Legion Act expands eligibility for veteran membership

Members of the Columbia Post 97 Honor Guard firing detail perform services at a local cemetery during Memorial Day.

BREWSTER – A new federal bill signed into law last July 30 expanded eligibility for millions of U.S. military veterans to join the American Legion at a time when many Legion posts are struggling to recruit new members.

The measure, Senate bill 504, The LEGION Act (Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service) signed by President Donald Trump opens the door for an estimated six million veterans to access American Legion programs and benefits for which they previously were ineligible.

S. 504 was introduced by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. A companion bill, House Resolution. 1641, was introduced by Reps. Lou Correa, D-Calif., and Ben Cline, R-Va.

Prior to enactment of The LEGION Act, American Legion membership eligibility was restricted to military service during the following periods:

WWI: April 6, 1917 – Nov. 11, 1918

WWII: Dec. 7, 1941 – Dec. 31, 1946

Korean War: June 25, 1950 – Jan. 31, 1955

Vietnam War: Feb. 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975

Lebanon/Grenada: Aug. 24, 1982 – July 31, 1984

Panama: Dec. 20, 19089 – Jan. 31, 1990

Gulf War/War on Terrorism: Aug. 2, 1990 – Present.

The new law redefines the eligibility date from the above seven to two; WWI, April 6, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918, and WWII, Dec. 7, 1941, until a time determined by Congress when the U.S. is no longer at war. The new law also honors thousands of veterans killed or wounded while serving during periods not previously designated as a time of war.

“Recognizing the service of these wartime veterans is the right thing do and it is long overdue,” said National Commander Brett Reistad on the American Legion website, legion.org. “The families of those who were killed or wounded during these wartime acts should take pride in knowing that we recognize their sacrifice and service.”

Veterans in the Quad City area can sign up immediately online at legion.org/join or contact Area Three Commander Denny Pittman at 503-670-3904 for details regarding membership in Columbia Post 97 in Brewster, the only American Legion post in south Okanogan County.

While existing Legion membership applications are being updated, applicants can enter “Legion Act” into the eligible date section of the current document.

“We have 140 members,” said Pittman of the current Columbia Post 97 enrollment. “There are about 75 SAL (Sons of the American Legion) and about 50 in the Legion Auxiliary.”

Pittman said the posts in the small outlying areas have seen declining memberships over the past years. The Bridgeport American Post 218 closed its doors last year after 68 years in operation citing lack of new members. The post was formed in June 1950 and closed one year before the American Legion celebrated its 100th anniversary.

“There are 600,000 veterans in Washington State,” Pittman said of the potential pool of new Legion members.

The American Legion was founded in 1919. Today there are more than 13,000 posts with two million members worldwide.

The American Legion Auxiliary was also formed in 1919 and the Sons of the American Legion in 1932. The Legion Act changes the eligibility criteria for descendants of military veterans and extends membership privileges to that group as well.

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