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Old 08-14-2016, 08:08 AM   #1
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Question VFW and American Legion

Being a veteran I've been approached a few times about joining both the VFW and the American Legion. I'm not sure about the differences, both seem pretty similar. Like any organization, the difference can be in the activities at the local Post.

Searching in my local area I find there are both here in Lexington, KY. VFW has one location, American Legion has 3. None of the local websites for these organizations tells me much about what they offer. The American Legion national website seems to be directed towards younger veterans while VFW seems to target older ones. Is this just my perception? Locally, it seems activities are limited to Friday bingo, drinking and smoking.

If you're a member or former member, I'd like to know your experiences. I'd also like to know about the smoking policies. I know they are set by each local post but are all of them smoking? The most popular one here seems to have a lot of smokers. I don't suppose there's a registry of non-smoking posts, is there?
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Old 08-14-2016, 08:54 AM   #2
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I know little about either organization. I am on the mailing list for both and receive appeals to join and send money with regularity. One benefit I have heard is both offer free RV parking at many of their locations. As to the smoking issue I would think the only way to find out is to give them a visit and see for yourself. Ashtrays and stink are dead giveaways.
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Old 08-14-2016, 09:30 AM   #3
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Both state you can not be full member if did not serve in military during certain periods of time but I was told could be associate member like spouses NO THANKS. I served honorably including 14 mo. tour in Ger. and 3 years in guard both before and after active duty. IMO they can go scratch.
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Old 08-14-2016, 09:51 AM   #4
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Both are simply social clubs for veterans.

I believe the VFW requires veteran to have served in a war zone in another country, thus limiting the veteran who can join. Each post has a different makeup, and do different things. Most have an older population, and most of the veteran groups have a hard time recruiting younger veterans.

The best thing to do is to go to a couple activities and see if you like it.
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Old 08-14-2016, 10:12 AM   #5
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Both are simply social clubs for veterans.

I believe the VFW requires veteran to have served in a war zone in another country, thus limiting the veteran who can join. Each post has a different makeup, and do different things. Most have an older population, and most of the veteran groups have a hard time recruiting younger veterans.

The best thing to do is to go to a couple activities and see if you like it.
From what I've been reading, the biggest problems in recruiting younger veterans is the social club paradigm. The younger veterans are more interested in working as a group for a cause, healthy activities like sports and a flatter organization. There are also more women veterans, which seems to be a problem at some Posts. An article I read had a woman veteran told 'you can't go in there' at the door of a Post while her male companion was welcomed with open arms.

The current organization is more top down structure, social, drinking, poker, bingo and smoking (lots of smoking). I would think the organizations, with declining membership, would be interested in working with all veterans, supporting all types of activities and doing something about the smoke filled rooms.

I guess I was hoping that maybe times are changing, but it seems, at least from what I'm reading, it's pretty much the same.
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Old 08-14-2016, 11:28 AM   #6
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Almost all organizations in the current society have declining membership.
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Old 08-14-2016, 11:43 AM   #7
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VFW has service date requirements and must have served overseas. American Legion is any veteran of any service. there is also Vietnam Veterans, which formed because of the VFW discrimination against them during the late 20th century. They may have combined by now. I find the propaganda from American Legion to not be my taste. I am still a member but not active.
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Old 08-14-2016, 11:44 AM   #8
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clear differences

First, the purpose of all the Congressional Chartered Vets groups is to influence the political structure regarding veterans benefits, and to assist their fellow veterans. The VFW and American Legion, have long histories of having local post homes (bars and halls). The DAV and VVA not so much. The AmVets not so much, somewhere between.
Each group has its own rules for membership and reasons for existing spelled out in their charter, below is a short summary.
DAV: To assist Disabled Veterans, eligibility, a VA issued Disability Rating is required for membership. In some ways the pure-hearts of vets organizations,political action only on specific veterans rights issues.

VFW: Must have served in the war zone of a conflict of the US (things like Cuban Missile Crisis can qualify- most actions for which a expeditionary medal was awarded), had been very right wing and political, that is changing from what I hear. Major push to recruit younger nets right now.

American Legion: Anyone who served during war time, declared major or undeclared periods listed by the group, such as Korea, Vietnam, various recent undeclared wars. It does not require war zone service, only war time. Always was the center of many small town activities because of the emphasis on the hall and bar. Made the flag amendment their central focus for years, lost a lot of support because of that.

AmVets: Anyone who served anytime regardless of period and got other than dishonorable discharge. Broadest membership eligibility, some halls. Some places very strong, other places non-existent. More middle politics.

VVA: Vietnam Veterans of America- few halls, focused on legislation and helping Vietnam (era-not just in country) vets. Very strong on recognition of Vietnam and recent vets locally, but elig. is still only Vietnam era.

That is a summary of the major vets groups from my close to 40 years as a veterans advocate, BUT IT IS ONLY ONE PERSON'S OPINION. On the issue of RV parking, some have it, most do not. Good to join at least one if eligible, just to protect the benefits you and current vets earned. Numbers count. I am a life member of VVA and DAV and and annual member of AmVets.

One more thing, meetings tend to be military pomp in general, but easy enough to put up with in order to serve other vets.
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Old 08-14-2016, 12:00 PM   #9
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I am a life member of both organizations, and am currently Commander of our local Legion Post. We are non-smoking, as are many Posts. The VFW is a little more elitist in that membership is restricted to vets who have served in a war zone. Legion members simply have to have served during a period of war. The distinction is dubious now because The War on Terror allows all vets to join the Legion who have served since 1990. Not sure if this is true for VFW, also, but suspect it is. Posts of both organizations that are worth their status as charitable, non-profit organizations are more than social hangouts. They work on behalf of needy veterans and their families, provide an honor guard at funerals, as well as play active roles within their communities, for example with Scouting, High School baseball teams, Oratorical Societies, Boys/Girls State, etc. We also provide scholarships and work in conjunction with other local non-profits to enhance our community, and we provide a low-cost alternative for things like weddings, banquets, meeting space, concerts, memorial services, etc. Is it worth joining? I think so, but it depends on your local Post, and depends on your willingness to get involved in seeing to it that your Post is more than a hangout for barstool warriors.
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Old 08-14-2016, 12:14 PM   #10
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Both state you can not be full member if did not serve in military during certain periods of time but I was told could be associate member like spouses NO THANKS. I served honorably including 14 mo. tour in Ger. and 3 years in guard both before and after active duty. IMO they can go scratch.
Interesting post and attitude. More to the rest of the story?
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Old 08-14-2016, 12:51 PM   #11
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We found the Elks a good organization to join plus they provide RV parking at many of the lodges across the country; we have always been well received and have have enjoyed many good meals while parked there. There are directorys published which list lodge location by state, RV facilities available, and rates, usually very low.
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Old 08-14-2016, 12:55 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by AWCHIEF View Post
Interesting post and attitude. More to the rest of the story?
I joined Il. guard in 1954 when reactivated in 1954 when returning from korean conflict, 8 former and I started unit again inc. 1st serg. and CO. drafted in 1956 served 2 yrs. US ARMY then back to guard, then honorably discharged in 1960 from guard this should answer your q. as to my serv.
When returned from Ger. attempted to join Legion as I knew not eligible for VFW. Legion told me I was not vet story is told prev. post, now they keep sending me recruitment matl. same story about eligibilty. I am a legit. vet not 5 deferments as president wanabe. Maybe you made chief I made E4 end of story. I never question any persons service................ Yes I have attitude toward Legion as that was not all that was said at that time. When my ranger friend returned from nam after being wounded 3 times [100% disability] told him same story, he is not member of Legion and feels same as me. Plus I qualify for all gov. benifits.
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Old 08-14-2016, 01:30 PM   #13
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It a point in my life I was a member of both. VFW requirement... Serve in a combat zone and an honorable discharge. American Legion an honorable discharge. In both cases too much drinking and smoking... Same old stories as they fall off their barstools.

In both cases there are good posts and bad posts and each is very different from another.

When I was younger 30 years ago they were a nice place to stop as you were traveling...

Don't get me wrong but the giving back to society was lacking with the vets... but the wives that was a different story they often worked hard and promoted the posts more then then men... Cheap booze.

Decided it was not my cup of tea... but again keep in mind each post is different.


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Old 08-14-2016, 01:44 PM   #14
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I became very sick 18 years ago and ended up in the VA hospital in Denver for three months. The American Legion acted as my advocate to get my illness service connected. They were successful at that, and I cannot thank them enough. Otherwise, I would have spent the rest of my life trying to pay the hospital bill, or I would have had to declare bankruptcy. The Legion is very active in our community with many charitable endeavors, and are a great community asset. They do have the Legion hall and bar, and there are a number of old codgers that hang out down there telling lies, but they're a good bunch of guys. Nobody smokes indoors. Maybe after I retire I'll hang out down there and make up some lies of my own.
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