The Big Six. These are the veterans groups that paved the way for military service members to harness their political clout and relevance. And they continue to do so. The support they provide is critical to preserving the benefits and rights of veterans. Veterans groups provide the most important collection of resources available to the ex-military as they transition to and navigate through civilian life.
In addition, veterans organizations offer vets a social outlet by providing halls, military retirees clubs and gathering places all over the country. In these safe havens, veterans can talk, give advice and maybe even trade war stories over a cold beverage…or two.
While the Big Six continue to be influential, these groups are being joined by newer organizations. Certainly the challenges of a changing world are different for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. For example, issues may include mental health, the right to medical cannabis, employment, education and more — and any organization you join should reflect the issues you care most about.
Just who are these veterans organizations, both old and new? What do they do? And, most importantly, are they right for you?
The Big Six
For starters, the Big Six includes:
This century-old organization has over 2 million members and 14,000 posts. The Legion has tirelessly advocated for veterans, including drafting the GI Bill of Rights, enacted into law in 1944.
AMVETS (American Veterans)
With over 250,000 members, the AMVET mission is to safeguard the entitlements of American veterans. They place particular emphasis on helping veterans through the Veterans Administration claims process.
Disabled American Veterans
With over 1,300 chapters, Disabled American Veterans provides lifetime support to over 1 million ex-military, including rides to medical appointments and assisting with claims. They also help connect veterans to relevant employment opportunities.
Paralyzed Veterans of America
Founded in 1946 by World War II service members with spinal cord injuries, Paralyzed Veterans of America advocates for wounded heroes. Their mission is to help brave veterans regain their freedom and independence.
Vietnam Veterans of America
With over 500 chapters nationwide, Vietnam Veterans of America advocates for the issues that are most important to their constituents, including quality health care. They also seek to change the public perception of Vietnam veterans, giving them the possibility of the hero’s welcome they never received.
Veterans of Foreign Wars
As the oldest veterans service organization, Veterans of Foreign Wars has over 1.6 million members. They were a key player in establishing the Veterans Administration.
New Veterans Organizations
The new service groups are smaller and leaner than their predecessors. Consequently, they may not offer places to congregate like, for example, the VFW posts that are nearly an American institution, even as they are shuttering at an alarming rate. However, some veterans find that the new groups better reflect today’s cultural realities and social challenges.
Some of the best known (relative) newcomers include:
Student Veterans of America
Representing more than 750,000 ex-military, Student Veterans of America advocates for these men and women to reach their greatest potential. Student Veterans of America has a presence on college campuses around the world. They are an umbrella group for several other organizations that support higher education for veterans.
Team Red, White & Blue
This service organization tackles social integration challenges such as isolation, weight gain and lack of purpose. Team Red, White & Blue hosts regular social gatherings and community service events. Their mission is to help veterans reconnect in the places where they live and work. They are partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project, a service organization that also helps vets seeking to transition back to college and the workplace.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
Working to empower veterans through community, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America provides personal peer-support case managers. Priorities run the gamut from suicide prevention to improving services for female veterans. They seek to help fulfill the promises made to the post-9/11 military. It was founded by Paul Rieckhoff, an American writer and social entrepreneur, who was released from the Army National Guard in 2007.
Find Your Group
As the VFW posts and American Legion buildings close their doors, veterans still need to connect with one another. No one understands the issues veterans face better than another veteran who may have similar experiences and challenges.
If you are a veteran, you can — and should — take advantage of these free resources that veterans groups provide. If you would like to find a service organization in your area, consult the Directory of Veterans Service Organizations to find a group that meets your needs.
The Human Connection
Perhaps, too, there are individuals you once served alongside that you would like to find. Technology makes it easier than ever to reconnect to those with whom you share a special bond – including active duty veterans, who can be harder to track down through traditional methods. You can find Joe Patterson from Huntsville, Alabama using a sophisticated people search engine such as Spokeo. Once you find your long-lost friend, you can even investigate further before you decide if you’d like to initiate contact. Spokeo reports can tell you about their living situation, marital status, criminal background (for an additional fee) and much more.
There are many vehicles through which veterans can establish contact with one another. Whether you select one of the Big Six, a newer organization, or choose to find your old buddies through Spokeo, support, camaraderie and advocacy are all within your reach.