Nevada is home to numerous large and small veterans service organizations. All such groups are continuously seeking new members and in many cases work to set legislative priorities that will support their efforts to help veterans and their families.
Locally, Bruce Hollinger, state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, congratulated his membership team for exceeding 8,000 members in Nevada. As of March 14, "The department has achieved 101.49 percent of last year's membership," Hollinger said. At the beginning of the year, he had set three goals -- achieving 100 percent membership, gaining more than 8,000 members and reaching an 105 percent growth rate. To meet that last challenge, another 277 members must be signed up, and in fact some of that number has been reached as this column is being written.
One area the VFW is concentrating on is retaining current members. The various VFW posts are holding retention drives, calling and writing current members to explain the benefits of membership -- and signing them up again. Hollinger said the incoming national commander of the VFW is planning to emphasize retention, "So the pressure on the posts and districts to keep current members is not only not going away, it is going to increase."
While membership is important, organizations also work to set legislative priorities, meeting with officials each year in Washington to hear proposals and make proposals of their own. The American Legion's National Legislative Commission chairman, Ken Governor, stressed the importance the Legion places on having key bills passed by the 112th Congress.
No. 1 on his list is protecting the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense from the 2011 Deficit Reduction Law. Since the recent "supercommittee" failed to take action on cutting the federal budget, an automatic across-the-board spending cut called "sequestration" is set for next January. The Legion supports bills that would reverse cuts for the two agencies mentioned previously. Several bills by senators and representatives are in play to do this, none of which was introduced by Nevada's congressional delegation.
Also on the list is what the Legion refers to as "Disabled Veterans Tax." Not a tax in the traditional sense, veterans with less than a 50 percent disability rating cannot receive concurrent disability and retirement benefits. The Legion notes that these are distinctly different benefits created for entirely different purposes. "If a veteran has earned both of these benefits, he or she should not be penalized," the Legion says.
Other legislation supported by the Legion includes an amendment to protect the U.S. flag from physical desecration; continuing select regulations regarding the VA home loan program; and construction of the Keystone pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico as a matter of national security.
Col. Tim McGuire, deputy chief of Army Legislation Liaison, briefed Legionnaires on Army priorities involving force structure and operations. He said the Army's top priorities included the maintenance of a highly capable force within evolving budgetary constraints. He said in part, "We are all aware of the budget challenges. The secretary (of the Army) is confident that, with the current budget, that we can meet the needs of the nation. But both him and Gen. (Raymond) Odierno are extremely concerned on sequestration." He added that while the Army is confident it can accomplish its mission, sequestration will place "at great risk" the Army's ability to secure the nation.
Journalist and author Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He is the managing editor of Nevada's Veterans Reporter newspaper and the host of the "Veterans Reporter Radio Show" on KLAV (1230 AM) from 8-9 p.m. Thursdays and of the "Veterans Reporter News" at 2:20 a.m. Fridays on VEGAStv KTUD Cable 14.