|Not negating the sacrifices of the men and women who died in Korea, it would be
fair to say that one the most severe casualties of all was the attitude of the American
public. This was, after all, the first war in which the United States did not come away
with a clear-cut victory. Although the war was not lost on the field of battle, but at
home, it was the returnees who suffered the backlash of public opinion. As a consequence,
the VFW and other veteran's organizations met considerable resistance in securing new
entitlements for veterans - as well as in holding on to those already won. Resistance
became even harder to overcome as the United States was gradually drawn into the most
unpopular war ever; the Vietnam War. As in the First World War battle of Isonzo, the VFW
would have to fight for the same territory again, and again, and again...
Given the nation's anti-veteran climate, it was vital that the VFW have leaders
who were willing to fight for what they believed in. Fortunately the VFW had never lacked
for fighters. From the end of the Korean War to our withdrawal from the Vietnam War, a
succession of leaders with an unshakable commitment to the veteran's well-being stepped
A major threat came from the Hoover Commission. This commission, headed
by former President Herbert Hoover, had been established to look into possible reforms
within the executive branch of the federal government. Among the reforms recommended in
the commission's report, was that the government cancel all plans to construct additional
VA hospitals. It also proposed selling or otherwise disposing of any VA hospital that
could no longer be operated economically or effectively. Worse, the report recommended
denying treatment for veterans with non-service connected disabilities who had not
demonstrated the need for treatment within three years after discharge. In no cases were
veterans with non-service-connected disabilities to be given treatment unless they could
prove that they could not afford to pay for it. This report was to be given further weight
next year when the American Medical Association (AMA) attacked the VA hospital system on
the grounds that 85 percent of veterans receiving care had non-service-connected
disabilities, and that most of them could not afford to pay for their own treatment.
While fighting bitterly against the report's proposal to close and sell
VA hospitals that were not being run economically, the VFW went along with the suggestion
of canceling any contracts for new hospitals that were not already completed or under
construction. By paying frequent visits to the White House and working through Veterans
Affairs Committee of the House, the VFW leadership eventually managed to soften most of
the proposed changes. Finally, in 1958, the VFW's investigations prompted Congress to
direct a twelve-year plan to update VA hospital facilities.
Another threat to veterans' entitlements that reared it head during
Murphy's year was the appointment of the Bradley Commission, which was charged with
scrutinizing other veteran's programs and pensions.
Accompanied by every Department Commander, Commander-in-Chief Holt
delivered a no-nonsense message to Congress on February 5th, 1957. The VFW insisted on a
stronger military, expanded care and services in VA Hospitals, and a militant opposition
toward Communism. They also demanded that all U.S. prisoners of war in Communist North
Korea and China be freed.
At the 1957 Encampment in Miami Beach, Florida, Commander-in-Chief Holt
again took a shot at Communism. In one of his last official acts, he charged that the
Russian Embassy was directing espionage and propaganda activities inside the U.S. Holt
called upon the convention delegates to ask President Eisenhower to sever relations with
the Soviet Union. Also at this convention, the official term "encampment" was
dropped. With the approval of a national bylaw, all references were changed from
"National Encampment" to "National Convention."
Into the summer of 1958, Congress continued to be more receptive to
veterans' needs than usual. In July, Congress passed a precedent-shattering bill
increasing pension payments to Indian Wars, Mexican War, Civil War, and Spanish American
War veterans and their widows. Then in August, an eight-year-old campaign of the VFW bore
fruit when President Eisenhower signed Public Law 529, making May 1st Loyalty Day. Also
during this time, the so-called "new" pension law was amended, liberalizing
benefits to veterans and their widows. This law raised benefits to veterans and their
widows by 25 percent if the disability was due to combat action.
In 1958, the VFW became a cosponsor of the Voice of Democracy program -
an annual high school speech competition of patriotic themes.
Also during this time, the VFW stepped up its Americanism program. To
alert the American public to the dangers of world Communism, posts made radio spots and
pre-written speeches available and distributed pamphlets to schools and other
organizations. The Community Activities Program, too, was active, upgrading the Sons of
the VFW organization to full program status and adding several new youth programs. In
addition, the VFW Insurance Department was established to run the first insurance programs
sponsored by the VFW. These included the post insurance and accidental death programs.
VFW support, several important bills made it to the floor of Congress during 1964-65.
First, after a ten-year fight to provide all "Cold War" veterans with
educational and loan privileges, a permanent G.I. Bill was passed. No longer would these
benefits be established on a conflict-by-conflict bases. Instead, this bill assured each
returnee that he would receive entitlements of equal or greater worth than had the
veterans of previous area. The second important bill was introduced into Congress by
Representative Richard L. Roudebush, past Commander-in-Chief. The bill prohibited
desecration of the U.S. flag and had the wholehearted support of the VFW and other
veteran's organizations. The bill stipulated that anyone who knowingly cast contempt upon
any flag of the United States by publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling, or trampling
upon it could be subjected to a fine of up to $1000 or up to one year on jail. This
federal law against flag desecration was eventually passed in 1968. It would remain on the
books until June 11, 1990, when a five-to-four vote by the Supreme Court declared that it
violated the First Amendment principle of free speech and was therefore unconstitutional.
The VFW also paid particular attention to the needs of all Vietnam
veterans: both those who had already returned and those who would never return. The
members pressed Congress for more grave sites in National Cemeteries and advocated for
Veterans Assistance Centers to help veterans readjust to civilian live. Later, the VA
would establish a series of "storefront" counseling centers for Vietnam
veterans. The VFW also fought long and hard with the Office of Management and Budget,
which was determined to cut staffing in VA hospitals.
When Commander-in-Chief Herbert R. Rainwater took office in August
1970, he took up the campaign for the release of POW/MIAs. With Ladies Auxiliary President
Mary Cottone, Rainwater traveled to Paris. There they attempted to deliver a petition
bearing more than two million signatures which demanded humane treatment and the release
of American prisoners held by the Communist North Vietnamese forces. Rainwater and Cottone
were not able to meet with Vietnam's Chief Delegate Mai Van Bo, but were instead ordered
to leave. "My crusade has just begun," Rainwater announced following the refusal
of the petition. He promptly ordered the VFW to begin a letter-writing campaign. The
letters would be delivered to the Vietnamese Embassy in Paris. In the meantime,
"Chief" Rainwater traveled to India, where he delivered the petition and
discussed the POW/MIA cause with a different high-ranking North Vietnamese official.
Later, returned POWs would tell Rainwater that pressure from the VFW contributed toward
their better treatment.
With more public sympathy lavished on the plight of the exiled draft
dodgers than on returning Vietnam veterans, the VFW faced some difficult challenges during
the term of Patrick E. Carr (1972 - 1973). First, there were the usual tussles with the VA
over its facilities. After continual warnings from the VFW brought no changes from the VA,
the VFW joined with Congressional veterans' committees in working out these stipulations.
Congress would order the VA to maintain an average daily patient load of no less than
85,000 and to maintain not less than 97,500 beds in its 165 VA hospitals. President Nixon
immediately signed the bill and Congress made it clear that were was to be no cut in VA
Commander Carr's year wound down on a positive note as the VFW
successfully negotiated a 25 percent increase in the Vietnam G.I. Education Bill, and a
federal court agreed with the VFW's contention that veteran's preference should be upheld
in state as well as federal jobs. These and other advances gained since the Korean War
would be increasingly important in the months and years ahead. There were, after all, six
million veterans of the Vietnam War - many of them seriously scarred, both physically and
emotionally. As they swelled the ranks of the nation's veterans, they would undoubtedly
tax the services already in place and arouse a need for more and better services and
benefits. More than ever before, America's veterans would need a strong and experienced
veteran's advocate like the Veterans of Foreign Wars to plead their cause.