As COVID-19 cases rise and the holidays approach, The American Legion is encouraging posts and members to shift their Buddy Check programs to assist veterans coping with mental health and well-being challenges.
The nation’s largest veterans organization is also urging Congress to pass the Buddy Check Week bill which will make wellness checks a national priority for the Department of Veterans Affairs. With military suicides up 20 percent over this time last year, Legionnaires are urged to make check-in calls to at-risk veterans across the nation and offer support and access to wellness programs in the week surrounding Veterans Day and into the winter months ahead.
Veterans can be at particular risk for depression and suicide around the holidays, and many are disproportionately hard-hit by the pandemic due to age, chronic health issues, post-traumatic stress disorder and isolation. The Buddy Check program is designed to give Legionnaires the tools to make contact, engage in conversation, assess risks and direct veterans in need to the appropriate services.
“The American Legion knows from 100 years of experience that it’s veteran-to-veteran contact that can make the difference for someone in a crisis situation,” says James W. “Bill” Oxford, national commander of The American Legion. “So, we’re putting some muscle behind this effort and giving our members the tools they need to reach out to fellow veterans in their hometowns who may be hard hit by the triple whammy of the pandemic, isolation and the holidays.”
Resources and toolkits for Buddy Check teams are available at legion.org/buddycheck on the web. Also posted on the platform are American Legion Buddy Check success stories.
The American Legion is calling on its nearly 2 million members to contact Congress to unanimously pass the Buddy Check Week bill introduced with bipartisan support from U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Doug Jones, D-Ala.; and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. The legislation will require VA to establish a “Buddy Check Week,” as well as provide educational opportunities, materials and references for veterans to learn more about how to conduct personal wellness checks. The bill also compels VA to expand resources for the Veterans Crisis Line to handle any potential increased volume during the designated week.
“Veterans are in crisis, and we need Congress’ help to take this program to the next level and stem the tide of suicide among our nation’s veterans,” Oxford said. “We need all hands on deck and all boots on the ground to fight for our nation’s veterans, just like they fought for us.”
The Buddy Check program encourages Legionnaires to make contact, lend a listening ear, and direct veterans to critical services. For Buddy Check information, visit legion.org/buddycheck. For urgent help, contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.