Membership gives us a seat before Congress

In an unprecedented year, I testified four times before Congress. Most notably was my testimony on May 15 alongside former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki only 10 days after The American Legion’s call for his resignation. Testimonies before Congress and the hundreds of media interviews conducted by national staff and myself regarding Shinseki’s resignation and the VA scandal that plagued several facilities put the Legion’s name at the top.

Our name right now is at the forefront of all veterans service organizations. We’ve been given an opportunity, and it’s up to us to capitalize on that now. If we want to keep a place at that table in front of Congress to make sure our veterans are taken care of, it’s called membership numbers. The calling for Shinseki’s resignation and the Legion’s fight to assist veterans that have been affected by delayed access to VA health care has resulted in an increase in membership. I had a gentleman walk up to me in Wisconsin who said he hadn’t paid his membership dues in five years. But after what we did to stand up for our veterans, he was going to pay his dues. That’s what I’m hearing around the country.

I also know that the call for Shinseki’s resignation created some pushback from our members. Louis Celli, director of the Legion’s Legislative Division, said to me, "For those members who threaten to drop their membership, I would say to them, ‘We’re not asking you to join for you, we’re asking you to join and remain a member for those men and women who are coming home today who need our assistance. We’re asking you to support this organization so we can continue to support our returning veterans, our aging veterans, and our veterans of all wars.’"

If we don’t continue to grow our membership, who is going to take care of our veterans? We have a big responsibility. It isn’t the cost of war, but it’s that 50 years of care for our veterans afterward. That’s our charge.