Local Veteran organizations seek new members
Since the 1980s, membership and participation have been declining among local veteran organizations including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and AmVets.
Dave Rogers, VFW Post 2913 commander and Suffolk County first vice commander, is seeking to change the pattern by getting the word out about all that the traditional organizations do. Though he said he understands that many young veterans either have a full-time job, family or both, simply becoming a member can keep them in the loop, give them access to benefits and keep the organization alive with those who may want to provide more time to the organization upon retirement.
“This is an issue that is spanning across the nation,” he said. “It’s affecting all veteran organizations and the posts in Patchogue.”
Korean Defense U.S. Army veteran George Egan, past commander of VFW Post 2913 and American Legion Post 269, said he didn’t really get involved until after his retirement, raising a family and working full-time as a police officer. But still, he said he encourages those to join young and said the posts are a lot different now, with easier access through technology.
At its peak, Rogers said VFW Post 2913 had about 50 active members, but when the post first formed in 1945, there were record numbers, with membership totaling 420. The first local organization was American Legion Post 269, which formed in 1919, then VFW and, lastly, AmVets Post 111 in 1953, with over 200 members during its peak in the ‘90s.
Back then, Rogers said up to 120 members would show up at monthly meetings. But now, he said he’s lucky if five or six guys attend, which is disappointing because it leaves the bulk of the work left to just a few.
“We suffer from the same thing any other volunteer organization suffers from, where the same five or six people do everything,” he said. The decline mostly began in the 1980s, but was not nearly as bad as membership numbers now. Another obstacle is properly planning meetings. “As a commander, it’s hard because the World War II veterans want to be active, but they can only meet in the daytime and a lot of our younger members work during the day.”
He said he hopes the posts will get to a point where the younger veterans will bring the older veterans to the meetings sometime in between. But in order for that to happen, there needs to be a substantial amount of members attending.
Today, VFW has about 127 members, 15 active; of those, about 20 are under 50 with about three active. American Legion has over 200 members and AmVets has about 197 members, of which about 35 are active.
“[Attendance now depends on what we cook],” said AmVets commander John Piorkowski somewhat jokingly.
Despite the numbers, there is no shortage of veterans in the area. Suffolk County alone is home to the second-largest veteran population in New York State, with about 160,000 veteran residents.
Younger veterans, Rogers said, work and have families, but there is a way to participate or, if not, at least get a foot in the door. Not only can members help the community but they can also benefit from joining an organization. The VFW, American Legion and AmVets can help veterans access their benefits or educational services, obtain housing or other programs like the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support program for those struggling with post traumatic stress disorder.
The organizations, Rogers explained, are very grassroots but also have a county and district legislative side that gets bills passed, such as the GI Bill, by having representatives in Washington, D.C. and Albany.
“A lot of younger veterans don’t know what we do or don’t understand why we are important,” Rogers continued.
Also, the VFW, American Legion and AmVets aren’t just for veterans, but also for their families, who can support the local organization by joining the auxiliary. Those interested in becoming a member can do so by visiting the posts or their booths set up at several Main Street events in Patchogue. VFW dues are $40 a year or a set fee to become a life member. AmVet annual dues total $29 a year and American Legion Dues are $45 a year or a set fee for life members.
“Some people have this image of the VFW as a bunch of old guys sitting around drinking, but that’s not what we do,” Rogers said, adding that veterans interested in joining should sign up for the newsletter to see all the programs the VFW has to offer. “They think we are old-fashioned and do old-fashioned things. They need to understand that these organizations are not set in stone, but you need to be there to change it and adjust it to the needs of the community.”
To sign up for the VFW’s newsletter, email Rogers at email@example.com. The VFW, American Legion and AmVets can also be found online and on social media.
“About six years ago, I needed help with my benefits. The VFW helped me and I joined so I can help others,” added Rogers. “If you have issues, this is how you are going to solve them.”
To join the VFW, members must have gone to combat. To join the American Legion, members must have served during a time of war and to join the AmVets, members simply must have served.
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