For those returning from duty, I cannot think of a higher recommendation than to support and get involved with a Veterans organization. While many (if not most) of our pre-Gulf vet readers and lurkers have availed themselves of such organizations as the VVA, our Iraq/Afghan vets would certainly appreciate the work these vets' groups have done on our behalf in the past.
Having just joined the VFW and Legion myself, I started scanning the 'net to see what other organizations were out there supporting us and where that info is located.
After the jump, more information and links to some key organizations. Especially helpful to the younger and newly-joined types out there...
One recommendation I'd like to make to everyone is if you want to support a troop, sailor or Marine, buy a one-year (or, if you're EXCEPTIONALLY generous, lifetime) membership to one of these organizations. For example, if you have a nephew returning, you could give a $15 gift membership to the Legion to him and let him see the benefits. Most have an online membership capability, making joining very simple.
One somber thing I noticed while surfing was that many of the organizations, even the 'Charter' ones (those Chartered by Congress) we will likely see the demise of in our lifetime. Groups dedicated to survivors of Pearl, Chosin Reservoir, etc. have members that are declining every day. A good friend of mine was at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Service this year, and it was very emotional to realize it was the last meeting of those vets at Pearl.
A good place to start would be the Veterans Affairs site, http://www.va.gov/. They have a long list of organizations, located at this link. This is a list of both Chartered groups and others recognized by the VA as being able to help veterans. And given the amount of veterans, its likely you'll need that help sometime in the future.
The first group I joined when I returned was the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). While I've not yet joined a local chapter, I do plan on getting involved. Luckily, Denver has a good selection of places to go to, and I look forward to it. Their website is HERE. Dues are $35 yearly, and life memberships are available.
Another that I joined right after was, of course, the American Legion. Probably one of the larger, if not largest, veterans organizations, its community involvement is legendary. I've spoke at many Legion halls, and found the members to be very welcoming. Growing up, I remember the Legion most for sponsoring the local ball teams every summer and hosting tournaments. Still have a couple of those trophies as well! Their website is located HERE. As I stated, you can give a gift membership for $15. Pretty reasonable in my book.
Another group that I recommend is the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). Most of us are familiar with their work via the collection sites around the country. Please give generously if you are not eligible to become a member. Their site is located HERE.
If any of you have some stories to share about these and other groups, I welcome you to share below. I thank these guys for supporting us! I'm glad to see that we have these types of organizations, and I don't want to see them fade away; I also know that we'll come to appreciate them more and more as time goes along. I hope to see some of you at a meeting soon...