police actions. The young vet of today does not seem to be interested in joining any fraternal organizations. With the Internet and mobile phones and games, they are not inclined to join.”

While posts near military bases continue to flourish, those in rural areas are feeling the loss, he said.

“Here at Post 6, we are doing better than most of the posts in Indiana,” said Hedges. “Some of the smaller posts have closed in the last few years.”

Hedges said Indiana’s American Legion membership in 2010 fell under 100,000 for the first time in decades and fell even lower in 2011.

With the American Legion being the largest veterans organization in the world and the only veterans organization formed by an act of Congress, Hedges said it’s vital legion posts get the young veterans involved.

“Our national, state and local membership teams have been looking into various ways to turn things around with incentives and more modern programs, but the bottom line is our young vets are the secret to our continued growth and success. I am not sure that when the vets come home from abroad that they do not want to just forget for a while.”

The same can be said about the nation’s many Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations. In 1992, its membership hovered at around 2.2 million. Today membership is about 1.6 million, according to Joe Davis, of the VFW public affairs office.

Despite the national numbers, the Veterans of Wars Post 1152 on North Washington Street has not seen the decline.

“Getting new members has not been a problem,” said Ken Fisher, quartermaster of the VFW Post 1152.

“We have a lot of Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans sign up and we also do a transition program like other organizations to assist them in making the transition in coming home.”

Fisher, a 20-year VFW member and Vietnam veteran, said the key is setting up programs to help young veterans transition back into society after the service.

“We have plenty of assistance programs like the phone cards system we set up for veterans overseas wishing to call their families,” he said.

Called Operation Uplink, the program has provided more than 5 million connections on free calls monthly.

Along with providing veterans assistance, the VFW 1152 has two military rights teams that conduct funerals for veterans.

“I’ve been to a lot of funerals at several locations and I rank our military rites team up there with some of the best,” said Fisher. “They do a great job.

“The numbers of World War II and Korean veterans passing does make it difficult,” he said of dwindling members.

“It’s a tragedy to see them go and the numbers fall, but that’s what we all have to live with. Hopefully, we’ll have programs in place for the younger guys to get involved with.”


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