I am very concerned that the veterans organizations in Altoona and the state are losing members who are not being replaced, and as a result, veterans benefits are at risk.
Veterans should join the American Legion or other veterans organizations of their choice.
Membership is the strength of any organization. Without the membership and leadership, we could have lost the Van Zandt VA Medical Center.
Eight years ago, the American Legion helped save the VA Medical Center. I'm happy to say, I was a part of the group to save not only the Altoona VA but also the Erie VA. Both were on the verge of closing.
The veterans needing hospitalization would have to go to Pittsburgh for treatments.
The A&J Iaia Post is the only American Legion organization that is active in Altoona, but in the last two years, our post lost 200 members through deaths. Nationally, we are losing veterans through death at a rate of 1,000 to 1,500 every day.
New members not joining, and if we don't have a strong membership, the veterans could lose the benefits they earned.
I am 91-years-old. Why should I worry about membership? I want to make sure that the veterans who saved our country and the world continue to receive the benefits they earned. Dues to join these organizations per year are small.
The American Legion wrote the G.I. Bill of Rights, and it was passed by our Congress. That was a great piece of legislation for homecoming veterans. The law was passed by only one vote, and the bill is still in force today.
And remember that if the Van Zandt VA center had been closed, 650 jobs would have been lost, which would really hurt Altoona's economy.
This is why we need a strong and large membership.
Most of our dues money goes to the state and national organizations so they continue to fight for the veterans benefits.
We have a lot at stake here, so it's up to the veterans to support our organization to continue to work for our veterans.
Without your support, we will not be able to help the veterans who are in need.
When I was state commander of the Pennsylvania American Legion, our membership was 250,000. Today, it is below 200,000 in Pennsylvania. We can't afford to continue to lose membership.
In World War II, Pennsylvania had more than 2 million servicemen.
To all veterans, please do yourself a great favor and join a great American Legion in Altoona or any veteran organization of your choice.
Victor J. Raia