The American Legion has joined forces with Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Doug Jones, D-Ala.; and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. in a bipartisan effort to pass legislation aimed at combatting veteran suicide. The bill is modeled after The American Legion’s “Buddy Check National Week of Calling” to connect veterans to better ensure that they receive the care they need.
The legislation will require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish a “Buddy Check Week,” as well as provide educational opportunities, materials, and references for veterans to learn how to conduct personal wellness checks. Additionally, the bill compels VA to expand resources for the Veterans Crisis Line to handle any potential increased usage during the designated week. To contact your senators and representative and tell them to cosponsor and support S.4657/H.R.2898 today, visit https://votervoice.net/AmericanLegion/Campaigns/77447/Respond.
“As a combat veteran, I know the challenges our servicemembers face after returning to civilian life,” said Ernst, who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. “In the Senate, I’ve continued to work across the aisle to support these heroes by expanding access to mental health services.”
The American Legion launched a "Buddy Check Week" a few years ago. That has since been expanded and encourages Legionnaires to conduct veteran outreach as part of their daily routine. The idea is to reconnect with veterans who may need assistance but don't know where to go or who to ask.
“Our most sacred responsibility as a nation is to care for our fellow men and women who have served this nation with honor,” American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford said. “We strongly support legislation that expands this program to VA.”
Jones is a strong advocate of the legislation.
“I know how difficult it can be sometimes for folks to ask for help when they need it,” he said. “It’s so important that we destigmatize mental health issues, especially among our veterans.
“If we all check up on each other and look out for each other, it will be so much easier to ensure those in need can get access to the resources they need for help.”
The push to pass this legislation into law comes on the heels of reports that military suicides have drastically increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. CBS News reported an increase of as much as 20 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
"I can't say scientifically, but what I can say is - I can read a chart and a graph, and the numbers have gone up in behavioral health-related issues," Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in an Associated Press interview.