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VFW looks to update its image to attract younger vets, women

November 30, 2014 (Photo Credit: Seaman Laura Hoover/Navy)

Veterans of Foreign Wars officials have heard criticism for years that they're not changing fast enough to attract younger members.

Now, they're trying to prove they are listening.

In coming days, President Obama is expected to sign into law a small but meaningful change in the VFW congressional charter, replacing the word "men" with "veterans" and the word "widow" with "surviving spouses."

It's an edit driven by VFW leaders, who over the years have heard complaints that their organization too often overlooks the growing number of female veterans in America.

"We didn't change our congressional charter to be politically correct," VFW National Commander John Stroud said in a statement last week. "We changed it because being an eligible service member or veteran is what's important to our great organization, not one's gender, and changing widows to surviving spouses is more representative of today's military."

VFW members approved the update during their summer convention, but finalizing it comes just a few weeks after a nationwide letter from Stroud chastising local posts for not doing enough outreach to younger veterans.

"Our VFW posts must change their operational tactics to better reflect the modern crises younger veterans are facing on their new 'battlefield' — the homefront," he wrote.

"For those members and posts who would rather serve themselves than the countless veterans who are in need, remind them that this organization exists for the benefit of all veterans rather than those of an entitled few."

He also threatened to shut down posts that are "not committed to the goals of the organization" and focused on embracing younger members.

VFW officials last year signed a memorandum of understanding with Student Veterans of America and since then have launched a series of joint programs, focusing on providing benefit support and information assistance for the youngest generation of veterans.

They launched a new scholarship program for young enlisted troops last year, and are expanding the number of transition assistance posts they have on military bases.

And the group is recruiting younger veterans for a new legislative fellowship next March, designed to give the next generation experience lobbying lawmakers and the organization some new perspective on upcoming issues.

Stroud said VFW leaders need to not only push against public perception of the group as old and out-of-touch, but also to make sure they're actively working to disprove that idea.

"The stereotypical, dingy, dark and smoke-filled VFW post and canteen do exist, but they have no benefit to our organization, provide no aid to our mission nor to the veterans we strive to help and serve," he wrote.

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