Veterans group struggles with bringing in younger members

Tyrel Linkhorn

Veterans of Foreign Wars membership in Ohio is down about 15 percent from last year, to a little more than 80,000 veterans, according to the group’s Web site.

The biggest challenge facing the aging organization is getting recent veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to join.

“I worry about new membership, but I remember I didn’t join till 15 to 20 years later,” said James White, commander of Post 3703 in Kent.

White, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, said that delay from the time soldiers and Marines get out of the service until they join is fairly typical.

“A lot of them gotta get their life started,” he said.

Though White said his membership has for the most part remained steady, he’d still like to see more recent veterans joining the post, where the largest percentage of members are Korean and Vietnam vets.

“My membership’s getting older. I need new, young members,” he said.

To help achieve that, White offers to pay first-year member’s dues, which are $25 per year at his post.

Ron Ruthenberg, Ohio’s VFW state membership chair, said the entire organization is trying more than ever to get more young veterans.

Some of their target audience, however, isn’t being reached.

Neale Linge, 28, who served with the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, said he was never approached about joining the veteran’s organization and wasn’t interested enough to look into it himself.

“My perception has always been that it’s something my grandpa is more suited for than myself,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone under the age of 40 (who was a VFW member).”

Linge, now a senior history major at Kent State, said he is aware of the hand they’ve played in improving veterans clinics and other veterans affairs, but younger generations just don’t actually see their involvement outside of parades and Veterans Day.

“If I saw more of what they did, it’s something I might look into,” he said.

As part of trying to make the organization more visible to younger servicemen and servicewomen, Ruthenberg said he recently went to Rickenbacker Airport to welcome back a Naval Reserve unit and recruit them for the VFW.

They also have been sending care packages to soldiers stationed abroad and have distributed thousands of phone cards to active duty troops. They also made a commitment to pay dues for any active duty personnel interested in joining.

Ruthenberg said as veterans grow older they often realize the organization is about more than just getting together to drink and swap stories.

“We are also one of the best veterans’ service organizations on the planet,” Ruthenberg said.

White also said that as they age, they come more to the realization that the VFW is one of the few places they can find others who can relate to what they’ve been through.

“When they get a little older . they can’t really share their experience with anyone else.”

Contact public affairs reporter Tyrel Linkhorn at

[email protected].