National Commander Troiola: New coalition opportunity to expand suicide-prevention efforts

National Commander Troiola: New coalition opportunity to expand suicide-prevention efforts

When he was elected American Legion National Commander one year ago in Milwaukee, Wis., Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola made the Legion’s suicide-prevention initiative, Be the One, his focus for his year leading the organization.

Addressing the 2023 National Commander in Charlotte, N.C., on Aug. 29, Troiola told attendees that the Be the One message is getting out there – and that the formation of a new coalition has created the opportunity to get the message out to an even broader audience.

“During my travels as commander, I have had conversation with many family members whose veteran attempted to… or, in some cases… committed suicide,” Troiola said. “The pain those families feel will always be there but our Be the One message is resonating. Just as we advocate for veterans, these families are advocating for us. They want us to continue to make this our top priority.”

Troiola said the Legion’s National Executive Commission in July passed a resolution that allows the organization to join USAA’s Face the Fight Coalition. One of the key strategies of Face the Fight is to identify and support veterans at risk by partnering with and investing in veteran service organizations to implement suicide prevention strategies within their organization, team and membership.

“The American Legion has traditionally, and by direction of a national resolution, refrained from joining coalitions,” Troiola said. “We do not want to be part of a committee or group that might commit to a policy contrary to our principles. When it comes to veteran suicide prevention, however, an exception was needed, and an exception was made.

“I am very excited about this opportunity and believe it will greatly enhance The American Legion Be the One initiative. By leveraging the resources, talent and expertise of corporations, VSOs, philanthropists and researchers, Face the Fight can achieve its aspirational goal of a significant reduction in the veteran suicide rate by 2030. We have already lost more than 120,000 veterans to suicide since 2001. The Army and Marines both reported increases in their active-duty suicides during the first quarter of 2023, compared to the same time in 2022.”

But Troiola said Be the One will continue to be a top priority of The American Legion. “While you will be seeing much more about Face the Fight in American Legion media, you will not be seeing any less about Be the One,” he said. “We will continue to Be the One to destigmatize asking for help, to reach out to our brother and sister veterans and raise awareness about the 988 Crisis Line.”

Also included in the Legion’s suicide-prevention strategy is the continuation of Buddy Checks. “The purpose of our Buddy Checks is to remind veterans that they are not alone. They have friends and allies in the American Legion Family,” Troiola said. “Going alone is not a healthy way to deal with a crisis, we often tell people with suicidal ideations. It’s time that we follow our own advice. The American Legion, with the help of its friends in USAA and other great organizations, has just received some reinforcements.”

Troiola told Legion Family members it was a good time to be excited about the organization’s accomplishments and it’s initiatives, including the National Security Commission’s BASE (Base Assessment and Servicemember Experience) initiative. The program strives to strengthen connections between The American Legion, Department of Defense, active-duty installations, and Guard and Reserve centers and armories worldwide, in order to help address issues such as food insecurity, military family health care, childcare and career opportunities.

“Our members understand what it means to choose the military way of life,” Troiola said. “They know the rigors, hazards and uncertainties of service, as well as issues that can affect health, quality of life, family stability and economic outlook after discharge. We also appreciate the pathways of opportunity made possible only through military service. In short, we’ve been there. We’ve lived that.

“That’s why The American Legion National Security Commission launched an initiative built purely on the military experience – specifically to improve it where needed, and assist in whatever form that may take, from support for commissaries to military spouse employment to understanding VA benefits for those about to separate.”

Troiola said another example of supporting the U.S. military to support our allies. “That’s why I am proud that The American Legion took the lead in calling for Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act,” he said. “This legislation would provide a pathway to permanent residency for Afghans who have been granted humanitarian parole in the United States and create pathways for continued relocation for those who’ve been left behind. Our organization, along with several other VSOs, recently drafted a letter to Congressional leadership pointing out that American veterans served alongside Afghan allies for two decades. We fought side by side with them, and those veterans saw firsthand the courage and dedication displayed by many, especially the interpreters.

“When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021, many of our allies were left behind. Since then, it has been veterans who have carried the burden of evacuating some to safety while Congress has delayed meaningful relief. Under the Afghan Adjustment Act, eligible Afghans in need of protection would undergo the vetting required during the adjustment application process and have their status adjusted so they could rebuild their lives in the relative safety and stability of the United States.”

Troiola said the Afghan Adjustment Act is the best way to accomplish this.

“There are other bills in Congress that pretend to protect our Afghan allies but do very little. They instead lump the issue in with large-scale immigration reform,” he said. “Every day we are losing allies and their families to torture and death by a hostile regime that is punishing them for helping us. We owe them special consideration.”

Advocacy for U.S. servicemembers includes support for the U.S. Coast Guard, whose pay is not protected during a government shutdown.

“In this era of divided government, the possibility of a federal shutdown is always real, and Congress still has not passed the Pay Our Coast Guard Parity Act of 2023,” Troiola said. “Because the Coast Guard, unlike the other branches, falls under the Department of Homeland Security, its personnel go unpaid during prolonged shutdowns. The American Legion fully remembers the shutdown of 2019. During that period, we provided more than $1 million of Temporary Financial Assistance to Coast Guard families in need.

“We did our job. Now Congress needs to do the same.”