Like other American Legion posts around the country, the commanding officers of Bayonne’s Post 19 have had to turn away a number of honorably discharged veterans.
The post is composed of those who served in the U.S. military who seek to serve fellow veterans and the community, and lobby for legislation that benefits veterans.
To that end, Congress passed a bill known as the LEGION (Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service) Act with bipartisan support. President Donald Trump signed it, in order to extend American Legion membership eligibility dates.
Prior to the LEGION Act’s passing, there were seven periods of recognized wartime during which veterans were able to receive wartime benefits later on. Now, the U.S. officially recognizes two much larger wartime periods: the first is from April 6, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918. The second will continue from Dec. 7, 1941 to a date that will be determined later by the federal government.
The measure will allow hundreds of thousands of veterans, mostly those who served in conflicts during the Cold War, to join the American Legion and access benefits from the Veteran’s Administration that they were previously denied.
While the Cold War itself never escalated into direct confrontation, there were a number of conflicts related to the Cold War around the world, from 1947 to 1991.
With the new legislation, the Cold War will now be considered a wartime period.
‘A veteran is a veteran’
To be a member of the American Legion, veterans must have at least one day of active duty during wartime. They can also be members for the duration of their active service during non-wartime periods.
Despite nearly 2,000 service members losing their lives in hostile environments, Cold War conflicts were not officially recognized as a wartime period by the government.
Bayonne Post 19’s Commander Mike Wilson applauded the passing of the LEGION Act, because it will give greater access to the benefits of Legion membership and because the legislation acknowledges that periods in which lives were sacrificed should be fully recognized.
“The American Legion appreciates the support our representatives have shown the veterans who were previously caught in the gaps,” Wilson said. “Especially our Congressional Representative Albio Sires, who supported the LEGION Act. This also underscores the passion American Legion family members have for our nation’s veterans. Their grassroots advocacy for this bill has been inspiring.”
Sixteen hundred U.S. service members were killed or wounded in hostile environments during the Cold War, but until now, weren’t considered wartime veterans. Their families did not receive the same survivors’ pensions that they would have, if the Cold War had been recognized as a wartime period.
Wilson said that the the bill supports the mission of the founders of Post 19, and the national American Legion when the organization was founded in 1919.
“As we celebrate our centennial anniversary, we hold to the same truths that our founders appropriately crafted a century ago,” Wilson said. “Among those, a veteran is a veteran. It does not matter whether a veteran fought enemies on foreign soil, protected our interests in an ocean far away, or secured our national defense here at home. Their service is what matters most. Now, thanks to this legislation, all veterans will be properly remembered for their service.”