By: Oscar Camargo – January 2015
Veteran organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion are experiencing a decline in membership. In fact, membership in the VFW has been steadily shrinking for 22 years straight. Despite over a decade’s worth of conflict, newer veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns are simply not joining.
There’s a negative impression among newer veterans that organizations like the VFW are out of touch. Images that float into people’s minds are that of a smoke-filled room lined with unwelcoming faces guzzling alcohol. This is a depressing image and there are VFW posts where that would be an accurate assessment; however, this impression is also a dangerous one.
The fact is organizations like the VFW are the best equipped to advocate at the state and federal level ensuring veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned. In essence, they have the political clout to help veterans navigate the bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs. This ability would be severely diminished if veteran organizations do not seize opportunities and adopt different strategies to engage newer veterans.
This new generation of veterans want to be actively involved in their communities in a manner not previously done before. Whether it’s starting a running club, volunteering their skills to emergency services, or working with civilians to help other veterans reintegrate after serving abroad. The ability to remain relevant and active is the driving force motivating newer veterans. There’s no reason why veteran organizations like the VFW or the American Legion cannot adapt.
As a veteran and officer at the VFW Post 2014 in North Andover, I’ve had the privilege of working with fellow veterans who’ve had the same passion and desire continue to serve their community beyond their military service. We’ve actively sought to dispel the negative impressions I mentioned above, but we can and should do more.
Our post, like others across the country, is fighting to remain relevant, but we’re a resilient lot unwilling to simply fade away. Our strength comes from our members, but our relevancy comes from caring for our community.
Oscar Camargo is a veteran and former candidate for State Rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @followcamargo.