Photograph provided by The American Legion National Headquarters.

Photograph provided by The American Legion National Headquarters.

Nearly a decade has passed since The American Legion’s last national per-capita dues increase. During that span, the U.S. cost of living has climbed 13 percent. An economic downturn unseen since the Great Depression has trimmed interest income from American Legion investments by over 35 percent. And the pool of veterans eligible for American Legion membership has declined by about 20 percent.

With more than 3 million veterans of the global war on terrorism restarting civilian lives, or soon to do so, and looking to The American Legion for help, the National Executive Committee passed a resolution at the 2015 Spring Meetings in Indianapolis to recommend a $5 per-capita annual increase in national membership dues. It amounts to about 1.4 cents a day.

The NEC’s recommendation comes at a time when the need for American Legion advocacy, expertise, influence, services and programs are sorely needed in every corner of our nation. Veterans are waiting too long for benefits claims decisions and medical appointments, and need well-trained and accredited American Legion service officers right now and for years to come. Nearly 4,000 veterans sought help at about two dozen Veterans Benefits Center events over the last year where they received firsthand, on-the-spot assistance, including over $1 million in retroactive, past-due disability benefits.

The most obvious takeaway from those events is that veterans and their families need, and will continue to need, American Legion representation because the road to VA reform is certain to be long and fraught with challenges.

This is not a time to divest from The American Legion’s ability to serve veterans, members of the U.S. armed forces or young people. A national $5 per-capita dues increase – about the price of one large coffee over the span of a year – can prevent National Headquarters from having to cut programs and services over the course of an entire decade.

The natural attrition of veterans from early-20th-century war eras has contributed greatly to a 16 percent drop in membership since the last dues increase passed. That accounts for a nearly $5.7 million revenue reduction since 2007.

To offset that, National Headquarters has worked to stimulate corporate relationships, improve its charitable giving program and reduce operational costs through digital technology. All these efforts have helped stave off earlier dues increase recommendations that would have been necessary given the economy and membership situation.

The Legion’s non-member fundraising program has grown significantly and is now netting about $1.4 million to the positive, but it took more than three years to get there. The national television advertising program is off to a similar start, and a number of technological initiatives like online joining, renewal and sustained giving help the bottom line.

All these efforts are trending toward reduced reliance on membership dues, but it will take some time to get there. The American Legion’s ability to succeed over the next decade depends on positive cash flow and the ability to invest in the future. Without this dues increase, National Headquarters would be looking at entering its centennial celebration year staring at an estimated budget deficit of $6.78 million.

Nearly a century has passed since The American Legion’s founders made their commitment to serve veterans, troops and families in their communities, states and nation. American Legion members have never retreated from that commitment. At a time of war, a time of homecoming and a time of need among our nation’s veterans, families and young people, there is no better place to invest an extra $5 a year.