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 U.S., prompting celebration in Michigan, home to the 11th largest population of veterans 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 other war eras the U.S. Congress has not recognized where American troops were killed,” said Barry Wood, commander of The American Legion’s Department of Michigan. “Those veterans who survived and supported those war efforts weren’t eligible to join their brothers and sisters in continued service to our country. Now they are.”
Senator Debbie Stabenow and Senator Gary Peters signed on as co-sponsors to Senate Bill 504, also known as the LEGION Act.
“Today is a good day for America’s veterans,” Wood said. “President Trump’s signing of the LEGION Act means all veterans who have served since December 7, 1941 will finally have access to the American Legion.”
Now that the legislation has been signed, The American Legion’s eligibility criteria immediately changes from six 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.
Eric Bartlett of Plymouth has been waiting over 30 years to finally be eligible for membership, and was the first member to join under the LEGION Act.
“I’m proud that the U.S. government now recognized that the years I served in the Marine Corps was really war-time service” Bartlett said. “We trained for war and were always ready for war. There were many times we were ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
Bartlett served in the Marine Corps from August of 1985 to June of 1989, sandwiched between the Lebanon/Grenada era, which ended in July of 1984 and the Panama era, which began in December of 1989. An infantry rifleman for over three years Bartlett served with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines of the 2nd Marine Division. He would also earn the MOS of Marine Scout Sniper.
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 Michigan works to serve the roughly 600,000 veterans currently living in the state.