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Government Money To Renovate Vets Halls: Many Think Not

LongIsland.com

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Things change. In the '50s, with Blue-Laws and the like, veteran halls, at which a veteran and their spouse could by a drink and a meal at a reasonable price, were prosperous as many WWII and Korean veterans recall. Things have changed. As Veterans' Advocate Jim Strickland stated: "Why keep open an aging building that serves little purpose for those of us who don't drink, don't smoke and don't have any interest in bingo games?"

Who Is Saying This

Veterans' Advocate Jim Strickland provides regular columns for VA Watchdog dot Org. He is the author of "A to Z GUIDE OF VETERANS DISABILITY COMPENSATION BENEFITS." For answers to questions and great advice, see Jim's discussion board, "STRAIGHT TALK FOR MILITARY VETERANS." You can even follow Jim on Twitter.

"REVAMP"ing the Veterans' Service Organizations by Jim Strickland

When I opened my email and saw the press release below, I at first thought my friend Larry Scott, Founder & Editor or VA Watchdog dot Org, was ribbing me. He's aware that I'm not a fan of most Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) and that they feel much the same about me. Given all the issues we have with budget shortfalls, a Department of Veterans Affairs that seems to fail us at every turn, a continuing climb of the suicide rates of young soldiers and the declining memberships in VSOs everywhere, it must be that this was a joke... a poke at me to see if I was reading my emails.

No such luck, it's the real deal. Read it and weep along with me.

Advisory: BISHOP, VETS TO UNVEIL NEW BILL TO RENOVATE VETERANS HALLS AND POSTS

Kings Park, NY -- On Monday, February 22, at 10:30 AM, Congressman Tim Bishop will unveil new legislation, the bipartisan Renovate and Enhance Veterans' Meeting Halls and Posts (REVAMP) Act during a press conference with Post Commanders and local veterans at the Kings Park VFW. Congressman Bishop is introducing this legislation to reward our nation's veterans' organizations with the resources to make much-needed and long overdue repairs to deteriorating halls and facilities that serve as meeting places and are pillars of our communities.

Across Long Island and the nation, the recession has squeezed local budgets, delaying improvements and resulting in disrepair such as leaking roofs or inadequate handicap accessibility. The Kings Park VFW Post, itself, is in need of a wide range of repairs and upgrades.

In order to help veterans restore their halls to whole with pride and dignity, the REVAMP Act would create a competitive grant program that authorizes up to $200,000 for each local non-profit veterans group comprised primarily of past or present members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their family members to use for repairs and improvements to their existing facilities. This program would use existing funds from the Community Development Block Grant and therefore will not contribute to the deficit. Any local post or chapter receiving funding would not eligible for another award for at least five fiscal years in order to ensure that other deserving veterans halls across the country are equally entitled to apply for their own improvements.

The legislation has been endorsed by the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

This is so wrong in so many ways I'm at a loss for words. Never fear, I'll somehow manage to find enough to express myself as we go along.

The message is distorted from the start when it says that these facilities are for use by, "...past or present members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their family...." It seems that the Congressman hasn't looked into the restrictions of joining the VFW, for example. That isn't surprising... like so many members of Congress, he isn't a veteran.

I can't use a VFW hall or facility myself. All I did was serve an honorable 3 years as an E-5 working as a 91-Delta-20 in a hospital caring for wounded soldiers. My training at Brooke Army Medical Center during the height of the Vietnam War and subsequent long hours working in surgery... at 98th General Hospital, The Federal Republic of West Germany... won't get me in the door of the VFW.

The Congressman also seems to have overlooked the continuing decline of membership in these organizations. I'm not sure how he missed it, the story is a popular one in every state.

In Texas, "Glen Gardner Jr. of Round Rock, Texas, warned that the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is in real danger of going the way of the covered wagon."

From that same story, "Tennessee VFW commander Curtis Damron, who accompanied Gardner, reported membership statewide has declined about 700 the last year, and three VFW posts have been closed. "They (the posts) weren't participating well and members were getting old. We weren't getting any new ones in."

He goes on;

Numbers, he said, tell the story very well. "We have 1.6 million members today,"

495,000 are older than 82.
300,00 are older than 72 (and younger than 82).
Less than 10 percent are younger than 50.

In a report by the VA Watchdog dot Org we read, "When you're young, if you're still in [the military] or you've just gotten out, you have a large pool of friends. The VFW and American Legion are not the type of places you want to hang out," said Casey Saunders, 31, a member of the Air National Guard in Duluth.

As recently as November 2009 we read and learn that, "VFW Shows Age in Declining Membership...What's happening in the whole of the VFW environment is we're aging out or dying out... Nobody else is coming in the background to fill in."

In July of 2006 in Indiana; "Membership at Post 127 on Columbus Avenue in Anderson gives membership totals of 825 in 2005 and 750 in 2006, he said. And the numbers are continuing to fall. 'One word: Television,' said John Cook, 87, offering TV as the culprit of decreasing membership. Cook is a veteran of World War II and a member of American Legion Post 127"

Unfortunately, that above is an excellent example of just how disconnected the VSO halls and meeting places are from the veterans of today.

We no longer want to go and remember the good old days over a few cold beers in a smoke filled bar with our cronies. We aren't watching much TV either. Most of us are busy with family, struggling to work 2 jobs to pay the bills and keeping up with our Facebook postings, our personal blogs and Tweeting every chance we get.

Many of us have little faith in the legislative agenda of these VSOs when they all seem to march arm in arm and in locked step with anything the VA happens to want. Does anyone remember that the big VSOs were adamantly opposed to veterans using lawyers in their appeals?

Hello. Anyone???

I remember all too well. The self serving attempts by these self appointed, self important, puffed up "representatives" of ours nearly derailed the passage of law to allow you to make up your own mind if and when you wanted expert, professional counsel at your side. They were there to do your thinking for you...alongside the paternalistic VA.

Besides having "meeting places" and being "pillars of our communities" these good ol' boys clubs tout their outstanding record of representing veterans to the VA and assisting them with disability compensation claims. They won't offer any explanation why complaints about their Veterans Service Officers are equal to the complaints in my mail about the VA itself.

Just a week ago I was contacted by a VA accredited lawyer who stated, "I've seen countless times how horrible the VSOs are in their representations of vets. I'm seriously contemplating filing some negligence lawsuits against the VSOs, particularly, the DAV. I know you are biased and how you feel as I've read about your feelings and your own experience. Unfortunately, your experience is not an isolated incident."

The VFW was particularly sensitive when I was contacted by one of their own Post Service Officers who came to me asking for help with some advocacy training. They responded by lambasting me as "blatantly pro-lawyer" and that my "endorsement of National Veterans Legal Services Program products amounts to almost $680". The VFW suggests that a smarter route to take is to purchase their own publication... from them... for a mere $6.90. It's worth noting that the course I recommended actually runs less than $200.00.

The VFW requires that their PSO pay for their $6.90 booklet out of their own pocket. The VFW does not pay to train its own VSOs.

The VFW PSO who started the fuss is still in training... with me. The VFW never sent that book nor scheduled any training sessions as they promised. I am mentoring the VFW representative through the NVLSP program. S/he will challenge the exam soon and then become accredited by the DVA... all at his/her own expense and on my time.

Rather than putting lipstick on that pig Congressman, let's take that $200,000.00 for each post and put it where it will have some impact. Why keep open an aging building that serves little purpose for those of us who don't drink, don't smoke and don't have any interest in bingo games?

If VFW is to represent veterans before the VA, let's have them trained and certified to the highest standards in America today. I'd like to see VFW & AL come off the government cheese wheel to become self sustaining. Why isn't your bill including DAV? Where is MOPH? Why not VVA? The PVA has a successful program without the bars and bingo. Why aren't you sponsoring them?

Your press release says, "The legislation has been endorsed by the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars." Why would that surprise anyone who understands that the federal government, my tax dollars, will be used to prop up failed organizations that can't exist on membership fees and services provided.

Most organizations that don't bother keeping up with the changing world will fade into obscurity and disappear. These groups are declining because of a lack of interest by customers and poor business practices. Ever wonder why nobody flies Eastern Airlines any more? Do we really miss Edsels and should the feds be giving Ford money to keep them running?

You compound your error by supporting a "veterans organization" that I can't join in spite of my committed, honorable service to my country and you use my money to do that.

Maybe that's for the best. As Groucho Marx said, "I won't belong to any organization that would have me as a member."

Yeah. Me too, Groucho.

(NOTE from Larry Scott ..... I concur with Jim Strickland. I can just hear it now: "Hey, we got gummint money. We can stock up on a lot of high-end batch gin, get a new karaoke machine and buy a whole bunch of new pull tabs and punch boards." If the average taxpaying American spent any time in a VSO hall, they would immediately realize that Rep. Bishop's bill is nothing more than pure pork designed only to garner votes on election day.

It should be noted that the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) does not take government funding. The DAV should have a statement about this insane piece of legislation in a day or two.)

--- Regards, Walt Schmidt