The measure of American Legion impact

As the VA scandal widened in recent months, The American Legion was all over the news. Because we are the nation’s largest advocacy group for veterans, our perspective and counsel are sought by the media and government officials alike.

But this reputation wasn’t built overnight. For nearly a century, the Legion has amassed its strength one veteran at a time. We command attention not just because of our message and the correctness of our cause, but because of our size. Without our membership of 2.3 million, our opinion would carry far less weight – and that’s not all.

Without a strong membership, programs such as Boys State and American Legion Baseball – which enhance the lives of thousands of young people each year – would disappear. Without a strong membership, the Legion wouldn’t be able to organize town hall meetings, survey VA medical centers, sponsor job fairs or help veterans start businesses. Without a strong membership, the Legion wouldn’t have the funds to assist wounded warriors, children of U.S. servicemembers killed on active duty and victims of natural disasters.

In short, The American Legion – and by extension, America – depend on wartime veterans uniting in great numbers under our banner.

Every so often, I read an article in the newspaper or online in which a local post laments that The American Legion is dying. That may be true in some places, but did you know that there are more Legion posts in the United States than Starbucks? We also outnumber McDonald’s.

The American Legion I know helped end last year’s federal government shutdown. Clips from our press conferences aired on news channels, along with stories of veterans denied access to their memorials and fearing loss of benefits. The White House, Congress and the American people wanted to know what the Legion had to say about the issue.

Now we face an even more disgraceful government failure, as reports of inadequate or inaccessible care at VA medical centers shock the public. Throughout, VA officials have been slow to respond to our questions, making it clear they’d like this negative attention to go away.

Sorry, but The American Legion will not look the other way. Again, our numbers make the difference. Elected leaders in Washington and the national media can’t ignore our collective voice. Still, we could be larger and more influential. A membership of 2.3 million is not as strong as 2.5 million, and 2.5 million is not as strong as 3 million. Just after World War II, we had 1 million more members than we have today.

Our military may be smaller, but there’s still a vast pool of eligible veterans to recruit. The Legion’s current membership window began Aug. 2, 1990. That’s nearly 24 years – by far the longest eligibility period in Legion history.

We have a great past. We have a great future. I know the naysayers are wrong. I believe in this organization, and I believe in you. So please make some calls, and ask your fellow Legionnaires to do the same, to personally recruit every eligible veteran you can. Our impact today and our ability to serve in the future all depend on membership.