The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) first National Buddy Check Week kicked off Oct. 16 and ran five days, during which veterans were encouraged by VA to reach out to 10 fellow veterans.
The week was based on The American Legion’s Buddy Check program started in 2019, which has resulted in well over 1 million veterans being checked on by members of the Legion Family. So, it’s of little surprise how busy members of the Legion were during Buddy Check Week.
Paid-Up-For-Life member and six-time Gold Brigader Mary Jane Fisher, a member of American Legion Post 149 in Escondido, Calif., and an administrator of the American Legion Friends Facebook group, reported members of the group made more than 2,600 phone calls over the course of the week. Fisher herself made 150 of those.
“I utilized past rosters and the Messenger calling feature,” Fisher said. “The most common response was from individuals who were glad to receive the call. As I asked about their concerns and how their family was doing, many veterans stated they were concerned about living paycheck to paycheck. Example conversations were they had mounting credit card debt and felt like they needed relief. Several (were) concerned about being at risk of being homeless.
“The majority stated they had been denied service-connected conditions and need help with navigating the claims process. The second-highest concern was the lack of service officers available to help them. The third concern was the overall lack of healthcare for the rural communities, and fourth concern was they wished Buddy Checks would happen more often as they feel alone and no support.”
Fisher said she suggested multiple resources to those with needs while vowing to call them back and “inviting them to contact me anytime for resources and information.”
Throughout the week, Legionnaires posted on social media updates on their Buddy Check efforts, as well as having received calls from a fellow veteran. Department of Utah Commander Ninzel Rasmuson noted, “I received a text message out of the blue from a new Legionnaire friend I met last week at Fall Meetings. The Buddy Check text began as, ‘BUDDY CHECK, Sister!!! I hope all is well with you and family and you made it back safely.’ It meant so much to me that a peer had reached out to me to make sure I was ok and safe. Buddy Checks matter!”
Amanda Jones, commander of American Legion Post 30 in Alaska, posted photos of her 5-year-old daughter, American Legion Auxiliary Junior member Charlee, wearing an American Legion Be the One t-shirt and shared, “It’s Buddy Check week and we are embracing it as a family!! Charlee has called 3 veterans to see how they’re doing and lifted their spirits. EveryONE can make a difference. Be the ONE.”
Lou Neubecker, a PUFl member of Post 99 and Sons of The American Legion Squadron 99 in Seaside, Ore., made 25 former Legionnaires. “They were happy to receive my call, and several of them said they were gonna rejoin,” Neubecker wrote on Facebook.
Department of Ohio American Legion Auxiliary Historian Dayna Beyer, a member of Unit 535 in Bellville, Ohio, and an administrator on the American Legion Friends group, also made Buddy Checks. “The response from our veterans was well received,” she wrote. “Most of them were surprised to get the call. They had a chance to talk about what they are doing, how they are feeling, and what we could do for them. It was surely well worth it for sure.”
Former American Legion Legislative associate Advaith Thampi made 22 Buddy Checks during the week, while American Legion Department of South Dakota Commander Courtney Steffen made 13 and also shared valuable Buddy Check info on Facebook, including links to both the Legion’s and VA’s Buddy Checks resources, and a link to veteran service officers in her state.
And on Legiontown, past Department of Connecticut Commander and current Department Service Officer K. Robert Lewis shared that Vincent Melesko, a member of Turner-Tinker Post 128 in Niantic, reached out to every member of the post recently, providing those who needed it contact info for an American Legion service officer.
“For World War II, Korea and Vietnam veteran members he called three times. If no answer, Vinny turned to email and snail mail,” Lewis wrote. “He contacted each with a message: ‘I'm contacting you to see if you or your family are OK and if there is anything the Niantic American Legion can assist you or your family with. Your fellow Legionnaires are always here for you.’”
And at American Legion Post 113 in Meridian, Idaho – which implemented a daily Buddy Check program in September – Legionnaires manned the phones daily for four hours to check on their fellow veterans.
“(The Buddy Check) was instituted to be able to find veterans that are having problems and maybe need some assistance that we can help them with,” Post 113 Chaplain and First Vice Commander Dan Pruett said. “We want to call and be able to see that everything’s OK. Most of the interactions we have with them is they’re doing fine, and that’s great. Occasionally we get someone that needs help, and we certainly have the resources to be able to help them.
“To me, as a veteran that has had a lot of (health) problems … there was a time when I needed something. I was glad to see (The American Legion) reached out and they were so good. They would do anything to help me. And so it means a lot to me to be able to return that to these people we call.”
Legion Family members who performed Buddy Checks last week are urged to share their efforts at www.legiontown.org in the Buddy Checks section.