A Jewish Voice for Veterans and a Veteran’s Voice for Jews

By Colonel Nelson L. Mellitz, USAF, Retired

The number of military members and veterans in the United States is made up of approximately 18 million men and women or 0.055% of the total U.S. population of 330 million. Estimates indicate there are 270,000 living Jewish men and women who are serving or have served in a U.S. military uniformed service since 1941. These are estimated numbers because military and veterans do not have to identify their religion to perform their duty or get services from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

While the current U.S. military population is roughly 84% male, the gender mix is quickly changing. According to recent U.S. Census Bureau information, the number of women in the military and female veterans will likely double in the next two decades. The Jewish military and veteran community are expected to follow this same growth pattern – just look at the JWV Gulf War and Post-9/11 committees’ demographics, which have increasing numbers of Jewish women as members. All military members and veterans have shared needs and individual challenges that must be considered in making future JWV policy and program decisions.

Throughout the 125-year history of JWV, we have endorsed initiatives designed to improve the lives of millions of Jewish and non-Jewish military members and veterans. For example, we have initiated and supported programs and legislation to improve the quality of healthcare for military members, veterans, and their families, addressed the challenges of homelessness and veterans’ suicide, as well as veterans’ exposure to toxins (i.e. Agent Orange, Burn Pits, radiation, contaminated drinking water).

Over many decades JWV members have originated, endorsed, and implemented a substantial number of initiatives that have improved the lives and families of Jewish and non-Jewish military members and veterans. In 2020, JWV started the process to modernize and update its commitment to the military and veteran communities by drafting a strategic plan for the future of JWV. This plan will serve as a comprehensive blueprint to strengthen support of all who have put on the U.S. military uniform and their families. As part of the strategic plan, we have committed to a number of initiatives that will make measurable contributions and improvements to our members and the organization’s effectiveness. The strategic plan is a living document which we hope to present to members at our National Convention in August.

We trace our roots back to 1896 when Jewish Civil War veterans met in New York City to form an organization to fight the anti-Semitic false and statement that Jews do not serve. In developing the strategic plan, we recognize that JWV must continuously adapt to better serve the changing needs of our communities. JWV leadership knows that our next 125 years are not guaranteed. If we unite to meet the challenges of the men and women who have and are serving, we will continue to prosper as the leading Jewish military and veteran service organization. All Jewish men and women who have served and sacrificed to preserve our freedom and way of life have earned our continued support. Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Jack Jacobs titled his book “If Not Now When?” Perhaps JWV can also say if we don’t change now, when?

Volume 75. Number 2. 2021