New law will boost American Legion membership

By: 
Chad Smith

President Trump put pen to paper and signed the LEGION Act into law on July 30, which made a couple of big changes for the American Legion. First of all, the declaration is a way to honor about 1,600 service members who were killed or wounded during previously undeclared periods of war. The other big change is it gives about six million veterans access to legion membership and programs.

Before the LEGION Act, only U.S. service members who were active in officially recognized periods of war were eligible for membership in the American Legion. The LEGION Act (Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act) officially declared the United States in a state of war since December 7, 1941. That means service members who were only active during peacetime are now able to join the Legion.

Dan Book of Peterson is an American Legion member who says changing Legion requirements is a big job. “Changing American Legion membership literally requires an act of Congress,” he said. “The Legion was formed after World War I and just those that served during the conflict were allowed into the Legion.

“Then, here comes World War II that started on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed,” he recalled. “There were other periods of conflict like Korea, Vietnam, a short window for Panama, and the Gulf Wars. You didn’t have to serve overseas or be directly in the fighting, you just had to be on active duty during those periods and you had access to American Legion membership.”

There were a lot of servicemen and women who served their country when there were no active conflicts. That prevented them from joining the American Legion. Book said that’s a very large number of potential American Legion members.

So why make the change now? Book said the Legion is like a lot of other organizations, including civic groups, fraternities, and the Lions Club, in that they’re looking for younger members to join them. “All those groups, including the Legion, are having a harder time getting new memberships,” Book said. “The membership change is potentially a big benefit for the American Legion. There are a lot of people out there who wanted to join but were denied membership.”

The new regulations mean anyone who served in the federal military from December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor) up until the present day is now eligible to join the American Legion. This is a project the American Legion has been working on for some time.

“The Legion’s goal is to represent all veterans that have served our country,” Book said. “We really want to make sure this news gets out to people who weren’t eligible for membership previously. The requirements are different now and we would love to welcome those folks into the American Legion.” 

National American Legion Commander Brett Reistad issued a statement on the Legion.org website that says recognizing the service of the wartime veterans killed or wounded in previously unrecognized periods of war is long overdue.

“Families of those who were killed or wounded during these wartime acts should take pride in knowing that we recognize their sacrifice and service,” he said. “We’re also very proud to welcome any of the six million living veterans from peacetime service into our organization and call them ‘Legionnaires.’”