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The American Legion is a wartime veterans' organization that was chartered by Congress in 1919. The American Legion has almost three million members in nearly 15,000 American Legion posts worldwide. These posts are organized into 55 departments, one each for the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico, and the Philippines. The American Legion's national headquarters is in Indianapolis, Indiana, with additional offices in Washington, D.C. Though volunteer members do most of the work of the American Legion, the national organization has a regular full-time staff of about 300 employees.
Eligibility in the American Legion is based on honorable service in the U.S. armed forces during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and military operations in Lebanon (1982–84), Grenada (1982–84), Panama (1989–90) and the Persian Gulf (1990 to the early 2000s). Because membership is based on the period of service, not the place of service, an individual does not have to be stationed in a combat zone to be eligible. Members may participate in a low-cost life insurance program and may receive discounts on moving expenses, car rentals, hotel and motel rentals, eyewear, and prescription drugs. American Legion service officers provide free advice and guidance to veterans who need to deal with the department of veterans affairs (VA) about benefits and other issues.
The American Legion sponsors many community activities and programs. Students showing the highest qualities of citizenship are recognized with an American Legion School Medal Award. In 1996 more than 33,000 students in elementary, junior high, and senior high schools were recognized for their commitment to honor, courage, scholarship, leadership, and service. The organization also awards ten national college scholarships each year. At the state level, 49 departments host Boys State programs each summer for outstanding high school juniors. Local posts sponsor nearly 28,000 young men each year to attend the week-long government education program. Two outstanding leaders from each of these Boys State programs are selected to attend the American Legion Boys Nation in Washington, D.C. The American Legion Auxiliary conducts parallel programs for young women through Girls State and Girls Nation.
Many local posts sponsor Junior Shooting Clubs, which provide training in gun safety and marksmanship for students ages 14 though 20. However, the American Legion is probably best known for its sponsorship of youth Baseball programs. In 1996 legion posts spent more than $16 million to sponsor 4,800 baseball teams representing more than 89,000 players. Champions from the state level meet on the national level in the American Legion World Series tournament.
The American Legion has always been a strong advocate for U.S. veterans, appearing before congressional committees to submit information and viewpoints on pending legislation. The Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission (VAR) is a cornerstone of the American Legion, overseeing federally mandated programs provided by the VA for veterans and their dependents. VAR services include assistance with medical care, claims and appeals, insurance programs, burial benefits, and veterans' employment. Staff members also communicate with administrators of state veterans' affairs programs.
American Legion volunteers give more than one million hours of service to disabled veterans annually. Field representatives from the American Legion's Washington office systematically visit VA medical centers, nursing homecare units, and outpatient clinics to evaluate their programs and facilities. The field representatives report resource needs and areas for improvement to the VA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
For a number of years the Legion and other members of the Citizens Flag Alliance have continued to lobby Congress for a Constitutional amendment that would impose penalties for desecration of the U.S. flag. The Legion has also been active in Lobbying for mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. After the September 11th Attacks in 2001, the Legion established the American Legion September 11 Memorial Scholarship to help defray college costs for children of deceased military personnel.
American Legion. Available online at <www.legion.org> (accessed May 30, 2003).
Moley, Raymond. 1975. The American Legion Story. West-port, Conn.: Greenwood.
Rumer, Thomas. 1990. The American Legion: An Official History, 1919–1989. New York: Evans.