Posted in The American Legion Magazine
National Commander James E. Koutz
I recently had the opportunity to testify before a joint session of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees. In doing so, I learned what national commanders before me have learned, which is that it’s common for one or more senators or representatives to praise the commander – either during the hearing or afterward – for his input. Those members of Congress appreciate hearing the Legion’s System Worth Saving (SWS) reports, our suggestions for improvements to the GI Bill, and more.
It just makes sense for Congress to listen to us and value our opinion. The Legion is the largest organization of wartime veterans, representing patriotic Americans from all backgrounds and eras. We’re a group capable of speaking on behalf of many. With millions of members, The American Legion is a force in Washington.
The same is true at the state level. When a Legionnaire phones his local state representative and announces that he’s a member of The American Legion, he’s not just one veteran. He’s one veteran capable of rallying the support of hundreds, even thousands, of Legionnaires.
Clearly, a strong and diverse membership is essential to our success as an organization. It gives us more boots on the ground to lobby local representatives and provide help for recovering warriors in our communities. Membership makes our voice louder on Capitol Hill, and it gives us more influence in congressional circles.
Simply put, membership is our lifeblood. The hard work of our dedicated volunteers and employees makes efforts like SWS a success, but our membership numbers are what demand the attention of Congress and the White House. That’s why The American Legion has set a goal to reach an all-time high of 3.3 million members by 2019 – our centennial. What better way to celebrate the Legion’s 100th anniversary than with a voice that is louder than it has ever been? Potential members are out there; an estimated 16 million veterans are eligible for Legion membership, but only 2.4 million are members.
The benefits of reaching this goal are twofold. We not only ensure our continued success as an organization, but we also enhance our ability to protect the interests of all veterans, servicemembers and their families. A strong and diverse membership helps us serve as a better and more vocal advocate on their behalf.
We must reach our membership goal. The stakes are high not only for our organization to continue thriving, but for the nation’s military community as a whole. Veterans and their families cannot afford to lose The American Legion as their advocate.
Imagine a world where Congress doesn’t hear about access problems at VA hospitals, doesn’t receive testimony about the need to allow military training to count for certification in civilian trades, and doesn’t have American Legion expertise to call upon for help improving the GI Bill. Such a world would fail our founders’ vision. Most of all, it would fail veterans and their families, who need us now more than ever, in record numbers.