Recycling the Battle - 1955 - 1973

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 forward.

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.

With 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 Hospital care.

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.

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VFW 1998 . Created by Lynn - Last Updated 29 Dec 2001

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