CARY, N.C. (WNCN) – The country’s largest and oldest war veterans organization has lost about one million members over the past 30 years.
The VFW currently has about 957,000 members nationwide, both local and national leaders hope that number grows.
VFW Post 7383 is where retired Gunnery Sergeant Marine Corps Jeff Sherman found a new purpose after 23 years of service.
“One of the VFW’s mantras is no one does more for veterans,” Sherman said.
It’s something Sherman commits to as the Cary post commander.
“If I can grab that veteran and ensure that he is taken care of from a VA perspective, then that trickles down to his family life,” Sherman said.
He said while the post has a bar it’s not just about sitting and drinking. He emphasizes community service and helping veterans. He points to the VFW’s work in pushing Congress to pass the PACT Act and helping members navigate the complex Veterans Affairs health system.
Sherman said a retired sergeant major came to him with pancreatic cancer after the passage of the PACT Act and was able to go the VA and immediately be bumped to a 100% rating.
CBS 17 asked Sherman if he thinks the veteran would’ve been able to accomplish that in one day without the knowledge Sherman provided.
“No, no, I saw it in the VFW magazine that day and literally it listed pancreatic cancer,” Sherman said.
In Cary and across the country, the VFW is pushing for 2% membership growth each year. Why does Sherman feel growth is important?
“The more members we have, the larger voice we have when it comes to fighting for veterans benefits,” Sherman said.
Sherman said while his post is not losing members, growing it isn’t always easy.
“The first most difficult part is letting people know that we’re here and we exist,” he said. “I lived in Cary for nine years without knowing that this place existed, and I kick myself because I could’ve been here a lot earlier and done a lot more.”
Sherman said he tries to let people know about his post by getting out into the community as much as possible.
Nationwide, VFW membership peaked in 1992 at around 2 million, since then it’s membership declined by about 50%, but right now it is gaining new members according to the VFW’s Interim Director of National Membership Corey Hunt.
“We’re not your grandpa’s old VFW any longer,” Hunt said.
Hunt said that’s the message the VFW is pushing as it tries to remarket and rebrand itself.
He said aging members is the biggest reason membership declined.
With a country at war for 20 years, Hunt said there’s currently the largest eligible pool of veterans for VFW membership.
“So it’s a matter of us going out and getting them, marketing to the younger members,” Hunt said.
He notes many of those younger members are raising families and earning money to support them, but he said there will be a time when they want to or need to be a part of the VFW.
Sherman has this message for them.
“We’re looking for people who are passionate about their service, about helping others,” Sherman said. “It’s service before self, and I think that within the VFW we epitomize that, or at least I try to.”
Nationwide, Hunt said the largest growing demographic is ages 51-60.
Hunt said membership in North Carolina is also trending upwards. As of June 30th, 2023, the state has 21,705 members, according to Hunt.
Click here for more information on the VFW and how to find a post near you.