This post is based on a Political Science course essay from 2008 as part of a community outreach project. It takes a Massachusetts perspective, since that's where I was going to college at the time. However, it's a good overview of the history of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) organization and what it does for the community. It had to be revised somewhat since many of the original sources no longer exist online. So I figure publishing it will help other students if they're writing on this topic.
"The Veterans of Foreign Wars”
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, better known as the V.F.W, was founded in the wake of the Spanish-American War. The V.F.W actually began as several separate organizations of veterans that shared a common goal of helping their fellow discharged servicemen. In those times, no government programs existed for special medical care for veterans or pensions. Those returning from service were left to fend for themselves, often with little success. To represent themselves and their concerns, many veterans banded together and formed the foundation of this great organization.
Description and History of the Organization
After the end of the Spanish-American war and the Philippine Insurrection of 1899 to 1902, many veterans who had returned home to miserable conditions decided to form organizations to fight for rights to veterans’ benefits. When these organizations banded together a few years later, their membership grew quickly. According to the V.F.W. website, the membership of the V.F.W. was already 5,000 by 1915, and by 1936, it had jumped to 200,000. Today, the V.F.W’s membership numbers approximately two million worldwide.
The mission statement of the Veterans of Foreign Wars is simple, to “honor the dead by helping the living.” Perhaps, the greatest legacy of the V.F.W. is the GI bill legislation, which gave returning veterans low-cost or free educational benefits, to make their reintegration into society much smoother, and allow for much greater job opportunities than past generations of veterans.
Other major victories for the V.F.W. include the formation of the national cemetery system, the fight for compensation for Vietnam vets who were exposed to the horrible Agent Orange, and special care for veterans who today suffer from the psychological conditions of Gulf War Syndrome. The organization has also recently battled for improved Veterans Association (V.A.) hospital care for women veterans.
There are numerous V.F.W. posts in Massachusetts alone, including Brockton and Easton. In North Easton, there is a particularly active post that stands out. There is a tank out back in the parking lot, always decorated. The building itself is well-maintained and recently underwent a facelift around 2007. It is known as George F. Schindler Post 2547, and it is one of the most active posts on the South Shore.
So exactly what functions does a V.F.W. Post serve? It is a place for veterans to go to make sure they receive the benefits they are entitled to, and most specifically, act as a supportive community for all veterans local and otherwise. It often serves as a function hall that can be rented out for numerous sorts of occasions. But it represents the heart of a community more than it does a function hall.
Especially in times of war, it is important to stop and recognize that although it is not always apparent in our everyday lives, we have veterans of our youngest adult generation that are struggling through life as they return from abroad. It becomes especially more difficult when facing the financial difficulties that most Americans are in even more desperate situations because they have been away from home. This isn’t even to mention those who are physically or mentally wounded from their time in service.
The 21st century revamp of the G.I bill, passed in 2008, is a recent major victory for the VFW and all of today’s veterans. It brought increased educational benefits for today’s veterans, as well as other improvements on the prior G.I. bill that President Roosevelt signed into law in 1944. Believe it or not, the original bill, then otherwise known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 or the GI Bill of Rights, was very controversial.
The controversy was greatly because of the ability of returning servicemen to go to college, for many years a right reserved as a wealthy privilege. Atop that, many congressmen and senators did not like the idea of paying discharged veterans allowances while they attended classes. The bill also provided guarantees for home loans, a major contributor to the Baby Boomer generation. It ultimately passed because despite these disagreements, everyone had to agree something had to be done to reintegrate those that served their country in war back into normal society. After the original bill expired in 1956, the Veterans Association that had since been formed on the part of the United States government took over much of the responsibility. In 1984, the GI bill was revived and revamped. Even in light of the 2008 update, it is still known now as the “Montgomery GI Bill.”
Today, the United States Veterans Association, or better known as the VA, is overwhelmed with the number of requests for need from all of today’s veterans that have been serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even then, the VFW has been doing its best to step up to make up the gap. There has been a constant scream of frustration with the government’s limits on providing benefits. Realistically, however, non-profit organizations simply have a very hard time responding to sudden leaps in need. This is why the VFW can use all the help it can get.
Today’s major struggle is the great need for funding. There has been great argument over government funding for veterans programs, and right now with a faltering economy and thus a job shortage and housing crisis, the VFW needs more help than ever from private donations. Even in light of these funding shortages, VFW members still actively participate in the community with great fundraising events. The VFW also offers college scholarships to children and grandchildren of VFW members.
Some other specific examples of ways that VFW Post members contribute to their local communities are supporting local youth sports programs, providing meals and entertainment for wounded soldiers at local hospitals, contributing to food pantries, and help organize town and city parades. Of course, VFW Posts are also often perfect sites for Bingo nights.
Link to the Progressive Era
In a time when many individuals were sticking out for those less fortunate than themselves, the veterans of America were forced in their dire straits to make for themselves an organization that would serve as a collective voice for all the military heroes of this country. The neglect with which many of our nation’s heroes were treated was appalling. In a time like the Progressive Era, the Veterans of Foreign Wars took off with great success.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars formed during a time in which the United States of America was becoming a major power in international affairs. Until that point, America had fought its wars on its own soil, the War for Independence, the War of 1812, conflicts with the Native Americans, and of course the Civil War. With troops now going overseas to fight, there was nothing in place to help these new kinds of veterans who were serving abroad. The VFW helped greatly to fill the void and has since become one of America’s longest enduring foundations.
The VFW is everywhere. Though in our daily lives we may not always think about it, it is always active in giving America’s war heroes what they need and the respect they deserve. It is important especially in these tough economic times with all of the international turmoil of recent years that communities band together to not only remember and care for our local veterans but to also serve our communities in whatever way we can.