By Debbie Adams
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4522 was “mustered” in Vinton with about 100 charter members in 1945. They will be celebrating their 75th anniversary this coming December.
The VFW is the world’s oldest major war veterans’ organization, providing support for veterans of the US Armed Forces. They work to “create seamless transitions for new veterans and attain justice for veterans of past conflicts.”
The national VFW organization was founded 121 years ago, in 1899, after the Spanish American War. Soldiers returning home had no guarantee of medical care, no pensions, and many were left to fend for themselves after their sacrifice. A “visionary band of veterans” formed what would become the VFW.
The VFW works to connect veterans with governmental agencies and non-profit organizations at the local, state, and national level, regarding veteran benefits assistance, services for veterans with disabilities, and information about medical care, insurance, jobs, housing, and education benefits.
Post 4522 will be hosting a special event on Thursday, August 13, with a guest appearance by Hal Roesch, the National Commander in Chief of the VFW. Organizers are attempting to notify all current VFW members and veterans in the area who are not members to invite them to attend. The meeting will get underway at 7 p.m. in the VFW Hall located at 117 East Lee Avenue in downtown Vinton.
Roesch, who comes from the Hampton area, is a U.S. Air Force retiree, serving from 1982 to 2002. He earned his VFW eligibility during his combat service in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and overseas service as part of Southern Watch. He is the first native Virginian to serve as National VFW Commander in Chief.
District 6 VFW Commander David Jarrett says the No. 1 priority of the VFW is “taking care of veterans and their families.” He notes that the organization is “not the VFW many remember. Nowadays it is a more family-oriented organization. The local posts are very involved in the local community, trying to improve the communities we live in.”
Post 4522 currently has a roster of 67 members. Past State Commander and State Membership Chair Tommy Hines says with a large influx of veterans into the area, the local post, along with state and district officials, plans to “revitalize” the organization by reaching out to them and inviting them to join the VFW, especially the younger veterans.
The eligibility requirements for joining the VFW include being a U.S. citizen or U.S. National who has served in the US Armed Service and received an honorable or general discharge or is currently serving. They must have served in a war, campaign, or expedition on foreign soil or in hostile waters and have received an authorized campaign medal, or hostile fire pay or imminent danger pay, or have served in Korea.
There are generally about 800,000 veterans residing in the Commonwealth of Virginia at any given time; the Virginia VFW boasts over 32,000 members. The goal is to grow those numbers to include all who are eligible. Four of 10 veterans are typically eligible for membership – an honor you “earn your way into,” according to Jarrett.
There are 14 separate VFW posts in District 6 (131 statewide), which spans the area roughly from Radford to Lynchburg, to Covington, to Bedford and Roanoke.
Currently, Vietnam veterans represent the largest number of VFW members. Women are one of the fastest growing groups.
Hines and Jarrett point out the many veterans’ causes the VFW has championed over the years.
The VFW serves as an advocacy group for veterans’ interests with legislators in both Congress and the Virginia General Assembly. They travel to Washington, D.C. annually to meet with senators and representatives and to Richmond to meet with legislators there.
The VFW is one of the few veterans’ organizations with a Washington office to guide legislation through Congress. Representatives of the organization have testified before Congress 22 times in the last 12 months alone. They have been instrumental in virtually every major legislative victory for veterans in the past 121 years.
There would be no Secretary of Veterans Affairs position without the VFW, or even a Veterans Administration. The organization was instrumental in the fight for compensation for Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange and for veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome. A current legislative focus is on the estimated 20 American veterans who commit suicide a day.
In 2008, the VFW won a long-fought victory with the passing of a GI Bill for the 21st Century, giving expanded educational benefits to America’s active duty service members, and members of the guard and reserves, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
VFW leaders say that many veterans come home from military service and just want to get back to their lives. “They don’t understand that if they don’t continue to encourage elected officials to keep the entitlements for veterans that have been won over past years, that they could lose those benefits,” they said.
The VFW helped fund the creation of the Vietnam, Korean War, World War II, and Women in Military Service memorials and have supported the National Desert Storm War Memorial, which is planned for construction in Washington, D.C.
“Each generation of veterans carries the next one forward,” said Hines. “That’s why we are looking for more young members.”
Younger veterans will also benefit from the “camaraderie, friendship, and people who understand you,” that they find with other VFW members who “speak their language when it might be hard to communicate with the general public about their military service and experience,” he said.
In their focus on the community, local VFW posts sponsor patriotic scholarship contests for middle and high school students. The contest for middle school students involves writing a Patriot’s Pen essay; the prize for winning at the national level is $5,000. The high school contest, the “Voice of Democracy” audio essay, offers a $30,000 scholarship on the national level.
The VFW also sponsors the Teacher of the Year Recognition Program on three levels, for teachers in grades K-6, 7-9, and 10-12, with nominations coming from local schools.
They work with elementary school students on flag etiquette and with other community organizations such as firefighters, Boy Scouts, JROTC units, and Civil Air Patrol units.
Local posts conduct flag-raising ceremonies – a recent example is an event at the courthouse in Lynchburg. They replace old and worn out flags. They provide military honors for veterans who have passed away, which helps families gain closure.
The VFW umbrella also includes the vital auxiliary for the relatives of veterans. The members volunteer for millions of hours, providing support for charitable causes that benefit veterans, military personnel, and their families. The VFW Auxiliary was formed in 1914 to serve veterans and communities, honoring the sacrifices of those who have served in uniform.
The COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed VFW activities in recent months, but the members hope to return to fundraising activities for their projects in the near future.
The VFW assists veterans, service members, and their families by representing them in their fight to secure their earned VA benefits – free of charge. Contact Bobbiejo Lazo in the Hopewell office at 804-452-1437, Kelly Pearson in the Norfolk office at 757-904-1083, or Tami Brown in the Dale City office at 703-670-4124 for assistance.