Leaders of America's veterans groups came to Iraq July 29 to get a better picture of what life is currently like for servicemembers on the ground to help shape the national image of our Armed Forces and ensure everyone in uniform is getting taken care of.
Currently, the majority of members in VSOs are Vietnam-era servicemembers. This doesn't mean, however, that veterans' needs are the only issues these organizations handle. "Veterans Service Organizations is a misnomer," said J.P. Brown, national commander, AMVETS. "We're there also to support the military today, which will join our ranks someday."
"Those that wear the uniform today are very important to us," said Staff Sgt. (Ret.) George Lisicki, commander in chief, VFW. "They're important to the veterans of the future and to their families. The future of the VFW is the men and women wearing the uniform today."
In addition to taking care of veterans' concerns, organizations such as the Military Officers Association of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and the American Legion lobby and petition for better benefits for servicemembers currently serving in the Armed Forces and their families.
"We came here to talk to young Soldiers and see what is needed," Brown said. "We need to learn what you need, not what we think you need. To sit behind a desk at an office and think we know what you need over here is ludicrious."
The group traveled to Taji, were briefed on reconstruction and Iraqi Security Forces training and learned about the capabilities of the Army's MRAPs. Their goal is to bring back to the states a better understanding of the accomplishments and needs of today's military member.
Seeing the work of troops on the ground first hand gives veterans service organizations a better platform for pushing medical and educational benefits, pay raises and other significant quality of life services for servicemembers, said Vice Admiral (Ret.) Norbert Ryan, president, MOAA.
These first hand accounts that the VSO leaders will bring back to their organizations, Capitol Hill and the media also serve to highlight the successes in Iraq that might be overlooked. "There is definitely progress being made over here," Lisicki said. "I talked to a lot of Soldiers and some citizens and the Iraqis believe in the cause here now. Maybe they didn't a few years ago, but now they believe someday they'll be able to run their own country. That's progress."