A few days ago I posted a letter that I had sent to the National Commander of the American Legion, and I have received a reply:
Thank you for your e-mail regarding eligibility for membership in The American Legion.
Hopefully, the following explanation will give you a clearer understanding to the reasons for The American Legion's apparent resistance to "open up" membership to a wider base of veterans.
The American Legion was chartered in 1919 as a WARTIME veterans organization. Our only criteria is honorable service during a wartime period. These are established by Congress and can only be modified by that elected body, although, as you will see, the Legion can and does submit changes to these periods. Also, our eligibility requirements closely parallel those of the Department of Veterans Affairs for wartime veterans' benefits.
At National Conventions of The American Legion, operating through the "resolutions" process, this organization has addressed the eligibility question many times since we were originally chartered, and has asked Congress to change the eligibility dates in our charter several times to recognize subsequent periods of national crisis. One of the most recent was November 5, 1991, when a bill was passed granting eligibility to those who served on active duty during the Persian Gulf War. This period began on August 2, 1990 and will remain open until Congress declares an end to hostilities.
Also, another change that came about in the past couple of years was the bill enacted to move back the opening eligibility date of the Vietnam War from December 22, 1961 to February 28, 1961. This became public law in November of 1997.
There have been other calls by our members, and others, to change our eligibility dates to include those who served in the military from 1946, the end of World War II, to the present. However, those movements have yet to gain sufficient support to pass a resolution at an American Legion National Convention.
Did you know that there are approximately 22,000,000 - 25,000,000 American veterans living today and are survivors of the 20th & 21st Century armed conflicts? Of this number, less than 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 are NOT considered to be wartime veterans. We draw our membership from the pool of eligible wartime veterans, and of that pool, we have only about 11-12% of the total. Some states have a much higher percentage signed up, but nation-wide, it remains at a little over one-tenth of the potential.
If the Legion were to change its eligibility dates and open them up to all veterans, how many more of those 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 could be expected to join? Based on the 11 - 12% factor, this MIGHT translate to about 350,000 to 600,000 new members. The American Legion believes that even though this is a sizable number, this is not enough of an increase to jeopardize over 90 years of tradition.
You would think that everyone would flock to an organization that opens up membership to everyone, but this certainly is not the case. The AMVETs, a very fine veteran service organization, is a good example of this. They have different membership standards than The American Legion (any honorably discharged veteran that has served after September 15, 1940 may join them), but only about 200,000 have chosen their group over others.
As a wartime veteran's service organization, The American Legion has enjoyed a status over the years with the United States Congress, and other government agencies, that provides us respect, as well as a relationship that is likened to preferential treatment. As a special interest group, the Congress, and others, feel The American Legion is the leading advocate for veterans rights and benefits, and it is because of the standards that have been set; we may have restrictions on membership, but we also look after the best interest of ALL of America's veterans.
The explanation I've offered is not personal opinion, but that of those who make changes to The American Legion National Constitution and By-Laws, including the philosophy upon which we stand; that is, the convention delegate members of the organization. To date, they are steadfast in keeping eligibility standards where they are; however, this does not preclude the possibility of future changes. As I've pointed out earlier, the membership dates have been changed a few times, and it may happen again, but the matter can only be addressed at such time a proper resolution is presented for consideration.
The American Legion sincerely appreciates the service given by all its veterans; those who have or are currently serving during a hostile period, as well as those who have served during peacetime, but we must also follow and abide by the rules and regulations that have been established.
Michele Steinmetz, Assistant Director
Internal Affairs & Membership
"The mission of The American Legion is to provide service to veterans, their families and their communities.""
So at least they recognize the issue. but obviously there is much work to be done before any change will be forthcoming. But my buddy Dave is on the case, and he's pissed off so he's a force to be reckoned with - I wouldn't bet against him getting a grassroots movement going to bring the issue up at the next Legion convention. I'll help any way I can.