As Maine American Legion Auxiliary president from 2022 to 2023, Debra Rumery’s project was “You Will Never Walk Alone,” a veteran suicide prevention and suicide awareness program. The project raised more than $60,000 for the psychiatric ward and suicide prevention outreach program at the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta, Maine.
After her tenure ended, Rumery saw the current American Legion Family national leadership – National Commander Daniel Seehafer, Auxiliary National President Lisa Williamson and Sons of The American Legion National Commander Donald L. "JR" Hall – were continuing to make the Legion’s Be the One veteran suicide prevention program their top priority. And she wanted to make sure that continued in her state as well.
“I just knew our members needed to know that this wasn’t something that I was only going to talk about for one year,” said Rumery, who now serves as Maine’s Alternate National Executive Committeeman and is a member of Unit 86 in Gray. “I was not going to stop talking about it. It was important for the whole (Legion Family) to know there is training out there, and I’d be willing to do the training for them.”
That led Rumery to collaborate with Maine Legion Family leadership for a free Be the One training session on Jan. 27 at department headquarters. The session also included VA S.A.V.E. Training, which Rumery already had taken. Rumery provided the training alongside Maine Legionnaires Julie Flynn (Post 86) and Jennifer Kimble (Roderick-Crosby Post 28 in Farmington).
The trio delivered the S.A.V.E. Training, but Rumery said they wanted to offer more to those who braved the weather to attend the session. “We didn’t want our members to travel all the way to department headquarters, which is a long way for a lot of people, for just 17 minutes (of training),” she said. “So, we elaborated on the VA S.A.V.E. We talked about the mission of Dan, Lisa and Don, and how The American Legion is going to have this mission to help destigmatize our veterans asking for mental health support.
“We also added empathetic listening. I really believe that that was a huge part of this training: giving our members the tools to actually listen to a veteran when they’re in mental health crisis. Not to dismiss them. The right things to say to them. Make sure that the empathetic listening feels like (the veteran) is being listened to, which I think, a lot of times, veterans don’t feel that way.”
Rumery said 18 Legion Family members attended the training. “It was the perfect amount of people because I felt like they felt comfortable being able to share their own experiences and feel safe in that environment,” she said. “I’m not quite sure if they were in a larger environment … if they would have been as transparent as they were. It worked out really, really great.”
Three similar training sessions at department headquarters are planned, while Rumery said requests are being taken to travel to posts and deliver the training in person. She added that as Be the One has continued to grow since its inception in 2022, “People really started wanting more information. ‘What can we do to help?’ ‘How can we learn more?’ At the end of the training, we gave out resource packets to every single person that came, so they can go back to their post/unit/squadron/Riders chapter, whatever the case may be, so they can share the information.
“We didn’t want this to just be the 18 people that were there. We wanted them to share this mission as well.”