Over the past 20 years, more than 120,000 veterans have committed suicide.
However, the American Legion is all about one number – one. A new campaign, called “Be the One”, aims to change the conversation, reduce the stigma of seeking mental health help and empower everyone to help save a veteran’s life.
At the 103rd American Legion National Convention on August 31, National Commander Paul E. Dillard hosted a special panel on stage to discuss the issue, Legion involvement and more.
“Nothing is more important to the American Legion than preventing veteran suicide,” Dillard said. “We don’t just have to ‘be the one’, but that’s the one – the number one issue for us. I’m excited for this upcoming panel because it’s a discussion we need to have. We need to hear ideas and we must always listen.
VET TV General Manager Waco Hoover, a Navy veteran, served as moderator.
“This is one of the greatest crises facing our military community. And it’s amazing what the Legion is doing when it comes to Be the One,” said Hoover, who sits on the board of Irreverent Warriors, a nonprofit dedicated to veteran suicide prevention. .
The panelists were:
• Dr. Thomas Joiner, Director of the Florida State University Psychology Clinic. He has researched the subject for the Laboratory for the Study and Prevention of Suicide-Related Conditions and Behaviors at FSU. Joiner said the issue is deeply personal to him. “It’s in my family,” he said, noting that he lost his father to suicide. “He was a veteran, having served as a Marine. There were other deaths as well, so it’s deeply personal to me.
• Dave Berkenfield, American Legion member, former Navy SEAL and Chip Ganassi Racing team manager for the Extreme E program. “What we’re trying to accomplish here is change the dialogue,” Berkenfield said , whose story will be shared in the October issue of American Legion Magazine. “Anything we can do, anything I can do, I’m happy to do.”
During the roundtable, Joiner said many of the patients he sees are suicidal, but there is hope.
“There are resources and ways to reverse this tragic phenomenon,” he said. Among them:
• Call the national suicide hotline, 988, press 1.
• Discuss with your attending physician. “They see a lot of this and they know how to handle it and know what to do.”
• “If you are a religious person, consult your member of the clergy. They also see a lot of this and know what to do.
Hoover stressed the importance of communication. “Social connections save lives and that’s one of the amazing things about the Legion and this initiative,” he said.
The campaign also aims to change the conversation. Be the one asking for help. Be the one to console a veteran. Be the one to make the difference.
“If we save a life, we win,” Berkenfield said. “And let’s be okay with that.”
And sometimes, “we just need to be the one for ourselves,” Joiner said. “You are human. You have inherent worth, dignity and also deserve rescue.
Berkenfield recalled a phrase, “What level are you ready to participate in,” coined by a former SEAL teammate.
“That was how we lived our lives,” he explained. “We have to compete at the highest level. Everyone in this room is somehow associated with service. I would now like to ask you as a veteran, as a member of the American Legion, in this Be the One campaign, at what level are you ready to participate? Each of you has this ability to ‘Be One’. Let’s start here.
Berkenfield’s story is part of a special series on “Be the One,” which began in the magazine’s September issue. Additionally, the American Legion’s podcast Tango Alpha Lima will feature a guest discussing suicide awareness and the issue of prevention each week during the month of September. Episodes will be available every Tuesday morning on the podcast webpageas well as podcast hosting sites.