By Debbie Gregory.
Younger veterans are looking for community connections that fit their needs, not the needs of older veterans.
These young vets often feel disconnected from legacy groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion. The timing couldn’t be worse, as legacy groups are desperate to bolster their numbers to make up for an aging membership that has significantly declined over the years.
Both the VFW and American Legion say Vietnam-era veterans make up the largest portion of their membership. Only about 15 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are eligible to join the VFW have done so.
Today’s returning service members, the Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat/Instagram generation, are gravitating toward groups such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The Mission Continues, and Team Rubicon.
Younger veterans say the traditional organizations differ in many ways from groups that appeal to them, including the types of advocacy they do and their ways of communication: “snail mail” versus email.
But over the years, the VFW and American Legion have built up political clout in D.C., and they need to be able to “pass the torch” in order to maintain the ground they have gained.
“We have some posts that are experiencing great success in recruiting younger veterans,” says VFW Communications Manager Randi Law. For example, a VFW post in Denver has veteran yoga classes and is hosting veteran art exhibits. “Many of our posts… recognize that the younger generation doesn’t want to sit in a dingy environment swapping war stories. They want to be engaged and continue working for their community.”
“These up-and-coming veterans’ groups are extremely important, but I think that in a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons they turn to the local VFW for the support they need,” Law says. “We’ve been around a long time, so we offer a solid support system in thousands of communities across America.”