Bill expands eligibility for membership in American Legion to millions of vets

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With a new bill signed on July 30 that declared the United States has been in a state of war since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, millions of veterans are now eligible to join the American Legion.

President Donald Trump signed the Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service (LEGION) Act to offer eligibility to any U.S. military veteran who served at least one day of active military duty since Dec. 7, 1941, and was honorably discharged or is still serving.

"In an era of partisan gridlock, Republicans and Democrats in Congress overwhelmingly recognized the importance of allowing thousands of honorable but previously ineligible veterans the right to join the largest and most influential veterans organization in the country," National Commander Brett Reistad said in a news release.

The American Legion sought the declaration as a way to honor the about 1,600 U.S. service members who were killed or wounded during previously undeclared periods of war, their spouses and descendants and extend access to programs and benefits to about 6 million living veterans.

The law's journey began on Feb. 14 when Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, introduced S. 504 with Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina. A companion measure, H.R. 1641, was introduced in the House by Reps. Lou Correa, a Democrat from California, and Ben Cline, a Republican from Virginia.

Now that the legislation has been signed by the president, the American Legion's eligibility criteria is changed from seven war eras to two: April 6, 1917, to Nov. 11, 1918, and Dec. 7, 1941, to a time later determined by the federal government. No other restrictions to membership changed.

In Sumter, American Legion Post 15 Commander Bill Lyons said he thinks the eligibility expansion will encourage younger veterans from more recent conflicts to join. The post, located on Artillery Drive at the Sumter County Fairgrounds, has more than 400 members currently and has welcomed several who have joined since the expansion was made official.

The larger pool of veterans eligible to join the American Legion also opens up the same guidelines for their family members to join the Sons of the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary.

Dues to be a member in the Sumter group are $50 a year. Lyons said prospective members need a dd-214 form and can call (803) 968-5115 with questions. Post 15 meets the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m.