Seehafer touches on Be the One, claim sharks and military quality of life during Washington Conference
 Photo by HIlary Ott/The American Legion

Seehafer touches on Be the One, claim sharks and military quality of life during Washington Conference

Addressing members of the American Legion Family on the eve of many of them heading to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress, National Commander Daniel Seehafer thanked the contingent for coming to the Legion’s Washington Conference to advocate for the nation’s veteran, military and their families.

And then he reemphasized that last word.

“I include families because it’s so, so important to who we are and what we actually do,” Seehafer said. “It’s quite common for seriously wounded veterans to say on the battlefield, ‘Tell my family that I love them.’ Tell my family. Sometimes, these are their last words.

“And who is more impacted than the family, especially when a veteran makes that tragic decision to take his or her own life? That’s why it’s our No. 1 mission: to prevent veteran suicide. To yes, Be the One. And so, we have to Be the One for our veteran families, as well as the veterans themselves – especially in their times of crisis.”

Seehafer said Be the One, the Legion’s veteran suicide prevention program, asked Legionnaires to look closely at whether a fellow veteran may be in crisis, even when the signs aren’t always there.

“That’s why we must be pro-active, even when things appear to be going well,” he said. “You see, veterans often keep their pain bottled-up, and when they do, their families suffer too.”

That’s why American Legion service officers play such a critical role in Be the One. “Our great American Legion service officers are often the first line of defense when it comes to reaching these veterans and family members,” Seehafer said. “They not only work tirelessly to obtain benefits for those who have served, but also for their surviving spouses when their deaths are connected to their military service.”

Also related to veterans benefits what Seehafer’s call to urge legislation that protect veterans while punishing agencies and businesses that charge veterans to file for their benefits, even when they are not accredited by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Among our agenda items this year is a call for Congress to fight the sharks,” he said. “We are calling for criminal penalties against any company that skirts the VA accreditation process in order to charge veterans and families outrageous fees to process claims and appeals. In fact, it’s against the law to engage in these practices, and those who do should be prosecuted.”

Seehafer noted the suicide crisis isn’t just impacting veterans. “The rates have been high among the active-duty ranks as well,” he said. “By improving the military quality of life – that includes barracks, family housing, employment opportunities for spouses, and affordable childcare – we can eliminate some of the top sources of stress that servicemembers and their families face.

“Not only must Congress act on these issues, but The American Legion is playing an active role through our BASE Program (Base Assessment and Servicemember Experience). Think of it as an extension of our highly successful VA&R System Worth Saving program, but this time, it’s for the military.”

Once a member of the military is ready to hang up his or her uniform, Seehafer said they need to be given the tools and guidance to move smoothly into the civilian world.

“Transition assistance is of paramount importance to military members wondering how to support themselves and their families once they leave service,” he said. “We know that feelings of not fitting in, loneliness and isolation are common among those in suicidal crisis. The military must be directed to use every high-tech and data-driven resource possible to ensure separating servicemembers can transition smoothly.”

Seehafer also addressed other issues during his address, including:

·       Ensuring the U.S. Coast Guard gets paid in the event of a government shutdown. When budget lapses occur, Coast Guard pay isn’t guaranteed because the branch falls under the Department of Homeland Security.

·       Parity for National Guard and reserve members receiving GI Bill benefits for the time that they serve. “Military service is extremely challenging and, at times, we all know it, dangerous,” he said. “A day of service should equal a day of service, regardless of who issued the orders.”

·       Concurrent receipt. Seehafer said no veteran should have to fund his or her own disability compensation out of their military retirement pensions.

·       Access to health care for military personnel and their families serving overseas.

·       Implementing and overseeing the PACT Act.

·       Access to alternative treatments and therapies for veterans.

·       Allowing general but honorably discharged veterans to use the GI Bill.

·       Protecting the U.S. flag.