“Not your grandfather’s VFW” anymore
There’s a misconception that the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization is an old boy’s club for drinking and telling war stories.
But the newly-instated State of Florida VFW Commander Ken Corr said that just isn’t true.
“We’re not your grandpa’s VFW anymore,” he said. “The friendship and camaraderie is second to none.”
The Fort Myers resident is a member of the Fort Myers Beach VFW Post 10097. It’s one of the largest posts in Florida, with 1,600 members not including the VFW Auxiliary.
Corr was promoted to commander June 25. As a former combat medic who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, he’s the first post-9/11 veteran to earn the rank as commander of the state. The VFW is completely volunteer-based; Corr will oversee the state’s 173 posts during his year of command on the same volunteer basis, receiving no salary for his work.
His post held a celebration June 27.
“It brings us a lot of pride,” said Dale Mangione, the post commander. “We’ve seen him work hard.”
Corr started as a member at the Fort Myers Beach post, moving up through the ranks at the local club and entering the ring at the state level. He was previously the vice commander of the state.
Mangione worked with Corr on many projects across the 10 years Corr’s been a member of the beach post. He described the new commander as a hands-on, committed person.
“He’s very dedicated and patriotic,” Mangione said.
As commander, Corr will be “talking and driving,” he said, visiting the posts to make sure they are keeping up with their local programming as well as disseminating information from the national VFW headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.
Despite having 173 other posts to care for, Corr said he’s not going to lose the hands-on role.
Corr is still the service officer for the beach post – in this role, he assists veterans who need help, especially those who are trying to navigate the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to receive benefits or even a veteran who needs help with something more basic, such as paying a bill or finding someplace to live.
Recently, the post found two combat veterans with two young children a home after they had been living in a hotel.
Every VFW has a “relief fund” from which the post can use money to take care of a veteran’s issue. This money is raised through the sale of the VFW’s iconic buddy poppies fundraiser on Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
Besides this more intimate veteran aid, the VFW raises money for scholarships and assists veterans in VA bureaucracy, a system which can be difficult for an individual to navigate alone “like any other government system”, Corr said.
The beach post runs a sea cadet program, similar to Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), in coordination with its auxiliary club and the U.S. Coast Guard station.
“We need to educate the community that we don’t just drink and talk about war stories,” Corr said.
The VFW is facing a growing problem of attrition: its older members are dying and eligible veterans aren’t joining, Corr said. For the younger military men and women getting out of service, it can be too much to commit to if they have families to care for, but the VFW needs to do a better job engaging in the community and changing that stereotype, he said. Desert Storm veterans are one age group he hopes to target – they have empty nests at this point and are ready to spend more time volunteering and getting involved.
“As a whole, membership is going down. But there is great potential membership in Florida,” Corr said. “Thousands are eligible. We have to work hard to get them to join.”
As commander, Corr gets to pick one project that he can dedicate his year of service. While membership is on his mind, he’s got bigger concerns.
Twenty-two veterans reportedly commit suicide every day. Corr said his goal is to decrease that number.
He’s partnering with the VFW Auxiliary to launch a fundraising campaign for Paws for Patriots. This program, facilitated through Southeastern Guide Dogs, places therapy dogs with veterans for a variety of needs, from mobility assistance to PTSD treatment to emotional support. Corr is planning events for fundraisers, which will be finalized in August.
“I have a year to raise as much as I can,” Corr said. “if I can improve the quality of life for one veteran, then I can do my job.”