In a time when we have so many veterans coming back from war and military service, the need for services and resources to help them transition back to civilian life is great. There are many government programs (both federal and state) out there as well as numerous online resource outlets on places like Facebook. But the one thing that has been proven many times over to help the most is for new veterans to get connected to other (seasoned) veterans as soon as they can after leaving the service. Of course there are some exceptions where veterans transition smoothly and “don’t have any issues” but for the most part a higher number of veterans do struggle than don’t. Many will immediately seek out a Veteran Service Organization such as the VFW or American Legion or others along those lines, but the newer generation of veterans (both female and male) are mostly turned off as soon as they walk in the door. There is a HUGE generation gap among those currently running those organizations and the younger generation of veterans needing their support/camaraderie. Yes, I’ve heard there are some really great posts out there in different areas of the country, but depending on where you live and the culture of that area, most of them are all the same. I’ve worked with Veterans for the past 4 years in both paid and volunteer capacities helping them get connected to jobs and benefits and other services. I always ask if they are involved with (VFW, American Legion, DAV, etc) and I almost unanimously get the same response from them.
Many vets, both male and female, choose not to get involved with the Veteran organizations because of the mindset on how they are operated. Most of them are bars (and allow smoking) and the members go there every evening and get drunk (often times leaving their families at home). Today’s generation, for the most part, lives a healthier lifestyle which does NOT include smoking. And with so many veterans having issues with substance (drugs/alcohol) abuse, hanging out at a bar is simply not an option nor is it recommended. And even if they were single and did drink – most feel unwelcomed (as a Veteran) within a few minutes of walking through the doors! I recently did a poll among the women in my organization (I founded an organization strictly for female veterans). I asked the question of why they did/did not become members of a veteran membership organization. Almost every single one of them (with a few exceptions) said they were not made to feel welcome when they entered the building. Many of them were told they needed to join the Auxiliaries. That is just UNSAT!! Also, since many young male vets also don’t join, they just didn’t feel like it was the place for them (a bunch of young women mixed with a bunch of old men). I get that the bar generates much of the revenue necessary to pay the bills but there are other options. I’ve been to posts that don’t have a bar and they’ve come up with other ideas to generate revenue for the Post. Also, much of the Post activities are outdated and really only cater to the older generation crowd. You must start looking at ideas that will appeal to women and younger generation male veterans. And you must accept that women (and many men) do have kids (many times as a single parent) and in order to get their interest, you should figure out a way to make accommodations to that effect. Instead of a smoke-filled bar, how about bringing in some couches and gaming systems – an actual lounge area for the younger veterans to relax and enjoy. And what about a sectioned off area with kids’ activities/toys to keep the kids entertained? I’m not saying the entire Post needs to be kid-friendly because adults do need kid-free time, but having that option for those of us with young kids would entice us more to want to spend time there. Until you start trying to make changes to keep up with the current needs of veterans, your membership is going to dwindle and the important service you provide for our rights and benefits will suffer because there will be no veterans to take the helm when you are gone.
What I’m about to say may offend those who served during Vietnam but it needs to be said and I TRULY mean NO disrespect to your service. Vietnam was a LONG time ago. I’m sorry the country didn’t welcome you back with open arms – but you can NOT change the past! You also can NOT stay in the past. You’ve spent your entire lives bitter and angry about it and it really is time to move forward. I mean ZERO disrespect by saying that. Yes it was wrong of our country not to honor your sacrifice but staying bitter and stuck in that mindset is not only NOT healthy – it is NOT productive. Shit happens – move on. I say that as a woman/person/Veteran that has had much “shit” happen in her life but I didn’t let it consume me. The things you do TODAY can help to ensure our benefits and respect as veterans is preserved for future generations to ensure it never happens to them. But your (stuck in Vietnam) mentality is pushing your replacements (the next generation of veterans that should be taking the helm of these organizations) away.
I go and check out different Posts just to see if I would feel welcomed or comfortable there. I’m on several committees of veteran leadership in my community. Of course I’m one of the youngest (if not THE youngest) person in attendance. The overall mindset of the leaders of the organizations is so outdated and behind the times for the most part. I was at a meeting of one this past week and OMG did it get a little heated! I do my best to bring in younger vets to get them involved (oh, this wasn’t a Post organization, it was a committee of organizational representatives) and I’m a pretty tolerant and patient person. But I was ready to poke out my eyeballs after this one! I highly respect the leader of this committee but the mindset of how it is being managed is just outdated. Just like the Vietnam veteran that continually brings up how they were treated when they returned home (the PAST), issues that happened over 20-30 years ago were brought up in regard to why a certain policy is in place. And while I know in my heart that these leaders truly do care about veterans and their struggles, they are hugely out of touch with some of the REAL issues – not just the issue of the veteran but also with the system. Speaking of system, the accounting and paperwork for many of these organizations are also outdated. Since the majority of the leadership are older generation veterans, they are not in sync with social media – which is exactly where they need to be in order to reach younger veterans as well as the public in general. Only posting events in the newspaper or sending via email lists is NOT productive in this era of social media.
I do want to mention that I have found a Post that I plan on joining. This particular Post is not a bar. They actually use Bingo as their main revenue source. And they get involved in more activities that younger generation veterans would be interested in and they truly welcome women veterans and our ideas. Anywho…that’s all I have to say about that!