Veterans of Foreign Wars

views updated May 23 2018


Since the late nineteenth century veteran organizations have influenced the nation's domestic, defense, and foreign policies. They have lobbied for benefits and have been engaged in political debates over America's preparedness for war. Moreover, veteran organizations, such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) have seen themselves as privileged to define America's cultural values, in particular the meaning of patriotism, because of their members' defense of America through military service.

The VFW traces its roots to 1899 when veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection formed local organizations to assist them in securing medical care and other benefits. Some of the groups banded together and in 1914, formed the VFW, which received a congressional charter in 1936. From the beginning, the organization limited its membership to officers and enlisted men (and later women) honorably discharged from the military who had served in any foreign war, insurrection, or expedition in the service of the United States. The major original purposes of the VFW were to promote comradeship among its members, to perpetuate the memory of the dead, and to assist the widows and orphans of veterans. In 1925, the organization established a National Home for Veterans' Orphans.

One of the VFW's more noteworthy efforts resulted in the passage of the 1924 World War Veterans Adjusted Compensation Act, also known as "the Soldier's Bonus." This act granted World War I veterans a deferred payment, due in 1945, as compensation for wages that were lost due to wartime service. In 1932 a spontaneous gathering of 15,000 unemployed veterans in Washington, D.C. demanded early payment of that bonus. Congress's refusal to grant payment and the violent dispersal of the so-called "Bonus Army" increased social and political tensions during the depths of the Great Depression. The VFW opposed the (President Franklin) Roosevelt administration's cuts in veterans' benefits in the Economy Act of 1933. It also played a crucial role, along with the American Legion, in lobbying for an earlier payment of the bonus. Congress in 1936 overrode Roosevelt's veto of legislation providing that payment.

In the early 1930s, the VFW supported a series of neutrality laws that sought to prevent America from entering another overseas war. After the Munich Pact of 1938, isolationist sentiment within the organization waned. Upon the United States' entry into World War II, the VFW's first official act was to lobby Congress to provide for immediate life insurance coverage for all service personnel. Through its efforts Congress approved a bill that would award a $5000 policy to every member of the service and his or her dependents.

The VFW's main contribution to the war effort was in the area of civilian defense. This included promoting a physical fitness campaign and recruiting auxiliary police and firefighters to replace those who had joined the service. The VFW also established an Aviation Cadet Committee to test and drill men eighteen to twenty-six years of age so they could qualify for the Air Corps. The VFW successfully recruited 75,000 men for the Air Corps and another 45,000 for other branches of service.

The greatest accomplishment of the VFW, along with its chief rival, the more politically powerful American Legion, was the effort that led to passing of the GI Bill of Rights in 1944. Initially, the VFW remained lukewarm to the GI Bill and feared a recurrence of the postwar backlash against veterans' benefits by big business that had occurred in the 1920s and early 1930s. But in the end, the VFW embraced the GI Bill of Rights and played a crucial role in its passage. In contrast to the World War I bonus, the GI Bill was widely hailed as one of the great pieces of legislation passed by Congress in the twentieth century.

In addition to its main aim of aiding veterans, the VFW sought from its beginning to promote patriotism among Americans. For example, it placed emphasis on respect for the American flag; as early as the 1920s it distributed nearly a million copies of a booklet, "Etiquette of the Stars and Stripes," to schools and other organizations. One of its achievements was a lobbying campaign that in 1931 led Congress to officially designate "The Star-Spangled Banner" as America's national anthem.


Bottoms, Bill. The VFW: An Illustrated History of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House, 1991.

Mason, Herbert Molloy, Jr. VFW: Our First Century, 1899–1999. Lenexa, KS: Addax Publishing, 1999.

Ortiz, Stephen R. "Soldier-Citizens: The Veterans of Foreign Wars and Veteran Political Activism from the Bonus March to the GI Bill." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Florida, 2004.

Internet Resources

"Americanism Program." Ventura, California: VFW Post No. 1679. Available from <>.

"The Official Site of Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States." Available from <>.

Mitchell Yockelson and Steve R. Ortiz

See also:GI Bill of Rights; National Anthem; Patriotism.

Veterans of Foreign Wars

views updated Jun 11 2018


The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) is a U.S. organization comprised of men who have served overseas in the military during world war i, world war ii, the korean war, the vietnam war, and the Persian Gulf War. Veterans who served in expeditionary campaigns such as Grenada and Panama are also eligible to join. Female relatives of veterans and women who have served overseas in the armed forces are eligible to join the Ladies Auxiliary. In 2003 the VFW, with its Ladies Auxiliary, had about 2.7 million members in approximately 9,500 posts worldwide. The organization's national head-quarters are located in Kansas City, Missouri, but it also has a large office in Washington, D.C.

The VFW was established in 1913, consolidating three organizations created by spanish-american war veterans. From its inception, the VFW has sought to promote patriotism and national security. Its paramount mission, however, has been ensuring that needy and disabled veterans receive aid. Beginning in 1922, it has sold a paper flower called the "Buddy Poppy," to raise funds for national service programs and relief for needy veterans and their families. The VFW fought for military pensions after World War I, planned the establishment of the Veterans Administration (VA) in 1930, lobbied for the GI Bill of Rights after World War II, and helped develop the national cemetery system for veterans. The VFW has also contributed millions of dollars to cancer research since the 1950s.

The VFW National Legislative Service office in Washington, D.C., monitors legislation that affects veterans. It alerts the membership to key legislation and lobbies Congress and the executive branch on veterans' issues. The office often assists congressional staffs in preparing legislation. In the early 2000s, the VFW legislative goals included a VA budget with sufficient funds to provide adequate veterans health care, vocational training and retraining for veterans, and employment opportunities for veterans.

The VFW has almost 16,000 trained service officers to assist veterans and their dependents in gaining federal or state entitlements. These service officers help with military discharge upgrades, records correction, education benefits, disability compensation, pension eligibility, and other types of veterans' issues. Field representatives conduct regular inspections of VA health care facilities, regional VA offices, and national cemeteries.

Historically, the VFW has promoted patriotism through its "Americanism Program." It provides materials and information and sponsors events and activities that are designed to stimulate interest in U.S. history, traditions, and institutions. The "Voice of Democracy" program is a national essay competition that annually provides more than $2.5 million in college scholar-ships and incentives.

In February 2003 the VFW issued a statement that charged the administration of President george w. bush with seriously under-funding the healthcare needs of the nation's veterans. The VFW stated that it had joined with the american legion, the Disabled American Veterans, and other veteran and military organizations to seek mandatory or guaranteed funding to improve the funding provided by the veterans affairs department (formerly the Veterans Administration).

further readings

Mason, Herman Molloy. 1999. VFW: Our First Century. Lenexa, Kans.: Addax.

Roche, John D. 2002. Veteran's Survival Guide: How to File & Collect on VA Claims. Dulles, Va.: Brasseys.

Veterans of Foreign Wars. Available online at <> (accessed August 16, 2003).


U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims; Veterans Affairs Department; Veterans' Rights.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars

views updated Jun 27 2018

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) was organized in 1913 with the emergence of two organizations of Spanish‐American War veterans. Formed as an association of veterans who served overseas, its membership, which consisted of over 1 million in the aftermath of World War II, includes veterans from every war in the twentieth century. Its headquarters is in Kansas City. Like its chief rival organization, the American Legion, the VFW established local posts throughout the United States and wielded political influence in Washington as a voice for veterans and a strong foreign and military policy.

The VFW saw its lobbying efforts in the context of peacetime patriotism that called the nation not to forget the soldiers who defended American freedom and to be vigilant against internal as well as external threats. Contradictions between the celebration of soldier solidarity and individual heroism, between collective responsibility for veteran welfare and extremist individualism, and between pervasive antistatist rhetoric and arguments for expanded state benefits for veterans permeate the history of veteran groups in general and of the VFW in particular.

In one of its most successful political efforts, the VFW achieved in 1924 what was called “the Soldier's Bonus”: the World War Veterans Adjusted Compensation Act. This act granted veterans a cash payment for the sacrifice of wages due to wartime service. The VFW also was instrumental in the passage in 1946 of the Servicemen's Adjustment Act, or G.I. Bill, under which World War II veterans received unprecedented employment preference, education, and loan guarantees.


Rodney G. Minott , Peerless Patriots: Organized Veterans and the Spirit of Americanism, 1962.
Bill Bottoms , The V.F.W.: An Illustrated History of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, 1991.

Elizabeth Faue