Leadership in veterans service organizations has been passed from one generation to another, and now some are hoping the nation’s most recent veterans will begin to carry the torch.
Mount Airy Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) commander Dave Raborn said his post has nearly 200 members on its books, but only about 25 of those are active members. Post members are comprised mostly of Vietnam and Korean War veterans, with only nine members who served solely in the Middle East.
Raborn said he’s hoping to change that, and a membership drive is planned for Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park in Mount Airy. The event kicks off at 4 p.m., and refreshments will be served. In the event of rain, the membership drive will move into the post’s headquarters at the park.
Raborn said all veterans of the armed forces who served in an active combat zone or in the demilitarized zone in Korea are eligible to become members. Anybody with a child, parent, spouse, sibling, grandparent or grandchild who is or would be eligible for VFW membership is eligible for membership in the auxiliary.
According to Raborn, Mount Airy’s post is “about average” in size for a post when compared to posts in communities of similar size. However, he fears it may not be appealing to the latest generation of veterans.
“A lot of the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan think we are just an old guys’ club that doesn’t do anything,” said Raborn. “We are out helping to promote matters which concern our veterans, assist veterans in need and serve our community.”
Raborn said veterans’ organizations have a rich legacy and have played pivotal roles in ensuring veterans have programs and benefits available to them when their service to country is complete.
“WWII veterans fought in Congress for the G.I. Bill,” noted Raborn, attributing that legislation as the first victory in a long line of benefits garnered in part by veterans’ organizations.
Raborn said the fight continues today, with organizations like the VFW fighting for more timely disability compensation decisions and improvements to the Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system.
“We are still fighting the VA for the healthcare treatment our veterans need,” said Raborn. “It takes 21 days to be assigned a VA (healthcare) provider and see that provider.”
There is strength in numbers, said Raborn. The larger the organization, the more influence it has over the happenings in Washington, D.C., which affect veterans.
Without the organizations, Raborn claims the needs of veterans may simply fall off the desks of legislators or become the line-item stricken from a budget.
“We must always keep the pressure on them.”
Raborn noted he’s unsure what leads to a disinterest among younger veterans, though he believes it may be attributable to the “old guys’ club” perception or a “younger generation filled with individualists” who prefer video games and computers over interaction with a group of fellow veterans.
“We’ve got to get the younger guys involved,” said Raborn, adding many of the nine Middle East-era veterans hold officer positions in the local VFW.
“We have to make sure somebody is ready to continue this organization.”
Raborn said with an aging group of veterans in the VFW itself, the post has relied ever more on the work of the VFW Auxiliary, a group which hasn’t always been there for the post.
“The auxiliary had shut down, but it was restarted about three or four years ago,” explained Raborn. “They are more energetic than in the past.”
Raborn noted the auxiliary is no longer “the ladies’ auxiliary.” Males with relatives who are eligible for membership in the VFW are encouraged to join, and the Mount Airy post lays claim to the state’s first male auxiliary commander in Mark Barr, whose son is a veteran of the Global War on Terrorism.
Any eligible veteran or relative of a veteran who is interested in taking care of veterans, serving the community or simply being a champion of the American way of life ought to consider getting involved in the VFW or the auxiliary, said Raborn.
He believes there’s no better time to meet members and officers and get a feel for the organization than Saturday’s membership drive at Veterans Park.
Raborn also said those interested in joining the VFW or who have questions regarding Saturday’s event can call him at 648-7709.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.