Be the One to make a difference

Vic Martin knows the critical importance of Be the One, The American Legion’s primary mission, which aims to reduce the rate of veteran suicide.

After sustaining a brain injury while deployed in the Arabian Gulf, the Navy veteran struggled. He didn’t know how to interact with his family. He lacked the tools to live a normal life. He was unsure where to turn for the resources he needed.

“I didn’t understand these mental-health diagnoses I was receiving and how they were shaping me as a person,” said Martin, commander of Post 275 in La Jolla. “It was really hard on my family. But Be the One is about being that one person who could have reached out to me. It’s about that one person who could have intervened and made a difference in my life and my family’s life. To no one’s fault, I didn’t have that. I am going to make sure we have that moving forward. Being the one is a responsibility of all us.”

That’s what drove Martin, also the second vice commander of District 22, to serve as the architect of the district’s special Be the One Weekend, held at Post 731 in San Diego on Dec. 15-17. Highlights included a presentation by American Legion National Commander Daniel J. Seehafer, two Be the One panel discussions, benefits assistance provided by Legion service officers and community organizations sharing information about their resources. Additionally, American Legion Family members performed wellness checks on veterans, a veterans art show was held, kids reveled in a drone demonstration and Santa Claus visited with active-duty military families.

The primary goal was to connect community resources with veterans and families who might need them before or during a time of crisis. Another goal was to boost membership, which was achieved by adding more than 60 members. By both measures, the event was successful. “Being able to bring families into The American Legion and tell them about and share with them resources that are available not only for their veteran, but for them — that’s fulfilling,” Martin said.

Seehafer kicked off the second day, discussing Be the One and its success to date.

“Everywhere we go, we talk about Be the One,” he said. “It’s catching on. We are making a difference. We change lives and we save lives.”

Be the One is not just a “catchy phrase,” the commander said. “It’s not an initiative. It’s a mission. The one to Be the One to save a life. That’s why I wanted to be here. And why I needed to be here.”

Seehafer noted the overarching purpose of Be the One. It’s the rare opportunity to not just change the life of a veteran, but his or her family as well.

For Legionnaires inspired by the opportunity, they often ask, “Well, what can I do to help?”

“Be yourself and do this,” the commander said, motioning to his ears. “Listen. There are two points that are screaming — financial and relationships. Those are the two that really drive people down into that spiral where they find hopelessness. We want to change that. Give them hope and purpose.”

The San Diego event was an example of how American Legion entities are providing hope, purpose and resources to veterans in their communities.

American Legion Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission Chairman Autrey James praised District 22.

“It’s really important if you are doing something like this that you are including service officers,” said James, a member of Post 161 in Antioch, Calif. “Service officers have resources available to them that the everyday post member might not be aware of. It’s important to not only include American Legion service officers but other experts from the community that can help veterans.”

(Planning a Be the One event? Check out these promotional materials, videos and other resources.)

He noted that District 22 created the weekend event, based on the needs and resources in its area, a model that posts and districts of any size can emulate. “This isn’t a cookie cutter plan from national, it’s something that has to be developed specifically for individual areas.”

James was among members of a panel, moderated by American Legion member and Be the One podcast host Amy Forsythe. Panel members discussed topics including destigmatizing mental health counseling, which is a goal of the Be the One mission.

“One of the things we — collectively — are bad at is talking about it,” he said, referring to mental health issues and suicidal ideation. “And because we don’t talk about it, it becomes taboo. It makes it difficult for individuals going through crisis to reach out for help. If we are open and talk about it, and encourage others to talk about it, it makes it that much easier for someone going through crisis to know this is safe and say, ‘I need help.’”

American Legion Family members cracked open the door to those conversations during each of the three days. Teams visited former Legionnaires at their homes and made phone calls, performing wellness checks, discussing available resources and offering comradeship.

With the Be the One weekend in the rear-view mirror, Martin keeps looking forward.

“I’m a big believer in collaboration,” he said. “We as a community need to come together. And I am honored and proud to bring The American Legion into that realm. I don’t want Be the One to become a phrase like, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I want it to have meaning. I want it to have purpose — and it does.”