By Eric Dehm
As I look back over the years since I left the Navy in 2011, one organization stands out as having been of assistance and importance to me: The Veterans Of Foreign Wars, or VFW.
As a child, I mostly knew of the VFW as “those guys in the parades.” Later, during my time in service, it seemed the VFW had a reputation as a drinking club for old war veterans.
Little did I know I’d deploy to Afghanistan and be eligible to join the VFW after I got out. I also did not know there would be a large VFW Post near the town where the girl I fell in love with, married and started a family with lived, and I would eventually move to. So one day I went down to the VFW to see what it was all about. I immediately felt welcomed and was invited to attend a meeting at Post 1469 in Huntington, New York.
I joined the night of that meeting and I’ll tell you this: No single organization helped me, or allowed me to be part of helping others, more than the VFW.
How did it help me? Like I said, it has that reputation as a drinking club for old war veterans. That is partly true, but in the best way possible. Both before and after the bi-monthly meetings was a time to check in with my fellow members, see how they were doing and tell them how I was doing.
And I noticed something very quickly: When I had a service-related problem like a Veterans Affairs issue I didn’t know how to address, like trying to get something added to a DD-214 (turns out you can’t, it’s a separate addendum), someone there had the answer or solution.
Those old war vets, the people who served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam and even the First Gulf War — those folks are the subject matter experts when it comes to dealing with vet issues.
Think about it: If someone served in Korea, they now have more than six decades of experience in dealing with the VA, with scam artists, with every veteran-related organization under the sun. Each of them has a massive amount of information and experience, and there were several in my post from Korea. Even more from Vietnam with 4-5 decades of experience, and so on. And that’s just at the Post itself!
Nationally, the VFW has staff and helplines that are available to not just members, but all veterans with VA claims, benefits and so on.
Separately, it allowed me to be part of helping others.
When a vet was struggling in the area –- VFW member, war veteran, or not –- our Post was there to lend a hand in whatever way we could. When a town in our area was doing something positive or negative related to veterans? We were there to let them know they were doing the right or wrong thing.
When a phony was showing up at events around town trying to steal a little valor? There was no one better to sniff it out, and then call them out on it than us.
So yes, I would say the VFW has been of assistance to me in numerous ways. There is a small fee to join (annually or lifetime), and as with any national organization, it may be a different situation locally and some posts will certainly be better run than others, but all I can speak to is my experience with Post 1469 and other Posts I’ve had contact with.
They have all been positive and helpful and for less than $40 a year, it has been absolutely worth it in my eyes.