As new vets go online, VA and others follow

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When the Legion wanted to start taking membership applications and renewals online, it “literally took an act of Congress,” national communications director John Raughter said.

Congress chartered the Legion in 1919 _ its purposes include “to cement the ties and comradeship born of service” _ and any change in the Legion’s constitution, such as new membership procedures, requires congressional action.

The Legion and VFW say their membership numbers show they’re connecting with new veterans. The Legion, with 2.4 million members, has grown by 50,000 since 2009, Raughter said.

“We don’t want to be so aggressive that we become pests,” Raughter said. “Some of the troops, their big message is, `Leave us alone. We’re coming home. We’re settling in.’ That’s why we’re more interested in advocacy.”

The 1.6 million-member VFW said Iraq and Afghanistan veterans make up 15 to 16 percent of its total, the largest single group.

Cameron Cook, a 37-year-old Iraq veteran who is director of veteran student services at the University of Colorado’s Denver campus, tells other veterans it’s important to get involved.

“I try to tell them, `You know that GI Bill you’re on, that Post-9/11 GI Bill you’re on? There would be no such thing if it wasn’t for these organizations really pushing for us,’” said Cook, a former Marine and a member of VFW Post 1.

While Cook keeps in touch with his military buddies on Facebook, he said email and online networking have limits. He insists on meeting face-to-face with student veterans in his program.

“I think it makes you feel like you’re part of something instead of just having a name on a website,” he said. “I think face-to-face interaction makes you really feel like you belong a lot more.”

___

Online:

Community of Veterans: http://iava.communityofveterans.org

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: http://iava.org

TakingPoint: http://www.takingpoint.com

Veterans of Foreign Wars: http://www.vfw.org

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