You might have missed it, but a major earthquake occurred in one of the largest veterans groups in America over the last two weeks.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars established a Political Action Committee 31 years ago, in order to support Congressional candidates that supported the interests of our nation's combat veterans. Over the years it has supported candidates with endorsements and occasionally donations. But today the VFW-PAC became a victim of the wave of anger in this county over politics as usual.
By way of explanation, there is a difference between the two largest veterans organizations. The American Legion, chartered by Congress in 1919, is open to all military personnel who served in uniform during specified periods of US History. The Veterans of Foreign Wars was established in 1899 by veterans of the Spanish American War, and was chartered by Congress in 1936. Membership is limited to US citizens who served honorably in the US military and received specific campaign medals associated with combat zones.
Both the American Legion and the VFW are going through a period of upheaval. The older members who have formed the backbone of both groups over the last two decades are slowly passing away, and membership has been declining. Enter the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and both vet organizations are being infused with new blood and new ideas. Legion and VFW posts that used to center around smoke filled bars are now becoming community centers with high speed wi-fi.
So when the VFW's political action committee started handing out endorsements this month, a new generation of veterans was suddenly and intensely interested in who their veterans organization was asking them to vote for. John McCain is a respected VFW member, and his endorsement fits with what many vets expect, regardless of political leaning. Tim Walz is a little bit controversial, because many veterans (myself included) take issue with his inflated military resume. Barbara Boxer caused a stir, because although she votes to fund veteran programs, she infamously rebuked a Brigadier General for calling her 'mam' instead of Senator, despite the fact that she didn't have the common courtesy to call him 'General' or even 'sir'.
But for many vets, the last straw was the snub of combat veteran LTC Allen West, in favor of a civilian who has never served in uniform. This was the real reason that younger veterans responded en masse. The military blogs went viral with their condemnation of the VFW PAC, and veterans across the country were encouraged to raise the issue at their local post. For the record, the Minnesota VFW has never supported or recognized the VFW PAC.
The board members of the VFW PAC, who are appointed to the job by the national leadership of the VFW itself, doubled down on stupid by insulting its supporters. "The VFW-PAC disagrees with those who claim the endorsement process is skewed, flawed, or unfair."
From there, the end was near for politics as usual. The VFW Ladies Auxiliary, one of the main funding sources of the VFW PAC, launched a broadside that left deep scars- "the Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars is suspending all fundraising and promotion of VFW-PAC for the remainder of the year."
In a normal year, the controversy might have subsided. The VFW national commander promised to raise the issue at the next national convention, which unfortunately is not until August 2011. But 2010, the year of the Tea Party and the first year of the rise of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the political scene, is anything but a normal year. Today, the National VFW Commander stepped up to the plate and did what was needed-he called for the dissolution of the VFW PAC, and rescinded all VFW endorsements. So effective today, no politician can claim to have been endorsed by the VFW for 2010.
The outrage over this issue was mainly driven by the internet and military bloggers, and was centered on the younger generation of veterans. While WWII and Korea vets have always been wary of political action committees, it was not until the new vets became outraged that the issue was forced. This new generation of veterans will only expand their involvement in politics, as they transition from the battlefield to the battle of politics. In Minnesota alone, we have three Iraq vets running for the legislature (sorry, shameless plug). Nationally, there are 10 conservative Iraq and Afghan vets running for Congress with excellent chances of winning.
After every major war in US history, combat veterans have come back from serving their country to go on serving in politics. 2010 may be overshadowed by the Tea Party, but still among the major stories is the wave of veterans stepping up to run on conservative principles.