Engage the public, reduce veteran suicide

As The American Legion shines a light on veteran suicide, the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers assisted the Department of Oregon in illuminating the Be the One initiative on Nov. 15, Military Appreciation Night.

Cory Brockman, first vice commander in the Department of Oregon, conceived the idea to engage and educate fans about the program with swag items.

“Over the past couple of years we have moved from developing Buddy Check slipknot bracelets to expanding our outreach tools for the Be the One initiative to engage the public,” he explained as American Legion Family members staffed a high-profile Be the One booth inside the area as fans streamed in to watch the Blazers game against San Antonio.

American Legion Family members distributed 771 bracelets in about 90 minutes to veterans and civilians, ranging in age from young children to seniors. Fans expressed thanks, asked about the program and strapped the bracelets on their wrists.

“The bracelets are a civic engagement tool, whether you are a veteran, family member or just John Doe Public,” said Brockman, a member of Post 104 in Aloha, Ore. “All of us want to support veteran suicide prevention.”

Printed on the bracelets were the words “Be the One” and the website URL. They were in a plastic baggie with an information card explaining the Be the One program. It was created to reduce the perceived stigma around mental health treatment while empowering everyone to act when the life of a veteran may be in danger.

“It takes a community — not just an individual — to end veteran suicide,” Brockman said. “The bracelets are an engagement tool. They are a way to reach out to the community. They can wear one and share one. They can pass one off to a veteran or family member. They are designed as an engagement tool so the public can ask questions of us so they know what to do. And ask questions of veterans: Are you doing all right? Is your home life OK? Are you healthy? How can I help you?”

For Brockman, who served in the Air Force and Army, the effort is personal.

“I’ve seen enough veterans to know the hurt inside and they are not well,” he said, referencing the daily number of veteran suicides, estimated to be 22. “In my mind, one is too many. Being a veteran, we’ve been there on the front lines, or we’ve been there supporting our troops on the front lines. It’s just taking care of our veteran community. A healthy veteran is a healthy veteran family is a healthy community.”

Navy veteran Allyson Kropf, commander of Post 158 Tigard, Ore., is a mental health therapist. She specializes in helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“That is something that is very near and dear to my heart,” she said. “Having this program in The American Legion is amazing because it is so needed and fantastic.”

Such volunteer work is a labor of love and compassion for Kropf.

“I don’t see it as work,” she explained. “Coming out here isn’t work, it’s more fun to give back and I love doing it. It’s really nice to be out here talking about the thing that I love.”

Kainoa Yamada was among the veterans who stopped to speak with Legion members about Be the One, the organization itself and more.

“I think what The American Legion is doing is awesome, supporting all of our veterans,” said Yamada, who separated from the Air Force in 2020. “It’s absolutely amazing that they are out here. We’re all just supporting each other. It’s amazing for everyone to come together.”

The American Legion’s support of Yamada began when he was a youth. He attended Oregon American Legion Boys State in 2018.

“The Boys State experience for me was wonderful,” he recalled. “It meant a lot. I felt amazing when they did sponsor me.”

Brockman’s wife, Catherine, sees the volunteer work as part of her service.

“It’s very important for us to be here to show that you don’t have to have served to be able to serve now, and serve the veterans,” said Catherine, the department first vice commander for the Auxiliary. “To be here now, we want to be able to let veterans, servicemembers and their spouses know that we play an important part. We are here supporting our veterans because they supported us by defending our country.”

She noted the interest of fans who inquired about Be the One. “We want to put the awareness out there that you don’t have to be a veteran, or be in a veteran family to be able to ‘Be the One.’ That’s all it takes. You have to talk to them and be aware of them. They need somebody to listen to them, and you just have to be there.”

While not every American Legion post will have access to a major professional sports franchise, both Brockmans noted how the concept is scalable. For example, posts in smaller communities can engage with veterans and civilians at bazaars, farmers markets, parades and similar events. 

“For us, we scaled up the bracelets because they are a great engagement tool,” Cory Brockman said. “Wear one, share one. Give the packet to someone else. In a smaller community, it’s just doing it in a smaller scale. Find an event that you can focus your outreach on. Small communities have great parades — Fourth of July celebrations, holiday festivities and bazaars. It’s not that you have to be in a large metropolitan area to take care of veterans. This venue allows us a great opportunity to engage a lot of the public who don’t know veterans, but we can tell their stories. Thank you for coming tonight. Thank you for supporting our veterans. Thank you for being the one.”