In-Depth: Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) introduced this bill to extend American Legion membership to honorably discharged veterans since World War II. When she introduced this bill, Sen. Sinema said:
“The American Legion provides critical resources to our veterans, but currently, only veterans who served during formally recognized conflicts can belong to the Legion. That restriction leaves out thousands of former American servicemembers who signed up to defend our country. Our legislation rights this wrong and ensures veterans have the opportunity to join the American Legion.”
After this bill passed the Senate, original cosponsor Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) added:
“For 100 years, The American Legion has fostered a community for servicemembers and veterans throughout our great nation. The bipartisan LEGION Act will expand access to the American Legion to all veterans who served honorably, and I hope this legislation quickly passes the House and is signed into law soon.”
The American Legion supports this bill. When it was introduced in the Senate, American Legion National Commander Brett P. Reistad said:
“Nearly 1,600 brave American men and women were killed or wounded since World War II, while defending our nation during times not officially recognized as periods of war by the U.S. government. These veterans are unable to receive some of the benefits and recognition available to their counterparts who served during official wartime periods. Because The American Legion is congressionally chartered, we are unable to welcome many of these veterans as members of the nation’s largest veterans organization. It is fitting that during the 100th anniversary of the founding of The American Legion, Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Thom Tillis are introducing the LEGION Act, bipartisan legislation that will recognize all veterans who served honorably since the start of World War II, while also fostering growth within the veteran community. Moreover, we salute Sen. Sinema for making this the first bill that she has introduced as a newly elected U.S. senator. We hope that the American people will encourage all members of Congress to support the LEGION Act. It is an appropriate ‘thank you’ to those who served.”
This bill unanimously passed the Senate with the support of 35 bipartisan cosponsors, including 19 Republicans and 16 Democrats. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Luis Correa (D-CA), has 108 bipartisan cosponsors, including 56 Democrats and 52 Republicans and has yet to receive a committee vote.
Of Note: The American Legion is a private nonprofit organization that was founded by a group of World War I veterans. It was set up by an act of Congress in 1919, and was critical to the passage of the first GI Bill, which helped veterans go to college, launch careers, and buy homes. Today, there are over 12,000 Legion posts around the U.S. and about two million members of the Legion. The Legion helps veterans, military personnel and their families through cash grants, donations and comfort for recovering veterans as well as legislative advocacy.
The Legion’s criteria for membership is defined by how Congress classifies service periods, and at present can only include servicemembers who served during periods of declared hostilities. Thus, servicemembers who served during periods of relative peacetime since WWII’s end are currently ineligible for Legion membership.
If passed, this bill would allow an additional three to four million veterans to join the Legion. It would affect veterans from 12 “unrecognized war eras,” including the Cuban Missile Crisis, Libyan Conflict, Iran Hostage Crisis, and the Salvadoran Civil War.
In October 2018, the Legion introduced a resolution calling on Congress to direct the VA to consider all veterans who served honorably since the start of World War II (in 1941) as “war-time veterans.” This bill doesn’t go as far as that Legion resolution, but it does significantly expand the criteria for Legion membership.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / BDMcIntosh)