At about every American Legion national convention National Adjutant Daniel Wheeler has attended over the past 40 years, a resolution has been brought forth about opening some periods of war dates for Legion membership.
These resolutions did not pass, because if The American Legion asked Congress to open war dates then it would have to open dates that were not war periods. And then, The American Legion would not be a war veterans organization, which would result in tax and IRS consequences with the organization’s status under the law, Wheeler explained to attendees of the Legion’s 56th annual National Membership Workshop in Indianapolis on Aug. 9.
The idea about opening membership eligibility was raised again last year at convention, but with a tangible solution. More than 1,600 servicemembers have been killed or were wounded in previously undeclared periods of war by Congress. Thus, the LEGION Act asked Congress to recognize these periods that “were in fact war … that gave The American Legion the opportunity to welcome wartime veterans who previously had not been acknowledged into our ranks … and to honor those who gave their lives to hostile action that was undeclared by Congress,” Wheeler said.
“The American Legion’s most important principle throughout the last century is ‘a veteran is a veteran.’”
The LEGION Act was signed into law July 30 by President Trump, extending the ongoing declared period of war back to Dec. 7, 1941. Prior to this signing, more than 4.2 million veterans were ineligible to join The American Legion. “Those times are over,” Wheeler said. “Their opportunity for national service to The American Legion is now as our second century unfolds.”
With more veterans eligible to join, American Legion departments will now have the opportunity to go for new all-time membership highs heading into the Legion’s second century. Departments’ membership base will be what it was on delegate strength date this year ,and that will be the base departments’ operate from to get all-time high awards hereafter. “So everyone now has a chance to be an all-time high department. I think that’s really exciting,” Wheeler said.
Out of the 55 American Legion departments, 11 surpassed their membership goal for 2018-2019: the departments of Alabama, Alaska, California, France, Hawaii, Idaho, Mexico, New Hampshire, Philippines, Utah and Wyoming.
“It has always been and always will be our sacred responsibility to care for those who served,” said the Rev. Daniel Seehafer of Wisconsin, chairman of the National Membership & Post Activities Committee. “You are the ones in the field. And you are the ones who can make that difference in membership. It only takes one.” With the LEGION Act, “I want you fired up like never before."
Since Aug. 5, less than a week after the signing of the LEGION Act, more than 300 previously ineligible veterans are known to have joined The American Legion by signing up via legion.org. It is unknown how many have signed up directly through departments and posts.
“If we build on the respect America has for our organization already and the services we provide, a mission we can and we must share with a new population of veterans who are now eligible to call themselves Legionnaires, we stand on the precipice of a great opportunity for growth in The American Legion," Wheeler said.