Honoring Veterans -by Jeff Olson
America recognizes and honors her veterans in a multitude of ways throughout each year, with such special days of observance as Veterans Day and Memorial Day, and also in other national and local celebrations. However, there are organizations among us which serve our veterans not only at special times of the year but throughout the year. And, they often do this under the radar of the public eye and therefore perhaps unnoticed and unappreciated much of the time. One such organization is the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW.
The VFW was organized in Denver, Colorado 106 years ago this week, August 18, 1913. However, its roots can be traced back one hundred twenty years to 1899 when the veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) founded local organizations to help meet veterans’ needs which the wars created in their lives. Many came back home wounded and/or sick. There was no medical care or other crucial provisions for them, thus they were left to care for themselves. In their plight, some of these veterans banded together and through some of these groups came to be the VFW of the United States.
Initially, chapters were formed in Ohio, Colorado and Pennsylvania. Since then, the VFW has been instrumental as a voice in accomplishing much for veterans. Chief among them include: establishing the Veteran’s Administration (VA), creating the GI Bill for the 20th century, the development of the national cemetery system and the fight for compensation for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange and for veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome, the passing of a GI Bill for the 21st century, expanding educational benefits to America’s active-duty service members, and members of the Guard and Reserves fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and improving VA medical centers services for women veterans. The VFW helped to fund the creation of the Vietnam, Korean War, World War II, and Women in Military Service memorials, and it also contributed to building the new Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial, which opened in November 2010.
As one of the largest, if not the largest, combat veterans organization in the U.S., the VFW mission is to “honor the dead by helping the living.” Today’s more than 1.6 million strong VFW membership and its Auxiliary donate millions of volunteer hours in community service, from working in blood drives to funding college scholarships. They also promote citizenship, patriotism, and interest in American History through school programs, essay contests, and education about the American flag. I was honored to be a participant in their Voice of Democracy essay contest when I was a high school senior.
Today, the VFW remains in the fight for America’s veterans and their families through important issues such as reducing the VA claims backlog and preventing reduction in veteran’s benefits. As the son of a disabled American veteran, I can attest to the valuable work the VFW has done over the years, and I am thankful for its service as I am for that of other veteran’s organizations.
The character of the VFW is set forth in its charter, where its purposes includes: “to extend the institutions of American freedom and to preserve and defend the United States from all her enemies, whomsoever.” The VFW Mission is: To foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts. To serve our veterans, the military and our communities. To advocate on behalf of all veterans. The VFW Vision is to: Ensure that veterans are respected for their service, always receive their earned entitlements, and are recognized for the sacrifices they and their loved ones have made on behalf of this great country.