Veterans are committing suicide at an alarming rate after integrating into civilian life. Veteran organizations such as American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), could be the last hope for ending the rate at which veterans take their own life.

     Less than .4 percent of American citizens currently serve on active duty in the armed forces. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), the US has over 18 million veterans living in the country.

     Each year over 8,000 veterans takes their own life. As a veteran, I have lost at least one friend every year since I completed boot camp at Fort Benning. I have had more army friends die by suicide than by combat overseas.

     It can feel isolating as a veteran when applying for disability ratings from the VA. Without a team of veterans advocating for you, you’re just a little fish in a big ocean. Joining organizations such as the American Legion can be a lifesaving decision for some veterans.

     Despite the support that comes with joining the ranks of the American Legion, each year membership declines overall. The average age of members in the Legion is 60 and each post around the country usually recruits one to five new members per year.

     The American Legion focuses on a list of issues for veterans, and they work toward getting politicians to vote loyally for veterans.

     This includes fighting for: Protecting DoD and VA from budget cuts, reducing the VA claims backlog, improving the medical transition process for service members, current treatments for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, improving VA medical care for women veterans, expanding the Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) and Passing a constitutional amendment to protect the U.S. Flag from physical desecration.

     If it wasn’t for the American Legion, veterans would be at the mercy of unsupervised lawmakers. It’s not only a good thing the Legion focuses on these issues, but it’s necessary. As a new member of the American Legion, I want these to be the primary focus for the organization.

     My only hesitation to join the American Legion came when I noticed they have a hard stance on immigration, specifically immigration from the southern border. I wrongly assumed that the Legion focuses on veteran issues exclusively. Now, as a member, I still have concern and confusion over why the Legion decided to take up this fight.

     I worried about having a different opinion over the matter because, in my experience, veterans are at the biggest risk of falling into group think. It isn’t something veterans can’t help because the indoctrination our minds received from our first day in the military.

     Basic training taught us how to think as a unit and accomplish goals as a team. This isn’t a bash against service members. This is my personal observation after serving in a tight-knit unit.

     As a veteran, I had no choice but to dismiss the immigration stance the American Legion had because I knew I needed a support network. It disappoints me to see the American Legion picking sides in politics on divisive issues. However, I see the charity that comes from the organization outweighing its unnecessary immigration stance.

     I think the American Legion is seeing declines in membership from creating politically divisive environments for veterans. Instead of focusing on fighting for each other, we are stuck either agreeing with this stance or ignoring it.

     Veterans leaving the military are not solely republicans. When the American Legion picks republican policies to stand for, it seems like what they are really trying to say is this is a republican-veteran only club.

     The American Legion historically has been a conservative organization. Why does it have to be that way? Are they trying to say the only veteran’s worth advocating for are the ones that agree with our party ideology?

     If the American Legion accepted border patrol agents as members, I could see this potentially being an appropriate stance for the organization. However, police officers, firefighters, EMTs and border patrol agents can’t join the American Legion. I find it to be a stretch for the American Legion to choose this as an important issue to fight for behind real veteran issues.

     I don’t want to make the argument that the American Legion is wrong in their immigration stance. I want to make the point that taking a stance on something as controversial as immigration is damaging the chance of our organization for recruiting more veterans.

     As a veteran, it’s clear to me that I need the American Legion. I hope the Legion sees it the other way around too. I may not agree with their immigration policy, but I’ve made it a point to recommend membership to my friends that are veterans.

     Veterans need more help than the occasional, “Thank you for your service.” It’s one thing to claim you support veterans, but it’s easier said than done. Out of the 18 million veterans in our country, at least 8,000 of them will take their own life before 2020. Take care for the veterans in your life because you never know when they could lose their ultimate battle after coming home.   

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