Since 1899, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) has been steadfast in its commitment to helping US military active servicemembers and veterans improve their quality of life, especially after service, by providing much-needed resources such as healthcare needs and pension benefits.
Among its most significant accomplishments is its contribution to establishing the new Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial in 2015 and its significant role in passing the GI Bill for the 21st Century in 2008. Moreover, VFW has been the “driving force behind the Veteran Access and Accountability Act (also known as the Veterans Choice Act) of 2014” and continues to fight for the improvement of Veteran Affairs (VA) healthcare services for women veterans.
Founded Through Camaraderie
A strong bond of camaraderie who fought side-by-side during their deployment overseas and shared sentiments upon returning home was the foundation of the VFW. Unfortunately, many veterans who fought in the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippines Insurrection (1899-1902) came home wounded or sick with no medical care nor pensions at their aid, leaving these former servicemen to fend for themselves.
Taking the matter into their own hands, some veterans banded together through shared experience and language, forming little groups which expanded into local societies that would eventually establish the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, the predecessor of VFW, based in Columbus, Ohio by Spanish‑American War veteran James C. Putnam on September 29, 1899. Other chapters followed, including the Colorado Society (Army of the Philippines) in December 1899 and Foreign Service Veterans in Pennsylvania shortly after that. These three organizations grew together, expanding scope and membership until finally merging in 1913. By 1936, the nonprofit organization obtained its congressional charter under the FDR administration. Today, the VFW has more than 1.5 million members and its Auxiliary.
VFW’s main mission is to “foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts,” in addition to serving and advocating on behalf of all veterans, military service members, and its community. The organization also ensures that “veterans are respected for their service, always receive their earned entitlements, and are recognized for the sacrifices they and their loved ones have made on behalf of this great country.”
Notable VFW Members
As the nation’s oldest major war veterans organization, the VFW has welcomed millions of members since its founding in 1899, eight of which were presidents of the United States, namely Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerad Ford, and George H.W. Bush.
Other notable names include:
- Major General Smedley Butler, a two-time Medal of Honor recipient (Veracruz and Haiti campaigns)
- Sergeant Alvin York, a WWI Medal-of-Honor recipient
- First Lieutenant Audie Murphy, a WWII Medal-of-Honor recipient
- Carl Sandburg, a three-time Pulitzer-Prize winner
- Roger Staubach (aka Roger the Dodger), a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee
- Albert Gore Jr., the 45th Vice President of the United States
- Robert Kennedy, United States Senator from New York
- Chuck Hagel, 24th United States Secretary of Defense
- General John Pershing, 10th Chief of Staff of the United States Army
- Jason Crow, US representative from Colorado
- Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida
- General Martin Dempsey, 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
VFW Significant Contributions to the Veteran Community
The VFW played a significant role in establishing the Veteran Administration, developing the national cemetery system, and ensuring the rehabilitation of disabled and/or impoverished veterans. Families of veterans were also cared for, particularly windows and orphans of fallen men and dependents of disabled and/or impoverished veterans.
The “compensation for Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange and for veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome” was addressed through the VFW. On the other hand, the long-fought extension of the GI Bill, allowing post-World War II servicemen and women to receive the educational benefit, was passed in 2008 thanks to the voice VFW provided on behalf of the 21st-century veterans.
Other legislative victories VFW helped pass include the War Risk Insurance Act Amendments (1917), Veterans Bureau Act (1921), VA World War Service Disability Pension Act (1930), Veteran Emergency Housing Act (1946), Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act (1972), Veterans Education & Employment Assistance Act (1976), VFW calls for Agent Orange study (1980), Persian Gulf War Veterans Assistance Act (1991), Veterans Health Care Act (1992), Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act (2014), Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (2015), Expanded caregiver benefits to veterans of all eras (2018), Elimination of the Widow’s Tax (2019), and PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act (2021), to name a few.
For more than a century, the VFW has proven its steadfastness and takes great pride in its service and stewardship, not just in legislation but also in service to its communities both stateside and abroad. Every year, the organization “donates nearly nine million hours to community projects, relief efforts, and local facilities” and raises millions of dollars. At the height of the COVID pandemic in 2021, “the VFW and VFW Foundation provided $1 million in grants to boost Post and Auxiliary operations,” plus another $50,000 in aid to support relief efforts in Texas following a severe winter storm.
Where It Stands Today
The VFW has nearly 6,000 posts across the globe, with its headquarters located in Kansas City, Missouri. Its successful diverse endeavors through its many programs include assisting thousands of military families, improving the quality of life in America, honoring the fallen, and inspiring patriotism among young people.
Interested membership applicants must have rendered an honorable service in the US armed forces and served in a war, campaign, or expedition on foreign soil or in hostile waters. You can learn more here.