Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars attend a memorial ceremony April 6 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. The ceremony commemorated the 67th Philippine national holiday “Araw ng Kagitingan” or “Day of Valor,” and honored Filipino-American service members during World War II. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Hight/Released)
After soldiers are discharged from the military, whether or not they come home from war, people who have never served in the military may picture the transition as a straightforward one: return from service and adjust into civilian life again. What is often lost to the average person is what exactly adjustment entails.
Some soldiers try to do it on their own, but the chance to join a veteran organization is one that Anthony Ferguson says all soldiers should take. The 30-year-old former Marine soldier has been a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars for two years, after doing one tour in Afghanistan.
Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW, has a long history with the United States. The organization helped establish the Veterans Administration and create the GI Bill, according to the VFW website. The fee for membership to the organization is $35 a year, an amount that Ferguson has no issue paying.
“You feel a camaraderie with your group,” he says. “That’s something all soldiers need. It’s from the very beginning with our training. It’s priceless.”
Ferguson has struggled with depression since his service, which has affected every aspect of his life. Since being involved in the veteran organization, he has been able to talk about his issues and eventually seek help professionally. “Civilians can’t relate to what I’ve been through,” he says. “It’s easier for me to talk to other soldiers. They get it.”
Tristan Tran, 22, is an Army Reserves soldier while he goes to school at the University of Memphis. After two tours overseas, he joined a soldiers’ union as a donor.
“I just wanted to show my support for the enlisted advocacy,” he says.
Tran says he can see why service members who suffer from mental illness after their service would join veteran organizations.
“But that’s not all that they’re for,” he says. “They help build relationships, prepare you for a world outside of the service.”
Sarah Jones, a 31-year-old member of the Air Force Reserves, hasn’t joined a veteran organization, but plans to. She says she feels like she doesn’t fit in just yet, but the right group aimed toward women may be her route.
“I think, even though airmen are airmen and soldiers are soldiers, there’s just something really cool about a bunch of women in the service getting together and talking about things that apply to us,” she says.
Ferguson agrees. “Some guys can’t talk about their problems from combat,” he says. “But even if you don’t have any, you can still get something out of being a member.”
Active-duty service members can also join VFW and often come into meetings during their short time at home, Ferguson says. There are eight posts, or meeting locations, in the Memphis area for VFW. Each post has a different meeting time and day, which is usually monthly.
Ferguson says the eligibility requirements aren’t ridiculous or extensive. The organization’s website listed the requirements as receiving a campaign medal overseas, having served at least 30 days in Korea, or ever receiving hostile fire or imminent danger pay.
VFW also helped Ferguson find a job after his honorable discharge. Employers often look to VetJobs, a service dedicated to matching veterans with companies looking for qualified employees. The organization utilizes VetJobs, working with the service to help its members find jobs and careers.
“I can’t act like I’m not biased,” Ferguson says. “There’s no reason not to join an organization that aims to help you and people like you, members of the military.” More information can be found on the Veterans of Foreign Wars website.
This story was previously published on a niche blog for a University of Memphis class.