The VFW traces its roots back to 1899 when veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service: Many arrived home wounded or sick. There was no medical care or veterans' pension for them, and they were left to care for themselves. In their misery, some of these veterans banded together and formed organizations with what would become known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
After chapters were formed in Ohio, Colorado and Pennsylvania, the movement quickly gained momentum. By 1915, membership grew to 5,000; by 1936, membership was almost 200,000. Since then, the VFW's voice had been instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration, creating a GI bill for the 20th century, the development of the National Cemetery system and the fight for compensation for Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange and for veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome.
The VFW also has fought for improving VA medical centers services for women veterans. Besides helping fund the creation of the Vietnam, Korean War, World War II and Women in Military Service memorials, the VFW in 2005 became the first veterans' organization to contribute to building the new Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial, which is being constructed in Washington, D.C., and is expected to open in 2010.
In 2001, VFW unveiled its tribute to service and country with its dedication of Centennial Plaza.
Annually, VFW members and its Auxiliary contribute more than 13 million hours of volunteerism in the community, including participation in Make A Difference Day and National Volunteer Week.
From providing $2.5 million in college scholarships to high school students every year to encouraging elevation of the Veterans Administration to the president's cabinet, the VFW is there--honoring the dead by helping the living.