American Legion seeks more female veterans

GOWRIE – American Legion Peterson Post 431 in Gowrie is seeking more local and area members, especially female veterans.

“A lot of times people only think men are veterans and that’s not the truth. Twenty-six percent of our military today is made up of female veterans,” Jim Peterson, 2014-15 chairman of the Membership Committee for Iowa, said. “There’s a lot of female veterans who don’t feel they’re a veteran, but they are. We want them to all know the eligibility is there.”

He added, “Their service meant something to everybody. And if they feel timid about it, they shouldn’t. They need to come out and be a part of our organization.”

Female veterans have been a part of the American Legion since its inception, Peterson said.

“They were not discriminated. When it was chartered in 1919, it was for all veterans, male and female,” he said. “A woman could vote for the national commander of the American Legion before she could ever vote for president of the United States.”

A hope for the veteran service organization, Peterson said, is to increase membership as it nears its centennial.

“We’re trying to have all-time high membership. That would put us at over 3 million members,” he said. “We have today probably 16 million eligible veterans in the United States to join the American Legion.”

The American Legion has four pillars: patriotism, veterans affairs and rehabilitation, Americanism, and children and youth. Among its efforts, the organization provides benefits to veterans through its National Emergency Fund, and coordinates youth programs such as Boys State and Girls State camps, and a fifth-grade flag essay contest.

“We pride ourselves in being able to help veterans when they need help with a veterans claim, through the veterans claim commission. Every post should have a service officer, and we have a headquarters service office in Des Moines,” Peterson said. “Our service office down there, since the first of this year, has helped do more than 1,200 claims so far in 2014, with about a 92 percent success rate in getting claims settled in favor of the veteran.”

While the majority of the Legion’s members today served during the Vietnam War, Peterson hopes to include more Gulf War-era veterans.

“We’ve had the longest eligibility for membership that we’ve ever had. It started back on Aug. 2, 1990, and anybody that has served since that time, and has an honorable discharge, is basically eligible for membership in the American Legion, men and women both,” he said.

American Legion also helps veterans’ families and their communities.

“When I was in Desert Storm, the Legion was there to help when my family needed help,” Peterson said. “One of the things that happened was the rope broke on our flag pole. And my wife, it was pretty important for her to have a flag up while I was gone.”

He added, “It’s nice to know that when you’re away there’s that safety net, that someone’s going to be looking out for your family.”

For more information about the American Legion, visit www.legion.org, or the Iowa American Legion at www.ialegion.org.