President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed a bipartisan bill expanding eligibility for membership in the biggest and most politically influential veterans service organization in the country, prompting celebration in California, whose veterans population is the largest in the country.
Prior to the “LEGION Act,” if veterans wanted to join The American Legion, they had to have served during one of the six federally-designated eras dating back to America’s declaration of war on Germany during WWI. Because The American Legion is a congressionally-chartered veterans service organization, Congress determines its membership eligibility.
“The problem was that there are 12 war eras the U.S. doesn’t recognize where American troops were killed,” said Ed Grimsley, commander of The American Legion’s Department of California. “Those veterans who survived weren’t eligible to join their brothers and sisters in continued service to our country. Now they are.”
Reps. Lou Correa and Gil Cisneros of California and others in the House introduced a companion measure to that of Sen. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., who brought forth the original bill in February. Congress passed S.504 on July 23.
“Today is a good day for America’s veterans,” Correa said. “President Trump’s signing of the LEGION Act means all veterans will finally have access to the American Legion. Regardless of when a servicemember served, every veteran is a hero and has earned our respect and full access to their benefits.”
Now that the legislation has been signed, The American Legion’s eligibility criteria immediately changes from seven war eras to two — April 6, 1917, to Nov. 11, 1918, and Dec. 7, 1941 — to a time later determined by the federal government. No other restrictions to American Legion membership are changed. Many of the gaps between those recognized eligibility periods were during the Cold War, when an estimated 1,600 U.S. service members were killed or wounded in hostile operations.
“Veterans and their families have made incredible sacrifices for our country, and their service should not be defined by a period in time or some unrecognized war era,” Cisneros said. “All veterans are deserving of recognition and membership in The American Legion, and our legislation will ensure these veterans have the opportunity to gain those benefits.”
Chartered by Congress in 1919, The American Legion works to serve the community, state and nation through its four pillars of Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation, Americanism, Children & Youth, and National Security. Chartered the same year, the Department of California works to serve the roughly 2 million veterans currently living in the state.
This article was released by the American Legion Department of California.