National commander draws attention to Buddy Checks
Photo by Ben Mikesell/The American Legion

National commander draws attention to Buddy Checks

American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford’s address to the National Executive Committee (NEC) for Fall Meetings looked different this year due to the pandemic. Oxford delivered his remarks over Zoom instead of the NEC Room on the fourth floor of The American Legion National Headquarters in downtown Indianapolis.

“We are all disappointed that we couldn’t meet in Louisville, Ky., for our 102nd National Convention. Or that our national youth programs, such as Legion Baseball, Boys Nation and Junior Shooting Sports, were canceled this summer,” Oxford said. “But The American Legion has never been about self. So we continue to serve. We are needed. You are needed. I need you, The American Legion needs you, and your communities need you.”

Oxford stated that veterans who need The American Legion right now are those who are suicidal, who may need assistance with voting on Nov. 3, and who need to renew their membership. This is where Buddy Checks are important.

Veterans in crisis

“The suicide rate was a crisis among veterans before COVID-19. The shutdowns, economic consequences and isolation have added to this crisis,” Oxford stressed. “I think our Buddy Checks could make a difference.”

Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa has drafted legislation to require the Department of Veterans Affairs to combat veteran suicide by establishing a “Buddy Check Week” that is modeled after The American Legion’s successful initiative. The bill will require VA to provide materials and educational opportunities for veterans to learn how to conduct wellness checks, as well as expand resources for the Veterans Crisis Line during the designated week to handle any potential increased outreach.

“Tell veterans that they matter,” Oxford said. “Tell them that you appreciate how they defended us in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam or wherever they have served. Then tell them that you will help, you will be their friend and advocate.

“Let veterans know that they do matter to The American Legion.”

2020 elections

Buddy Checks also can be beneficial as Election Day draws near.

“We want veterans to vote. Veterans have fought for, and in many cases died for this constitutional right,” Oxford said. “That may mean helping them understand the procedure to mail in ballots where that is available, cast absentee ballots if necessary, or it could simply mean catching a ride to a polling place, which could be crowded with long wait times, due to a reduced number of polls that are COVID-safe.

“But it’s up to us to ask and offer that assistance by making Buddy Checks.”

Membership renewal for growth

A goal of Oxford’s as national commander is a 90 percent renewal rate. For 2020, the renewal rate is about 87 percent.

“We need to do more than simply welcome the new members to our organization,” Oxford said. “We need to call them regularly with Buddy Checks. If a new member’s only communication from us is an annual dues notice, he or she won’t renew. We need to be an active and visible reminder that it isn’t the price of admission that makes The American Legion great, it’s the price we all paid to be eligible.

“If we don’t have a large army of Legionnaires to operate food drives, provide emergency relief when a hurricane, tornado or wild fire devastates a community, or conduct Buddy Checks to meet any need our veterans may have, who will?

“Please remember that while we are meeting differently and we are serving differently, we are still serving our veterans, their families and our community.”