The VFW Future

OSSEO, Wis. (WEAU) -- Numbers continue to dwindle at one of the nation's oldest major veterans organizations.

Veterans of Foreign Wars data shows only 1% of the U.S. population serves our country today.

The VFW currently has 1.3 million members, but the organization's figures in the last ten years show it's lost 400,000 members and have closed 1800 posts.

"This organization needs help at the younger level," says Rolland Shearer.

For decades,, the VFW has served western Wisconsin with its 30 posts in 11 counties, also known as District 9.

"I spent my whole year out in the infantry out in the brush getting shot at," said Shearer

After time spent in Vietnam as an interpreter, District Commander Rolland Shearer of Osseo returned with PTSD.

"The sounds of war, were right there," he said.

According to the National Center of PTSD, 15% of Vietnam veterans end up diagnosed with the condition, often resulting in suicide.
Now it's the sounds of his harmonica he hears as he seeks new members to join the VFW since joining in 2011.

He met the eligibility requirements of being a U.S. citizen, having served honorably in a war on foreign soil or hostile waters.

"We have 7 posts out of 30 that need one more member to be at 100 percent," said Shearer.

Posts like Ettrick and Durand are only a few members away from going under said Shearer, often due to the suicide rate and the ages of members today.

"We do a military funeral and there are people on there we're not sure if they are going to be at the next one, holding the flag, firing the rifle," he said.

For a post to stay open, there must be at least 10 members total to make quorum.

Rolland says, "The veterans themselves that are members of the post have a great responsibility to support that post and make sure its healthy."

If a VFW post does struggle and goes under, there are two options.
You can shut the door and leave everything to the state or the members can choose to consolidate with another post. In Western Wisconsin, Mondovi opted to shift to Strum.

"There's not a lot of people in our area that have served in the military as of late. Its hard to get members sometimes," said Strum Commander Steven Ebert.

Ebert said after consolidating, the post now has 130 members. After picking up 80 new members from Mondovi.

Inez, a member of the VFW Auxiliary, who became eligible after her husband served, said sometimes the numbers are deceiving.

"We have 38 members .8 of us are active," said Inez Semingson.

"The ones that used to come to the meetings in Mondovi won't come to the meetings at all because of the commute though we've offered to drive them," said Terry Stiner with the Mondovi VFW Post.

"The VA gets money from the government, and the VFW gets no money so we need to raise of the money out of fundraisers," said Rolland Shearer.

As a result, many facilities remain outdated. The money instead is used to perform military funerals, and give to the community in other ways.

Jerry Knudtson says, "We do quite a bit of donating to the fire department and the Girl Scouts."

"Here in Osseo at every home football game, my post marches the colors in for the national anthem," said Shearer.

The organization also holds the Patriot Pen and Voice of Democracy Essay Contest for students at the middle and high school level.

"There's $153,000 in prize money available. Top winner of the national level gets a $30,000 scholarship," said Shearer.

Medical, travel and financial assistance are just a few services members receive in return.

Osseo has picked up younger veterans, but recruiting more is the key to survival.

"It's the best way you can help because more can be done in a group than individually," said Stiner.

As for the future, Shearer said local VFW's will continue to reach out to families before deployment and veterans who have returned and gone back to college.

A spokesperson at the VFW National Headquarters said there's currently no plans to change the eligibility requirements, but as warfare continues to evolve, the organization must as well.

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