Legion commander encourages membership

Published 10:05 pm Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The 4th District Commander for the Virginia Department of American Legion is spreading the word about the organization’s newly expanded eligibility and encouraging all eligible veterans to become members.

Joseph E. Garlitz was elected 2019-2020 4th District Commander of the Virginia Department of American Legion. The home post for Garlitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is Norman R. Matthews Post 57 in Suffolk.

The 4th District covers seven counties and includes 14 Legion posts and 1,400 veteran members. The posts included in the 4th District include: Post 2 Petersburg, Post 46 Emporia, Post 49 Smithfield, Post 57 Suffolk, Post 73 Franklin, Post 88 Suffolk, Post 120 Disputanta, Post 146 Hopewell, Post 149 Dinwiddie, Post 151 Emporia, Post 160 Surry, Post 191 Waverly, Post 264 Jarratt and Post 276 Boykins.

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“I encourage each and every veteran to seek out the post near them to join and get yourself on track toward receiving your veteran benefits you have earned,” Garlitz said.

Every post is deeply involved in its community, providing time, talent and treasures. “But we take care of our individual veterans first and foremost,” Garlitz stated.

A big change in membership eligibility was made in 2019. “Unfortunately, we had veterans that were unable to join the American Legion, but that was rectified last year by the 2019 Legion Act,” Garlitz stated.

President Donald Trump on July 30, 2019, signed a bipartisan bill expanding eligibility for membership in the American Legion. 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 wartime 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 (and extends) 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.”

Now that the legislation has been signed, the American Legion’s eligibility criteria immediately changes from six 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 previous gaps were during the Cold War, when an estimated 1,600 U.S. servicemembers were killed or wounded in hostile operations.

“In summary, if you served honorably, on active duty, since Dec. 7, 1941, you can pursue membership in your community’s American Legion Post, and I fully encourage it,” Garlitz stated.

The Department of Virginia website is www.valegion.org. The national website is www.legion.org.