Ninzel Rasmuson knows first-hand some of the mental health struggles veterans face. She has not only found hope in the American Legion Family, she has provided it to other veterans.
“As a Legionnaire, it has meant the world to me to have a support system in my American Legion Family,” said Rasmuson, the Department of Utah commander and member of Post 140 in Riverton. “The comradeship we have with our fellow veterans is so important. And that is why I’m a Legionnaire.”
Even after she left the Air National Guard in 2001, Rasmuson continues to serve.
“Service is a critical component to my healing and to other veterans who choose to be part of their community,” she said. “When you are distracted with other things in your community that are positive and impactful, it makes a world of difference in your life.”
Rasmuson led a coordinated three-day effort, starting on Nov. 14 to spread the word about Be the One. American Legion Family members engaged with community members at a Utah Jazz game, performed wellness checks on veterans throughout the department and reached out in other ways.
“The most important thing about Be the One is that it is changing lives and saving lives,” she said. “We, as Legionnaires, have the ability to have a direct impact on the life of every single veteran. We can do that together as an American Legion Family.”
The dedication of the American Legion Family was on full display Nov. 14 at the Utah Jazz game on Military Appreciation Night. Around a dozen members staffed two tables, greeting fans, sharing information about the Legion’s work to reduce veteran suicide, and handing out Be the One wristbands and other swag items.
Jason Schow, an Army National Guard veteran who deployed to Afghanistan, was among American Legion members engaging with veterans and civilians at the Jazz game.
“We’re doing what we can with the Legion to promote that awareness, to get people to understand it’s OK to reach out to a veteran, it’s OK to ask how they are doing and to instigate the conversation,” he said. “Sometimes veterans are hesitant to talk about what they have been through. Hopefully by starting the dialogue, we can engage more people to understand what they can do individually to help veterans.”
“It means a lot; it’s been a big problem that has gotten worse over the last 20 years since the most recent conflicts,” he said. “Some of the things they (Iraq and Afghanistan veterans) dealt with and saw, maybe we haven’t seen it to that scale in America since Vietnam. It’s really important that we get the word out now and get as much help as we can to veterans because they need it.”
Schow envisions the conversations at the booths as a force multiplier.
“We hope that they listen to what we’re doing with the Be the One mission and share it with their family and friends, hopefully it starts a conversation,” he said. “That would spread the word throughout the community and that is what we are trying to do.”
American Legion NECman Terry Schow, Jason’s father and fellow member of Post 9 in Ogden, was also pounding out the Be the One message.
“Even losing one life is one too many, and that is why we are here tonight,” the elder Schow said. “We’re so grateful for the Utah Jazz and former coach Frank Layden, who is a veteran and member of the Legion. We’re grateful to them for helping to spread the word.”
As fans were settling into their seats, a PSA video was played at midcourt featuring Layden speaking to fans about the Be the One mission.
For Rasmuson, selecting Be the One as her program was an easy choice. She is leading an effort to raise funds for Utah programs that align with the Be the One mission.
“I work in the mental health arena, outside of the Legion, in social services,” she explained, adding that Utah has among the highest rates of suicide in the nation. “I’ve had a passion for the quality of life for mental health for years. A lot of the inspiration also came from the fact that I’ve had friends die by suicide, and family members who died by suicide, and knowing the impact it has had on others.”
Her resolve is appropriate for Utah. After all, the Beehive State’s nickname was chosen in 1848 because bees represent perseverance and industry.
That drive was on full display during the revitalization efforts, which began at Post 71 in Salt Lake City.
“When we go out to do Buddy Checks on the veterans we serve, we knock on doors to see how they are doing and ask if they need anything, that they are safe and are doing well,” she explained. “The reason that it is important is because we have the Be the One initiative for suicide prevention. The reason it’s really important is to meet with our veterans and know who they are so they know not only that we care but we care about their mental health.”