Veterans of Foreign Wars

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Veterans of Foreign Wars
of the United States
EstablishedSeptember 29, 1899
(124 years ago)
FounderJames C. Putnam[2]
Founded atColumbus, Ohio, U.S.[2]
Merger ofAmerican Veterans of Foreign Service (organized on September 29, 1899, at Columbus, Ohio, U.S.) and the Army of the Philippines (organized on December 12, 1899, at Denver, Colorado, U.S., as the Colorado Society, Army of the Philippines)[3]
Type501(c)(19), war veterans' organization[4]
PurposeFraternal, patriotic, historical, charitable, and educational[5]
Headquarters406 West 34th Street,
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
Coordinates39°04′01″N 94°35′27″W / 39.06694°N 94.59083°W / 39.06694; -94.59083
Area served
Membership (2018)
Official language
Duane Sarmiento (NJ)
Since July 27, 2023
Alfred J. Lipphardt (GA)
Since July 27, 2023
Carol Whitmore (IA)
Since July 27, 2023
National Council of Administration
63 voting members
  • 8 elected officers
  • 3 appointed officers
  • 52 elected members
Main organ
VFW National Convention
AffiliationsStudent Veterans of America
Revenue (2015)
Expenses (2015)US$89,099,521[4]
Employees (2014)
Volunteers (2014)
Formerly called
Army of the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico[3]

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), formally the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, is an organization of U.S. war veterans who fought in wars, campaigns, and expeditions on foreign land, waters, or airspace as military service members.[5][7] The organization was established twice separately, once by James C. Putnam on September 29, 1899, in Columbus, Ohio.[8] The VFW is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri.[2][1] The organization was congressionally chartered in 1936 under the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.[9]


75th Anniversary 10c postage stamp (1974)

The VFW resulted from the amalgamation of several societies formed immediately following the Spanish–American War. In 1899, little groups of veterans returning from campaigning in Cuba and the Philippine Islands, founded local societies upon a spirit of comradeship known only to those who faced the dangers of that war side by side. Similar experiences and a common language drew them together.[2] The American Veterans of Foreign Service (predecessor to the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States) was established in Columbus, Ohio, September 29, 1899, by Spanish‑American War veteran James C. Putnam.[10] The Colorado Society, Army of the Philippines, was organized in Denver, Colorado, on December 12, 1899 by General Irving Hale of Denver, Colorado.[11] Shortly thereafter, a society known as the Foreign Service Veterans was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in October 1901. The Ohio based group and the Pittsburgh based group held a joint convention in 1905, where the two groups merged. Merging the final two groups was talked about as early as 1908 but wasn't accomplished until 1913.[12] In August 1913 an encampment was held in Denver and they merged their interests and identities in a national organization now known as the VFW.[2]


The purpose of the VFW is to speed rehabilitation of the nation's disabled and needy veterans, assist veterans' widows and orphans and the dependents of needy or disabled veterans, and promote Americanism by means of education in patriotism and by constructive service to local communities. The organization maintains both its legislative service and central office of its national rehabilitation service in Washington, D.C. The latter nationwide program serves disabled veterans of all wars, members and nonmembers alike, in matters of government compensation and pension claims, hospitalization, civil-service employment preference, etc."[7]


Redesigned in November 2018, the official logo of the VFW includes an artistic representation of service stripes, easily recognizable insignia indicative of military service. Worn on most service uniforms, they denote length of service. As such, the first and leaner of the two service stripes represents the VFW's entry into its second century of service to America's veterans, service members and their families. The second, broader stripe represents its first century of service, spanning back to 1899.

Great Seal[edit]

The Cross of Malta is the VFW's official emblem.[13] The cross, radiating rays, and Great Seal of the United States together symbolize the character, vows and purposes distinguishing VFW as an order of warriors who have traveled far from home to defend sacred principles. Its eight points represent the beatitudes prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the pure, the merciful, the peacemakers; blessed are they who mourn, seek righteousness and are persecuted for righteousness' sake. The eight-pointed Cross of Malta harks back to the Crusades, launched during the 12th century.[14]


Membership in the VFW is restricted to any active or honorably discharged officer or enlisted person who is a citizen of the United States and who has served in its armed forces "in any foreign war, insurrection or expedition, which service shall be recognized by the authorization or the issuance of a United States military campaign medal."[7]

The following is a list of U.S. campaign medals, ribbons, and badges used by the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States to determine membership eligibility.[15]

Eligibility guide
Campaign medal Start date End date
Navy Expeditionary February 12, 1874 Open
Marine Corps Expeditionary February 12, 1874 Open
Spanish Campaign April 20, 1898 December 10, 1898
Army of Cuban Occupation July 18, 1898 May 20, 1902
Army of Puerto Rican Occupation August 14, 1898 December 10, 1898
Philippine Campaign February 4, 1899 December 31, 1913
China Relief Expedition April 5, 1900 May 27, 1901
Cuban Pacification September 12, 1906 April 1, 1909
Mexican Service April 12, 1911 June 16, 1919
First Nicaraguan Campaign July 29, 1912 November 14, 1912
Haitian Campaign April 9, 1915 June 15, 1920
Dominican Campaign May 4, 1916 December 5, 1916
World War I Victory (with battle or service clasp – including Siberia and European Russia) April 6, 1917 April 1, 1920
Army of Occupation of Germany November 12, 1918 July 11, 1923
Second Nicaraguan Campaign August 27, 1926 January 2, 1933
Yangtze Service September 3, 1926 December 31, 1932
China Service July 7, 1937 April 1, 1957
American Defense Service (with foreign service clasp) September 8, 1939 December 7, 1941
Combat Infantryman Badge December 6, 1941 Open
Combat Medical Badge December 6, 1941 Open
Navy Combat Action December 6, 1941 Open
European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign December 7, 1941 November 8, 1945
American Campaign (30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days of duty outside continental limits of the U.S.) December 7, 1941 March 2, 1946
Asiatic–Pacific Campaign December 7, 1941 March 2, 1946
Navy Occupation Service May 8, 1945 October 25, 1955
Army of Occupation (30 consecutive days of duty) May 9, 1945 October 2, 1990
Korean Service June 27, 1950 July 27, 1954
Korea Defense Service July 28, 1954 Open
Vietnam Service July 1, 1958 April 30, 1975
Armed Forces Expeditionary July 1, 1958 Open

SSBN Deterrent Patrol insignia, in silver and gold
January 21, 1961 Open
Coast Guard Combat Action May 1, 1975 Open
Southwest Asia Service August 2, 1990 November 30, 1995
Air Force Expeditionary Service (with gold border) October 1, 1999 Open
Kosovo Campaign March 24, 1999 December 31, 2013
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary September 11, 2001 Open
Afghanistan Campaign September 11, 2001 Open[16]
Air Force Combat Action September 11, 2001 Open
Combat Action Badge September 18, 2001 Open
Iraq Campaign March 19, 2003 December 31, 2011
Inherent Resolve Campaign June 15, 2014 Open

Refusal to admit WWII Japanese American veterans[edit]

Despite their distinguished record, many posts and departments refused Japanese-American veterans entry into the VFW. In Chicago, white officers from the 442nd RCT advocated for a group's charter to form a segregated American Legion post in 1946. In Sacramento, California, another group they found Alva Fleming, a sympathetic member in VFW district leadership who approved the charter of Nisei VFW Post 8985 on 7 February 1947. Fleming would go on to become State Commander for the Department of California, and considered to be the driving force in the founding of a total of 14 Nisei VFW posts throughout California, posts 8985 in Sacramento, Monterey post 1629, Gardena post 1961, Garden Grove post 3670, San Fernando post 4140, San Diego post 4851, Hanford post 5869, Oceanside post 6945, Fresno post 8499, Watsonville post 9446, San Francisco post 9879, East Los Angeles post 9902, Los Angeles post 9938, and San Jose post 9970, all still active today. Nisei veterans in the Pacific Northwest were not so lucky, unable to find anyone willing to do the same there despite letters of support from Col Virgil R. Miller and Gen Lucian Truscott. Although VFW national commanders Jean Brunner and Joseph Stack condemned the actions of local posts, their bylaws at the time promoted autonomy in individual posts and were powerless to prevent the discrimination. They could only offer them membership as members-at-large. Unwilling to be treated as a second class members, the PNW Nisei decided to form their own independent veterans organization when neither the VFW or the American Legion would accept them as members nor grant them charters for a segregated post.[17][18][19][20][21][22]

Vietnam veterans membership controversy[edit]

The VFW initially refused membership for Vietnam War veterans.[23][24][25][26] At the time, most incumbent VFW members were World War II and Korean War veterans. Many of these WWII veterans were of the opinion that the conflict in Vietnam was a “police action” and in their minds didn’t qualify as a war, despite the Korean War also being a “police action” with no formal declaration of war. This rationale was used to deny membership to many Vietnam War veterans across the country. Many of these WWII veterans blamed Vietnam War veterans for losing the war. In the years since, many veterans of the Vietnam War have refused to join the VFW due to this, and many older posts now find themselves struggling to survive as WWII and Korea vets have either passed away or are no longer active, and younger Iraq and Afghanistan vets don't feel comfortable joining a dying post.

Membership and structure[edit]

As of 2020 the VFW has 1.6 million members and Auxiliary members, forming 6,000 local chapters known as Posts, grouped into 52 Departments covering the 50 states, the Asia-Pacific area, and Europe.[27]

Support and assistance programs[edit]

The VFW offers a wide range of assistance programs aimed at helping veterans of every generation. This includes providing free, professional help filing or appealing a VA claim, offering scholarships for post-secondary education or providing emergency financial relief.

VA claims and separation assistance[edit]

The VFW's National Veterans Service program consists of a nationwide network of VA accredited service officers and pre-discharge representatives who are experts in dealing with the VA and are the key to your success. The VA reports veterans represented by the VFW have recouped $8.3 billion in earned benefits, including $1.4 billion in new claims in 2018 alone.[28]


With offices located on or near major military installations across the country, VFW Pre-Discharge representatives guide military personnel through the veterans claims process and conduct physical examinations prior to their separation from active duty. They are also ready to answer questions about education and medical benefits, as well as VA home loans.[29]

Student veteran support[edit]

M60 Main Battle Tank on display in front of C. Robert Arvin Post No. 2408, Veterans of Foreign Wars, at Ypsilanti, Michigan (2010)

Help A Hero Scholarship[edit]

Established in 2014, the VFW's Help A Hero Scholarship provides service members and veterans with financial assistance they need to complete their educational goals without incurring excessive U.S. student loan debt.[30]  

1 Student Veteran[edit]

To help ensure student veterans receive their benefits in a timely manner and have a place to turn to if they need help, the VFW, in conjunction with the Student Veterans of America (SVA), have developed the 1 Student Veteran program. 1 Student Veteran offers direct assistance to student veterans who have questions or are experiencing problems accessing their VA benefits.[30]

VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship[edit]

The VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship grants ten exemplary student veterans (fellows) the chance to join the VFW legislative team on Capitol Hill during the VFW Legislative Conference. The fellows will walk the halls of Congress, educating their legislators on the issues facing today's student veterans and have the opportunity to meet with policy-makers from federal agencies responsible for implementing veterans' policy.[31]

Veterans and Military Support Programs[edit]

The VFW's Veterans & Military Support Programs is the umbrella for three successful, long-standing programs; Operation Uplink, Unmet Needs, and the Military Assistance Program (MAP). These initiatives focus on troop support.[32]

Military Assistance Program[edit]

MAP is the link between the VFW and the community. MAP is designed to promote VFW interaction within the local military community through the Adopt-A-Unit Program. MAP Grants are available to posts, districts, and departments who participate in a variety of morale boosting functions such as farewell and welcome home events.[32]

Operation Uplink[edit]

Operation Uplink keeps military members in contact with their loved ones by allowing deployed troops to call home at no charge from MWR internet cafés in Afghanistan, Kuwait and other locations all around the world. Operation Uplink also distributes "virtual pins" which enable wounded warriors and veterans in Veterans Affairs facilities to call from home at no cost.[32]

Unmet Needs[edit]

Unmet Needs assists military service members and their families who run into unexpected financial difficulties as a result of deployment or other hardships directly related to military service. Assistance is in the form of a grant of up to US$1,500. Unmet Needs assists with basic life needs such as: mortgage and rent, home and auto repairs, insurance, utilities, food and clothing.[32]


The VFW promotes civic responsibility, patriotism, and supports youth and local programs in communities across America.

Voice of Democracy[edit]

Voice of Democracy logo

Each year, nearly 40,000 high school students from across the country enter to win a share of the US$2.1 million in educational scholarships and incentives awarded through the VFW's Voice of Democracy audio-essay competition.[33] The national first-place winner receives a $30,000 scholarship.

Patriot's Pen[edit]

Patriot's Pen challenges students from grades 6-8, to enter to win one of 46 national awards totaling US$55,000, as well as $5,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the national first-place winner. Students draft a 300-400-word essay, expressing their views based on a patriotic, annual theme chosen by the VFW Commander in Chief.[33]

Scout of the Year[edit]

Scout of the Year selects three young people – of the Boy or Girl Scouts, Sea Scouts or Venturing Crew – who have demonstrated practical citizenship in school, scouting and the community. The first-place winner receives a US$5,000 award, the second-place winner receives a US$3,000 award and the third-place winner receives US$1,000.[33]

Teacher of the Year[edit]

Teacher of the Year recognizes three exceptional teachers for their outstanding commitment to teach Americanism and patriotism to their students. The VFW recognizes the nation's top classroom elementary, junior high and high school teachers who teach citizenship education topics – at least half of the school day in a classroom environment – and promote America's history, traditions and institutions effectively.[33]

Community service[edit]

The VFW host events across America, as well as giving grants and helping at large-scale volunteer events.[33]


The VFW has published the monthly VFW Magazine since January 1951. It was known as Foreign Service from 1914 to 50.

Notable commanders[edit]

Notable national commanders of the Veterans of Foreign Wars have included:[34]

Notable members[edit]

Notable members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States include:[35][36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mason, Herbert Molloy Jr. (1999). VFW: Our First Century. Foreword by Senator Chuck Hagel. Lenexa, Kansas: Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. pp. 29, 39, 92. ISBN 1-88611072-7. LCCN 99-24943. OCLC 777720483 – via Addax Publishing Group.
  2. ^ a b c d e Proceedings of the 34th National Encampment of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (Report). Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Veteran. 1933. pp. 5, 31 – via Internet Archive. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ a b Mason, Herbert Molloy Jr. (1999). VFW: Our First Century. Foreword by Senator Chuck Hagel. Lenexa, Kansas: Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. p. 225. ISBN 1-88611072-7. LCCN 99-24943. OCLC 777720483 – via Addax Publishing Group.
  4. ^ a b c d e ""Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income" (PDF). Retrieved August 31, 2015.
  5. ^ a b Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Congressional Charter, National By-Laws, Manual of Procedure and Ritual (2018 Podium ed.). Kansas City, Missouri: Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. 2017. p. 7.
  6. ^ Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Congressional Charter, National By-Laws, Manual of Procedure and Ritual (2018 Podium ed.). Kansas City, Missouri: Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. 2017. p. 42.
  7. ^ a b c "Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2015. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  8. ^ "The First Post - Denver". Veterans of Foreign Wars VFW Post 1. Retrieved May 23, 2021.
  9. ^ "VFW to Update Congressional Charter". VFW: Veterans of Foreign Wars. Veterans of Foreign Wars. Retrieved June 9, 2022.
  10. ^ Mason, Herbert Molloy Jr. (1999). VFW: Our First Century. Foreword by Senator Chuck Hagel. Lenexa, Kansas: Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. pp. 29, 38–40. ISBN 1-88611072-7. LCCN 99-24943. OCLC 777720483 – via Addax Publishing Group.
  11. ^ "VFW Post 1/About". Retrieved October 19, 2023.
  12. ^ "OHJ Archive".
  13. ^ Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Congressional Charter, National By-Laws, Manual of Procedure and Ritual (2018 Podium ed.). Kansas City, Missouri: Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. 2017. p. 44.
  14. ^ Mason, Herbert Molloy Jr. (1999). VFW: Our First Century. Foreword by Senator Chuck Hagel. Lenexa, Kansas: Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. p. 15. ISBN 1-88611072-7. LCCN 99-24943. OCLC 777720483 – via Addax Publishing Group.
  15. ^ Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Congressional Charter, National By-Laws, Manual of Procedure and Ritual (2018 Podium ed.). Kansas City, Missouri: Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. 2017. pp. 56–61.
  16. ^ "Afghanistan Campaign Medal for Operation Freedom's Sentinel". Archived from the original on January 6, 2024. Retrieved January 6, 2024.
  17. ^ Wu, Ellen (October 8, 2020). "Resettlement in Chicago". Desho Encyclopedia.
  18. ^ Studio, Kuroko (February 7, 1947). "Institution ceremony and installation of officers, Sacramento Nisei VFW Post No. 8985". CSUS Digital Collections.
  19. ^ "Alva J Fleming - Sacramento, CA". Retrieved July 22, 2023.
  20. ^ "Paratroop Leader Condemns Post 51's Discrimination Against Japanese Americans" (PDF). Pacific Citizen. May 25, 1946.
  21. ^ "VFW commanders remembered" (PDF). Pacific Citizen. August 8, 1986.
  22. ^ "Our Mission, Vision, & Principles". Nisei Veterans Committee. Archived from the original on July 22, 2023. Retrieved July 22, 2023.
  23. ^ "Vietnam War vets were once rejected by VFW". December 15, 2009.
  24. ^ "Aging Peace Where Once They Stood Apart, Vietnam's Veterans Are Now Standing with Fighters of Earlier Wars. Why Has It Taken 15 Years?". November 12, 1989.
  25. ^ "Rejection of Vietnam Vets Hurts". January 30, 1997.
  26. ^ "Why Vietnam veterans don't join". July 20, 2019.
  27. ^ "VFW at a Glance" (PDF). VFW. Retrieved February 24, 2020.
  28. ^ "VA Claims & Separation Benefits". Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  29. ^ "VA Claims & Separation Benefits". Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  30. ^ a b "Student Veteran Support". Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  31. ^ "Student Fellowship". Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  32. ^ a b c d "National Military Services". Recruiter Success Pocket Guide [Brochure]. Kansas City, MO: Veterans of Foreign Wars. January 2014.
  33. ^ a b c d e "Programs". Recruiter Success Pocket Guide [Brochure]. Kansas City, MO: Veterans of Foreign Wars. January 2014.
  34. ^ "Past Commanders in Chiefs" (PDF). Retrieved February 21, 2024.
  35. ^ Mason, Herbert Molloy Jr. (1999). VFW: Our First Century. Foreword by Senator Chuck Hagel. Lenexa, Kansas: Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. pp. 9, 16, 47, 90–91, 118, 104, 132, 204. ISBN 1-88611072-7. LCCN 99-24943. OCLC 777720483 – via Addax Publishing Group.
  36. ^ Ford, Gerald R. (1979). A Time To Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford (1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row. p. 62. ISBN 0-06-011297-2. LCCN 78020162. OCLC 4835213. OL 4731652M.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]