By Melissa Renahan, Writer and Military Spouse
Did you know that the average age of the new VFW member is 39? The VFW of today is not your Grandfather’s old VFW.
The first VFW post, then known as the American Veterans of Foreign Service, was founded in Denver in 1899. Since then, the nonprofit has grown into the largest American organization of combat veteran, with approximately 1.4 million members, 600,000 male and female auxiliary members and close 7,600 posts worldwide. They also have a syndicated radio show which airs on 134 stations across the country and on Armed Forces Radio.
VFW Communications Director Jerry Newberry, who himself is a Vietnam veteran, expressed his belief that the organization plays a very important, traditional role when it comes to caring for veterans and supporting their families; however, times are changing and as their target demographic is getting younger and the VFW is trying to recruit newer veterans. This is because all servicemembers who have been downrange are eligible, whether they are still on active duty, retired or have ended their service after just a few years.
“When you join the VFW you immediately have an entire organization full of combat vets who can relate to your experiences downrange,” he explained. “People will understand you and listen to you.”
When asked if the VFW provides for its members in addition to bolstering camaraderie, Newberry responded affirmatively.
“We are constantly fighting for the soldiers of today…someone has to maintain the vigilance and the fight to ensure that the Servicemembers get what they need, from healthcare to other provisions,” he stated. “Once the shooting stops downrange, it may not be as convenient to provide for those who volunteered to serve in the military and we keep fighting for those who fought for us.”
Their fight to ensure benefits for Servicemembers has resulted in many recent accomplishments, from bi-monthly free call days downrange in Iraq and Afghanistan for the Servicemembers to call home to the new revisions to the Military Tuition Assistance program. The VFW is also the primary sponsor for the Army’s Operation Rising Star (a singing competition similar to popular mainstream television show) and provides accurate reports for the monthly VFW Magazine, by embedding their reporters with units downrange.
Yet, despite all the VFW delivers, the challenge of attracting younger members looms because of old perceptions and Newberry is working to change those perceptions.
“We cannot demand that the local posts ‘get with the times’ and market themselves through social media, but we suggest it,” Newberry laughed. “Many of them have been following through with it though. It is just the way to connect with these younger members.”
The official VFW page on Facebook has 160,067 likes, a number which continues to grow as they put forth more information online. In fact, the VFW is going away from direct mail to recruit new members and will just be snail mailing renewal reminders to existing members.
“We are doing quite well recruiting post 9/11 veterans, but we can do better,” Newberry said. “We’re working on increasing our value while holding on to all the reasons why our troops join.”