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Editorial: Today’s veterans still need advocacy groups

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To many people, an American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars post evokes an image of older men sharing a beer and swapping war stories.

While there’s still some of that, it is far from the reality of today’s veterans organizations, and it’s a stereotype the groups are seeking to dispel.

Just as today’s veterans, especially those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, differ in some respects from those who served in the Korean War, so too are the organizations that seek to serve their needs.

This evolution is vital not only to ensure the success of the organizations but to help today’s veterans get any assistance they need. Plus, the posts remain places where veterans can talk about issues and share memories that most of us haven’t a clue about.

Steve Milbourn, a Vietnam War veteran, oversees the VFW post in Greenwood. He regularly disabuses younger veterans of the idea that the organization is just for old people and works to educate them about all that the VFW does.

The organization encourages veterans to go to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to learn about combat’s effects on veterans, even if they don’t know yet that anything is wrong, he said. The local VFW also gives money to veterans who need it and financially supports the organization’s national headquarters, which lobbies for veterans benefits in Washington.

Milbourn keeps membership applications in his wallet so he’s prepared to recruit new members at any time. He has seen fruit from his recruiting efforts — the Greenwood post has 431 members, a 15-year high for the organization and a 10 percent increase from 2013.

Most members are Vietnam War veterans, who tend to be in their 60s and older, he said. But talking with younger veterans at the VA hospital or at Camp Atterbury has helped the Greenwood VFW get the younger generation involved, he said.

Local military organizations say getting those younger veterans to join is crucial for their survival. Losing the local posts would be a loss for the community but more importantly for the veterans themselves.

VFW and American Legion posts try to help needy military veterans by offering gas money, paying an electric bill and donating money to homes for homeless veterans. They also host social gatherings for veterans and their families, such as dinners and poker tournaments, and raise money to maintain the buildings where they meet and have events.

We urge younger veterans to talk with representatives from the VFW, American Legion and other similar organizations. They can put you in touch with resources and provide a unique sounding board.

For generations, these organizations have served the needs of local veterans. We hope their work can continue for generations to come.

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