What is the difference between the American Legion and the VFW?

This is a page about what is the difference between the American Legion and the VFW. The ability to join either the American Legion or VFW, is dependent on where and when you served in the military. Additionally, Merchant Marines can join the American Legion but not the VFW. Here is more detailed information about the criteria for joining both.


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Silver Post Medal for All Time! 277 Posts
March 10, 2006

What is the difference between the American Legion and the VFW?

Imaqt1962 from Illinois


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March 10, 200624 found this helpful
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VFW stands for Veterans of Foreign Wars to be be a member you had to have served in the military during war time on foreign soil. My husband is member of both along with Fleet Reserves and Disabled American Veterans (DAV).


I am auxillary member and it is amazing the community work these people do. I am about the youngest yet these women ring circles around me.

My husband served in Desert Storm and was in excellent health when he left with a physical to prove it and now he uses a cane to walk or wheelchair and takes so many meds. he cannot drive and he just turned 38 ! Yet no pity for him, he volunteers with the VFW and lobbies for Veteran rights and for those serving now. My husband talks to Sens. & Congressmen/women, Gov of our state went to Washington DC with VFW and does his best to keep benefits from being cut back. At the moment the current administration is trying to make each Veteran PAY for services at the VA Veterans Administration for health benefits that have always been PROMISED to our military.


Currently we have National Guard serving in War time and causing severe financial problems for the family left without major bread winner. It is sad the VFW does it best to help all.

If I can stress one thing..... Please if you know a Veteran they may be eligible for benefits throught the VA they can see the VFW Representiives who there to help Veterans with Paperwork, filing, etc so art DAV reps. and some American Legions do this too. PLEASE remember the VFW has certified service officers who there to help VETERANS and families so please let them know. Often many vets do no know this.

I know I got long winded here however this is something people should know.

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By SGT. Greg (Guest Post)
August 26, 200813 found this helpful
Best Answer

The American Legion accepts both peacetime and wartime vets. To be in the Legion, you don't ever have to leave the US...but MOST members have. I'd say the majority of Legionairres have seen combat or have been deployed to a hostile area.


The VFW states you have to have served in a combat area to become a member.
Both are great organizations..the only difference between the two is requirements for membership. I'm a member of both.

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January 22, 20173 found this helpful
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The American Legion requires that a Veteran served during designated specific periods of conflict regardless of where they served. The VFW requires that a Veteran must have earned a Campaign Medal, Expeditionary Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon, Combat Infantry/Combat Medic/Combat Action Badge, or Korea Defense Service Medal. So a Veteran who served in Europe during the period of the Vietnam War would be eligible to join the American Legion, but not the VFW. Basically, all VFW members are eligible to join the Legion, but not all Legion members can join the VFW.

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March 26, 20211 found this helpful
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The American Legion is for all veterans, regardless of overseas duty or not, whether a declared war or not. It was. chartered by Congress in 1919, with revised membership criteria greatly expanded in 2014 with signing of The Legion Act. Chartered in 1936, The VFW is for people (men only until 2014), from combat soldier to finance clerk, and everyone in between, who served during times of declared war, in a hostile area.


Serving overseas, even for years, as many did during the Cold War, does not qualify a veteran for the VFW. In the American Legion, a veteran is a veteran, if the served with the American military. VWF require citizenship. I am an American Legion Post Commander in Oregon.

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October 6, 2012

How are the VFW and the American Legion alike and different?

By wmarr


September 7, 20146 found this helpful
Best Answer

I've noticed some not so accurate answers. The American Legion is not for peacetime veterans. Criteria for joining is serving in certain time frames during wars and certain conflicts. You don't have to actually have been in theater, rather the correct TIMES as set by congress. Many places veterans deployed do not qualify for the VFW. Places like Okinawa, Germany, Guam, Japan, maybe embassy duty such as other places around the world, not considered in a war zone, so it is not accurate to claim that American Legion members are for U.S. soil members only. American Legion was established as a WAR TIME post and their bylaws require that a member have served DURING a time of war or certain conflicts established by congress.


The VFW is not ALL for veterans of a foreign war. There are many members of the VFW that served on Korean soil for more than 30 days (After the Korean War), that qualify for VFW. They may have never fired or heard a shot in anger. The VFW criteria is also based on hazardous pay and imminent hostile fire. Many VFW members also qualified as occupational forces after WWII that never saw combat action. Many military exercises in the Indian Ocean, or Thailand or Cuban missile crisis qualify for VFW by method of a certain medal received for that "action". The VFW has the highest proportion of combat veterans of either American Legion or Amvets. Many join all if they qualify. VFW was a product of the Philippines or "Bamboo Wars" during the aftermath of the Spanish American War in late 1800's.

The American Legion accepts members of the Merchant Marines, whom were given Veteran Status in the 1980's. The VFW continues to NOT accept Merchant Marines for membership.

The American Legion is far larger organization with more members and more resources. There are many more Legions than VFW's. Many combat veterans join the American Legion too.

And just because someone can join the VFW doesn't mean that they automatically can join the American Legion. Example being Lebanon in 1958, when Marines landed in Lebanon they got a campaign or expeditionary medal qualifying for VFW, but during those dates, they don't fit into the American Legion criteria. Another example would be campaigns in Nicaragua and Haiti in the early 1900's or 1920's and 30's. The American Legion has no qualifying dates under those years.

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