Membership at the American Legion soon could be open to more veterans.

North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven co-sponsored legislation that would amend the American Legion’s charter to allow those whose service was in unrecognized times of war since World War II to join the Legion.

Currently, only veterans who fought in World War I, World War II, Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Lebanon/Grenada conflict, the U.S. invasion of Panama or the Gulf War can become members of the Legion. Anyone who served in the days, months or years in between is not eligible. This federal legislation would change that.

Terry Buraas, adjutant, or secretary and treasurer, at the American Legion Post 157 in East Grand Forks, said veterans have been fighting for similar legislation since the Korean War ended.

“It’s about time,” Buraas said. “There have been many resolutions to get it done.”

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The Vietnam Army veteran said he’s had to turn veterans with battle stars away because their dates of service don’t match up with the Legion’s eligibility requirements.

“This is fantastic,” said Rick Bartlette, manager of the American Legion. “I think this is wonderful.”

The Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act, or LEGION Act, was introduced Feb. 14 in the U.S. Senate and passed on June 13. It still needs approval from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to become law.

“The value of a veteran’s service to our nation doesn’t diminish due to the date on which they served,” Hoeven said in a news release issued by his office.

Because Legion membership periods are congressionally chartered, the organization can’t expand membership eligibility without an act of Congress.

“Our legislation makes an important change to the American Legion’s charter to ensure we properly honor all of our veterans, whether or not the conflict they faced was in an official period of war,” Hoeven said.

Buraas said the change in law may not persuade some veterans, who have been trying to join the Legion but couldn’t because of their dates of service.

“Some guys might have just given up,” Buraas said. “But I think a few will come in and sign up if this gets passed.”