‘We’re here to change and save lives’

The American Legion’s Be the One message and mission to end veteran suicide will be widely visible in Indianapolis this May to thousands of race fans and visitors. An image of 2023 GMR Grand Prix winner Alex Palou with the No. 10 Be the One car will grace the 2024 GMR Grand Prix tickets, along with signage at Indianapolis International Airport.

“They will see that life-changing and life-saving message of Be the One,” National Commander Daniel Seehafer said in his opening remarks to the National Executive Committee members and other Legion leadership in Indianapolis for Spring Meetings on May 8. “I’ve said it many times before, The American Legion doesn’t sponsor a race car because we are race fans. We do it because we are fans of veterans. We do it because we want to change lives and save lives. We do it because we have a mission that is relevant and has purpose. What is that mission? One! Be the One as in saving one (life), one at a time.”

The Be the One mission is also gaining traction with the Legion’s partnership with Columbia University. Columbia suicide prevention experts are providing free online training for all Legion Family members based on the Columbia Protocol, also known as the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale, that supports suicide risk assessment through a series of six questions that anyone can ask. Visit betheone.org for two upcoming training sessions on May 16 and May 30, with more to follow. It’s 90 minutes of training to save a life.

“It’s the type of information that has and will save lives,” Seehafer said. “More than one person has told me that they don’t feel qualified to counsel a veteran in crisis. This training gives you the opportunity to learn from the experts. As a pastor, I can tell you the most important attribute to have as a counselor is the ability to listen.” And to know the resources available to you on betheone.org.

“You need to take this message back … this is from the heart. Your words could mean the difference between life or death. Let’s continue to make our voices heard on this because every veteran’s life is valuable.”

Ten years ago this month, then-National Commander Daniel Dellinger, backed by the NEC, demanded the resignations of top Department of Veteran Affairs officials, including the VA Secretary, over the Phoenix VA Medical Center and dozens of other VA centers across the country that were embroiled in scandals over secret waiting lists, manipulated record-keeping and other areas of malfeasance.

“Leaders resigned but more importantly reform came,” Seehafer said. “In the last decade, VA went from a system worth saving to a system worth celebrating. A recent survey revealed that 91.8 percent of VA outpatients trusted the quality of care that they received. If The American Legion can achieve such fundamental change in the nation’s largest health care system, just think of all the other great things we can accomplish.”

Some of those accomplishments the Legion wants to achieve that Seehafer named include seeing predatory claims sharks prosecuted, the disabled veteran’s tax abolished, and electronic health records modernized. “We have been talking about this (EHR modernization) for years, let’s get it done,” Seehafer said to applause.

“I am proud that The American Legion changes lives and saves lives every single day. But we can change and save even more lives if we had even more members.”

A question asked by non-members is always, why should I join? “Legionnaires are answering that question, or I should say doing an awesome job on communicating why. Remember the importance of purpose and relevance. We’re here to change and save lives. We will be the most trained veteran organization in suicide prevention.

“We want veterans to live. What a message of purpose and relevance.”

This year ushers in a presidential election, and it is important for Legionnaires to remember that The American Legion is a nonpolitical, nonpartisan organization but advocates for all U.S. citizens to register and vote in all elections.

“We can’t endorse candidates or political parties but we sure can meet with them and ask their positions on our legislative priorities,” Seehafer said. “For instance, we should ask them do you know that 22 percent of military spouses face unemployment? Or that more than 60,000 military servicemembers earn less than $15 per hour in basic pay? Or that childcare in many military communities is unavailable or unaffordable? So just like I asked Congress a few months ago, what’s your plan? You can ask the same thing.

“We have an influential voice but family, we need to use it.”

Seehafer encouraged Legion Family members to visit legion.org/action to see The American Legion’s legislative priorities and how to support our advocacy efforts.

“Use it and spread the word,” he said regarding the Legion’s Grassroots Action Center. “This is our voice.”