Congress opens membership eligibility for American Legion

Published 10:35 pm Friday, September 13, 2019

President Donald Trump recently signed a bipartisan bill expanding eligibility for membership in the biggest and most politically influential veterans service organization in the U.S., prompting celebration in Virginia, home to the seventh largest population of veterans in the country.

Prior to the “LEGION Act,” if veterans wanted to join the American Legion, they had to have served during one of the six federally-designated eras dating back to America’s declaration of war on Germany during World War I. Because the American Legion is a congressionally-chartered veterans service organization, Congress determines its membership eligibility.

“The passage of the LEGION Act is a welcomed acknowledgement of all veterans who gave the same oath to protect and defend our country between the designated war time periods,” said A.B. Brown, commander of the American Legion’s Department of Virginia. “Hostile military service conditions existed outside the stated war periods, and this bill was long overdue. It recognizes the once-excluded veteran population, the opportunity to join the American Legion along with the advantages the American Legion offers and represents. We thank Congress and the President for its passage.”

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Reps. Lou Correa and Gil Cisneros of California and others in the House introduced a companion measure to that of Arizona Sen. Krysten Sinema, who brought forth the original bill in February. Congress passed S.504 on July 23.

“Today is a good day for America’s veterans,” Correa said. “President Trump’s signing of the LEGION Act means all veterans will finally have access to the American Legion. Regardless of when a servicemember served, every veteran is a hero and has earned our respect and full access to their benefits.”

Now that the legislation has been signed, the American Legion’s eligibility criteria immediately changes from six war eras to two — April 6, 1917, to Nov. 11, 1918, and Dec. 7, 1941, to a time later determined by the federal government. No other restrictions to American Legion membership are changed. Many of the gaps between those recognized eligibility periods were during the Cold War, when an estimated 1,600 U.S. servicemembers were killed or wounded in hostile operations.

“Veterans and their families have made incredible sacrifices for our country, and their service should not be defined by a period in time or some unrecognized war era,” Cisneros said. “All veterans are deserving of recognition and membership in the American Legion, and our legislation will ensure these veterans have the opportunity to gain those benefits.”

Chartered by Congress in 1919, the American Legion works to serve the community, state and nation through its four pillars of Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation, Americanism, Children & Youth, and National Security. The Department of Virginia works to serve more than 780,000 veterans currently living in the state.