Newly elected American Legion National Commander Daniel J. Seehafer touted a “transformational year” for the American Legion Family, a continued legislative advocacy program and a focus on fundraising for the Legion’s Veterans & Children Foundation during his Aug. 31 acceptance speech.
But he also said the organization’s top priority will be a continuation of the Legion’s focus for over a year – the Be the One suicide-prevention initiative.
“The numbers (of daily veteran suicides) are all over the place, but I believe the numbers tend to be, let’s say, undercounted,” said Seehafer, a U.S. Navy and Naval Reserve veteran and member of American Legion Post 157 in Horicon, Wis. “VA has released figures a couple of years ago of about 17 per day, but that doesn’t include active-duty deaths. Last year, a joint study between America’s Warrior Partnership, Duke University and the University of Alabama contended that it could be more than double that – double. Their researchers said many drug overdoses were classified as accidents or ‘unknown intent’ as to the cause.
“Those studies are constant with what a veteran told a member of our staff. After losing his own son to veteran suicide, the Army veteran said that if he were to take his own life, he would try to make it look accidental so his family could still receive life insurance benefits.”
The administrative pastor at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Horicon, Seehafer said Be the One was created for people considering suicide, “veterans with suicidal ideations … as we continue to invest our time and resources to destigmatize the act of getting help. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok not to be ok.
“That’s why with all this talk about numbers on this very subject, the only number I want us to push is ‘one,’ as in Be the One to save one, yes, one veteran, or even their spouse, from taking his or her own life.”
Seehafer noted that Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou, who has driven the No. 10 American Legion Honda featuring Be the One most of the season, is on the verge of an NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship with just two races to go. “Alex Palou is kicking some serious tail in the series,” he said. “How awesome it is to actually partner with Chip Ganassi and his INDYCAR racing team, as together we raise that public awareness about the ongoing crisis of veteran suicide – and actually doing something about it. That is saving lives one at a time, because after all, it’s personal. Very personal.”
Seehafer, who served as American Legion national chaplain from 2010-2011, asked Legionnaires to follow him on his “Operation Eye of the Tiger” membership mission. “It’s about family, it’s about having, once again, that fire in the belly and knowing the relevance of who we are and what we can give to our communities, to our states, to our nation,” he said. “And hey … let’s have a little fun, too. And yet, family, this isn’t just about numbers, never with me. It’s about people: our fellow veterans and their families, and yes, even you.
“That’s why, with you, we’ll make this year a transformational one for the American Legion Family. With special focus on servant leadership, having competence and character and commitment, I truly believe we are at the forefront of rediscovering value proposition of membership and legislative together, and the greater good that we, the Legion, brings to America by building more informed and civically engaged citizens.”
Seehafer also said he’s not going to let the Legion’s grassroots efforts involving Congress “wither on the vine.
“As I addressed last year’s membership workshop, we responded with 8,000 messages to Congress in over just a weekend, and adding 15,000 within a week or so, and going over the 30,000 threshold in support of the PACT Act. So, yes, it can be done. But let’s make it ten-fold: more grassroots campaigns, Zoom meetings, webinars and training, for this can really be the difference between life and death.”
Seehafer said his fundraising priority would be the Veterans & Children Foundation, which funds both Temporary Financial Assistance and training for Legion-accredited service officers.
“This foundation supports families who are in crisis, as well as disabled veterans and service officers who, I might add, provide free representation. No cost,” he said. “And, family, this is who we really are, for it’s our mission – yes, our mission – to care and serve as we, veterans, strengthen America in the process. And we are certainly not alone.
“Our living God brought us together for this very purpose, and where there is a purpose, there’s relevance—for the Legion is something more than a veterans’ organization to promote reunions and social gatherings. It’s something more than an organized effort to solely get something out of the government for service rendered. Rather, The American Legion is dedicated to the high purposes of putting something into the government, into our nation, because of a zealous desire to continue to serve after the uniform has been laid away.”
Seehafer closed his remarks with a question to those in attendance and those watching via live streaming. “Are you ready?” he asked. “So then, let’s roll those sleeves up, and ‘eye of the tiger’ it shall be. Let’s make our voice even more powerful – and those who are watching and listening who are not yet members, join us, and join us today – for membership does matter. It really does. But, especially, join us for that God-given purpose and relevance to save and change lives – yes, strengthening America – a brother and sister at a time. So Be the One. Let’s Be the One. And family, don’t stop. Let’s never stop.”