Commander: Membership gives us a place at Congress’ table

In an unprecedented year, The American Legion’s national commander has testified four times before Congress. Most notably was National Commander Dan Dellinger’s testimony on May 15 alongside former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki only 10 days after The American Legion’s call for his resignation. Dellinger said the testimonies before Congress and the hundreds of media interviews conducted by national staff and himself 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,” Dellinger told attendees of the Legion’s 51st annual National Membership Workshop in Indianapolis on Aug. 1. “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,” Dellinger said. “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.”

However, the call for Shinseki’s resignation also created some pushback from members. “The Legion has been trying to figure out ways to stay relevant and this year has been a shining example of what The American Legion represents,” Louis Celli, director of The American Legion’s Legislative Division, said to attendees at the workshop. “For those members who threaten to drop their membership (due to the calling of Shinseki's resignation), 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. We’re asking you to remain a member so we can continue to be relevant.’”

Dellinger asked all district commanders in the room to stand and said that they were the ones to “make or break this membership year. It’s up to you to motivate your posts and to be that liaison between you and your department.” He also reminded all Legionnaires in attendance that they have a responsibility to talk to new members, assist them with their needs and provide institutional knowledge.

“It comes down to two words: just ask,” Dellinger said. “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.”