Many U.S. soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are signing up for a new battle here at home. They're joining groups dedicated to helping today's war veterans. But compared to established groups, most of these new organizations are doing things a little differently.
Older veterans groups like the VFW and the American Legion have tended to grow more conservative as they have aged. But the United States has seen radical upheavals when veterans have felt cheated or misled. In 1971, members of the Vietnam Vets Against the War, the VVAW, tossed in their medals at the Pentagon.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have spawned some new veterans groups, many of which are in a rebellious mood. They have different agendas, and different approaches. Although they are often compared to the VVAW, there are significant differences this time around.
One group is the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association, which is headed by Paul Rieckoff, who was a lieutenant during the invasion of Iraq.
Rieckoff says the IAVA's legislative priorities for this year are veterans' mental health care and a new GI bill that would cover the actual cost of college.
Another group to grow out of the war in Iraq is Votevets.org. It's headed by Jon Soltz, who served in Kosovo and Iraq and is still in the Army Reserve. He makes no bones about his organization's opposition to the Bush administration's policies.
"Well, we're critical of the war in Iraq," Soltz said. "We endorsed the Democratic proposals that were in Congress last week. We spent over a half a million dollars lobbying on its behalf. We are a very highly, well-financed organization."
Unlike the IAVA, Votevets is a political action committee. One of its primary goals is getting Iraq veterans elected to Congress, and at times that puts them at odds with old groups like the VFW.
Joe Davis, the VFW's spokesman in Washington, claims that his century-old organization welcomes the newcomers, even though they have their differences.
"The more people you bring to the fight from the different organizations representing veterans from all the wars, it helps," Davis says.
In spite of their differences, Davis says, most veterans groups will unite behind new legislation to give more help to wounded veterans and to increase their educational benefits.