Archive for Thursday, February 19, 2004

VFW overcoming membership attrition

February 19, 2004

Visit any of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and a few trends should emerge.

For starters, the organization is most likely discussing or in the midst of planning an upcoming community service project. Second, visitors are bound to hear a veteran recall a war story or two.

But, if you listen carefully to the stories and pay attention to those telling them, another trait will emerge, a characteristic found most prevalent in each of the VFW's locally, as well as the 9,000-some posts across the country.

"A little less than half of our membership worldwide are veterans who fought in World War II or Korea," said Jerry Newberry, communications director of the national VFW headquarters in Kansas City.

The attrition rate of World War II and Korean War veterans is somewhere between 1,200 and 1,700 a day, according to varying estimates.

The VFW is the nation's oldest veterans organization, and the largest portion of its membership is graying and quickly.

To balance this natural order, VFW's across the country continue to recruit new members.

Membership has grown in recent years, especially following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, broadened eligibility requirements for possible members has helped infuse membership.

Since the nature of war itself has changed, so has the VFW adjusted to fit the times, Newberry said.

Long-standing pillars of membership such as serving overseas in "a theater of war," remain in place, but now members also find themselves eligible for the VFW if they drew hazardous duty or immediate danger pay, Newberry said.

"Basically, the person still has had to have faced some danger while they were in the service," Newberry said.

The broadened requirements have not only brought new members to the VFW, but also new posts have emerged and ones once stagnant have revitalized, he said.

Bob Wiley, Basehor VFW post 11499 commander, said the VFW has to change requirements to ensure the organization's future.

"The VFW, really, will die away if they don't broaden its membership," Wiley said.

Broadening eligibility requirements to include the war on terrorism, as well skirmishes such as Panama and Grenada, has helped and is a logical step, Wiley said.

The Basehor VFW has increased its membership in recent years by evolving into more of a community-minded group rather than a paramilitary club, Wiley said.

Another factor in improving the VFW is the inclusion of members' wives into the organization. While the wives are not officially members, their contribution is invaluable, Wiley said.

In recent years, the group has become a staple of the community, hosting various civic activities, speaking to youth groups and students and sponsoring scholarships.

"The women attending has really boosted our post," Wiley said. "We're doing what works for us. We really wanted to become a group that reaches out to the community and we're doing that.

"I'd like to see the VFW go the direction we're going," he added. "It might not work everywhere, but it certainly does here."

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