A mission with multiple benefits

American Legion representatives engaged with veterans, educated them on their benefits and outlined the Be the One mission during the final day of MCON on Nov. 12 in Las Vegas.

Jason Gossman, an American Legion veterans service officer, talked with dozens of veterans about their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits during the inaugural conference for military veterans and servicemembers. Their questions related to how benefits work, the claims process and how to get started.

“My job is to walk them through the process, how to file claims and how it relates to their service.”

Gossman pointed out that The American Legion secured $16 billion in VA benefits compensation in 2022. “Other programs charge up to 30%,” he said. “That’s money out of the veteran’s pocket for nothing. The American Legion does this for free for any veteran.”

In addition to receiving their earned compensation, veterans also get a major stress relief. Gossman pointed out that such financial stresses can lead to depression, anxiety and suicide attempts.

That dovetails with the Be the One mission, which is geared toward reducing the number of veterans lost to suicide by destigmatizing mental health treatment and empowering everyone to take action when a veteran’s life is at risk.

“The Be the One mission is incredibly important,” Gossman said. “A lot of the veterans who came up (to visit the Be the One booth) have mental issues, PTSD, depression, anxiety. The American Legion is always here for veterans who are struggling. There is always someone that can take care of them and The American Legion is part of that family.”

For Gossman, it’s a way he gives back after his military retirement. He’s worked with veterans who have changed since returning from Afghanistan and other deployments.

“Being a VSO in The American Legion is one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve had, including my time in the Air Force,” he said. “Being able to help them after service has been an extremely rewarding position to be in. And knowing that I am making a difference, that our team at The American Legion is making a difference, it means the world to me. I know we are changing lives for veterans.”

The American Legion is a founding partner of MCON, which featured panel discussions from thought leaders; experts in transition issues, mental wellness and others fields; and high-performing athletes. (Highlights from the first full day.)

Among the panel discussions on Nov. 12:

• “Gaming, Community and Mental Health.” Kicking off the second day, Regiment Gaming CEO Chris “Entxurage” Earl talked about the role of gaming in the military community. Earl noted that when he was an NCO in the Marine Corps, “all the Marines had two things in their room, a gaming system and trash.”

Gaming plays a critical role in the fight against veteran suicide as it builds camaraderie, minimizes isolation and fills participants with a diversion from life’s stresses.

At the same time, Earl sees the need for gamers to engage in other activities. “We’ve done a pretty good job of uniting veterans for the power of gaming,” he said. “Now we are at the point where we are trying to get veterans to put the controller down and go outside and build those face-to-face connections.”

• “On Moral Courage and Saving Lives.” Air Force veteran Dr. Craig Bryan is the trauma program director for the Suicide Prevention Program at Ohio State University. (Bryan’s work at Ohio State is showing promise.)  

During a deployment to Iraq, Bryan began to challenge what he learned as a clinical psychologist about servicemembers lost to suicide. “A lot of their stories, background, did not fit the formula of what I had been taught as a psychologist, what the briefings told us. Why do we approach suicide prevention like we are?” His main takeaway: We are not doing better at preventing suicide because our core assumptions are wrong.

For example, in his research, Bryan has found that more than half of servicemembers who die by suicide do not have mental illness. He said what it comes down to is “preventing someone from dying by suicide at a particular time using a particular method could prevent them from ever dying by suicide at any time using any method.”

• “Reinventing Transition: Blowing Up Conventional Wisdom.” More than 200,000 transition out of the military each year. And this generation of veterans approaches their post-service careers differently than their predecessors.

Air Force veteran Jimmy Anderson outlined the differences, from the World War II generation that assimilated quietly back into their careers to the Vietnam War veterans who struggled due to their unwelcome homecoming to today’s veterans who seek meaning in employment.

“Folks are looking for how to make lasting social impact,” said Anderson, a former White House director of Veterans Engagement who now works at IBM.