Fifty years ago, The American Legion's National Membership & Post Activities (M&PA) Committee questioned why the Legion continued to suffer an annual decrease in membership when 20 million veterans were eligible to belong to the world's largest veterans organization. The M&PA Committee did not want to accept that only 12 percent of eligible veterans were Legion members, so they sought a solution – they asked individual Legion departments to develop a membership plan that would encourage a culture of growth and membership sustainment for another 50 years.
"History repeats itself," said National Adjutant Daniel S. Wheeler to attendees at the 50th annual National Membership Workshop in Indianapolis on Aug. 2. "So here we are, years later, facing the same problems and having the same mission."
Wheeler shared with attendees the problems that the M&PA committee identified in 1964, which still hold true today. They include a smaller number of eligible veterans, lack of post activity and participation in the community, fewer posts in cities and communities nationwide, and the need for a stronger leadership program. As a result of the committee's findings and the call to action for a membership plan, the Legion experienced a decade of continued growth because "they recognized the problems, and they had a plan to overcome them," Wheeler said. "Departments need to work their membership plan sincerely, positively and enthusiastically. And I'm confident that when we meet again next year, you will have stopped the slide in membership and started the climb. And it starts with each one of us setting the example of being participants, not just spectators."
A new American Legion recruitment video was shown to Legionnaires that features ways to engage new members and explain how the Legion supports veterans, military personnel and their families. Peter Gaytan, executive director of the Legion's Washington office, reiterated that "you want to be able to explain to potential members the great things that we do and accomplish due to our membership numbers," he said. "Because of your dedication to this organization, you give the Legion the strength it has in D.C.; you understand what it means to be part of something bigger than you. And now, we want to attract those new members who are just as passionate about what we do and the things that we accomplish for America's veterans now."
Gaytan highlighted two topics for Legionnaires to promote:
• Claims backlog. The American Legion is helping to reduce the backlog by working with VA to interview claims processors, review claims files and identify best practices at each VA regional office. Additionally, more than 2,600 Legion service officers are filing claims for veterans and helping them receive their benefits in a timely manner.
• Licensing and credentialing. The Legion has been lobbying on licensing and credentialing for 15 years, pushing for legislation that would allow military training and skills to fulfill requirements for professional certifications. Thanks to lobbying from national staff and Legionnaires within each department, the Legion has scored noteworthy victories in several states where credentialing legislation was introduced and quickly passed by a wide majority. These states include Indiana, Georgia, Arizona and Maryland. There are currently many other states working to pass credentialing legislation, resulting in jobs for veterans.
"These two topics can be added to your membership toolkit," Gaytan said. "Show new members what we are doing now, how we are continuing our legacy of improving the lives of Americas veterans."
Meanwhile, it was announced during the workshop that 14 departments have achieved 100 percent for the 2012-2013 membership year: Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, the Philippines, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
"It's not too late to meet the 100-percent membership deadline," National Commander James E. Koutz said. "We talk about the three Rs of membership (renew, recruit and retain), but there's actually another one: remain. If we are going to remain the world's largest veterans organization, we have a lot more work to do. more work to do.
"We can do this by always remembering my slogan, ‘Every Day is Veterans Day.'"