In Denise Rohan’s estimation, the work of The American Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Commission is just as critical to lowering the suicide rate among veterans as the Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission.
“You are helping to lower the suicide rate of our veterans every single day, as you’re making sure when they get out of the military and take that uniform off, that they have someplace to go,” Rohan told the VE&E Commission Aug. 24 at the Legion’s 101st National Convention in Indianapolis.
Rohan and fellow Past National Commanders Dale Barnett, Dan Dellinger, James Koutz and Fang Wong spoke to the commission. All but Wong have previously served as chairmen of the commission.
“When they’re in the military, you get up every morning, you put your uniform on, you have a job to do, and you know exactly what you’re going to do day to day,” Rohan said. “But when you get out, if you don’t have a job lined up, if you’re not going to go to school, or whatever it is, you lose that structure you have when you’re in the military, things start snowballing and going downhill fast. …
“Part of the structure of getting someone settled economically in their communities, in their homes, in their jobs, in school, starting a business, that, what you do, is lowering the suicide rate across this nation too.”
The PNCs talked about the importance of reaching out on a local level to emphasize what the Legion can do to help veterans find employment and education.
“We talk among ourselves but we don’t get it out to the people that really need it, and that’s all the people in our communities back home,” Koutz said.
Wong said timing is just as critical as communication in getting word out about events like job fairs. “In the past, we always seemed to wait until the last minute (to get the word out to job-seekers and volunteers to work the event),” he said.
He added, “We’re doing a great job having a lot of job fairs, but we need to prepare the outstanding young men and women coming out of the service (for the civilian world).”
Barnett and Dellinger agreed that raising awareness is important for economic development efforts.
“Local job fairs was something we were very active in, and it gives an opportunity to the post, whatever fashion, whether it’s just opening up your building … I think that raises awareness. Going out to the local National Guard units. Those are things that make people aware of all the wonderful things that you do and The American Legion does on behalf of our veterans,” Barnett said.
And Rohan encouraged developing and honing local relationships with legislators, governors’ offices and adjutants general to get the word out about employment opportunities.
“America’s made on small business,” Dellinger said. “I was a small business owner, I served on the national task force under President Obama, and we worked hard to get the numbers up of the veterans that worked with the government. That’s who we are, that’s America, and who better serves America than The American Legion? So it’s up to us, every opportunity we can that our veterans get that boost, that jumpstart, because our country needs us now more than ever.”