When Stacy Boehm initially tried to join an American Legion post, it was not the experience she was expecting. “I was asked multiple times who my sponsor is. I do not need a sponsor, I am a veteran,” Boehm said. “That was very disheartening as a female veteran.”
But she didn’t give up on joining The American Legion. And she knew that if she was going to invest time into the organization, having her husband and children serve alongside her was a necessity.
In 2018, Boehm had a stake in the chartering of American Legion Post 522 in Indianapolis – an online post that is focused on creating a family-friendly environment while investing in its members, veterans, veteran families and the community statewide. The investment piece for Post 522 is through Buddy Checks, suicide prevention efforts, resource guidance, and member-family service.
“We have learned that sometimes it’s not the first touch that ropes someone in to The American Legion. Sometimes it’s the seventh and the eighth. They need to know that you’re invested,” said Boehm, vice commander of Post 522 who lives in Vincennes, Ind. “When people are invested, and the veteran believes you are, they believe your mission and they want to be a part of something bigger. We want people to invest in The American Legion and invest in the veteran community.”
For its Buddy Checks, Post 522 sends text messages and makes phone calls to check on the needs of its members and community veterans.
“At the end of the day, whether you’re a Legionnaire or not, you’re a veteran and we want to take care of you,” Boehm said. “When a veteran is in need, they are one of the most least likely people to ask for help. We, as veterans, oftentimes think that we can handle it until it gets too dark. (At Post 522) we want to prevent that darkness.”
Boehm said dues have been covered for members who can’t afford it at the moment in time “because they need that Legion support. We try to surround our veterans with as much love as we can.
“You’re having a bad day? Let me sponsor you. You’re having a hard time? I’ve got you. You need to call me at 2 a.m.? You call me. And that’s what it’s about … it’s making those connections that are going to be there your lifetime.”
The phone is a connection that veterans have to Boehm and post leadership.
“Our members have my personal cell phone number. They know to call or text at any time. If you are on the officer board, they probably have your personal phone number. That’s part about being an officer is being available to our members and other veterans that need us.”
The post number 522 stands for the five military service branches and the 22 veterans a day dying by suicide. So a core mission of Post 522 is being proactive in veteran suicide prevention.
A service project for Post 522 this year is being a sponsor of the Irreverent Warriors in Indianapolis whose mission is to “to bring veterans together using humor and camaraderie to improve mental health and prevent veteran suicide.” Post members will be doing a 22K veteran-only hike in downtown Indy.
“We did this (event) last year and were able to connect with a lot of veterans and connect them with resources to help support them. You have the Legion that has all of these amazing people that know the system. Normally it only takes me one phone call to be like ‘How do I navigate this? What program do we have for this? Who is the contact for this?’ And we get a veteran connected. I love that part of The American Legion. I love being able to connect the dots for veterans who don’t know how to or sometimes don’t have the willpower to do so themselves. When people are in a really dark spot, even picking up the phone the first time is a huge step. Or making all these connections on their own is too hard, and they don’t need hard. They need someone to help fill that gap.
“So the more informed your American Legion member is the more informed your veteran is. And they can be a better battle buddy.”
Boehm served with the Indiana Army National Guard as a military police and flight operations specialist from 2002-2010. She too worked with a detachment of Operation Enduring Freedom and as the family readiness liaison for the 76th Infantry Brigade. This past year, she lost a friend and servicemember to suicide. Boehm said Post 522 has been able to come alongside the family and provide his wife with resources at the VA as she and the children go through the trauma of losing their father. “He was a great soldier, he was a great pilot, I would fly with him any day.
“With The American Legion, you are part of something that can help you, that can help others, that can really come alongside your family.”
Whether it’s suicidal veterans or the foster children that Boehm and her husband, Andrew, have been resource parents for, she wants them to “see their true value. Everyone should have someone in their corner, shouting to the hilltop how amazing they are, and how much value they add to the world.”
Boehm has a biological teenage son and has been a foster parent since June 2020 alongside her husband.
“We have already been able to love on nine different kids. People always ask me, ‘How do you do this?’ I’m used to trauma. I’m used to helping people with trauma and these kids that come through the system, they have a lot of trauma. This is a skillset of a veteran – working with the (Operation Enduring Freedom) detachment, loss of individuals in my unit, then them coming home (from deployment) and work with them as a family readiness liaison. It’s tools that we use with all of our foster kids. It’s the boots on the ground experience.”
The ability to keep post members informed and engaged without a post home hasn’t posed a challenge for Post 522. Post cards, email blasts, a Facebook page and the start of a post website keep the member and their family connected.
“We really try to incorporate what makes it the easiest for a veteran to be involved. Especially those veterans that have families, that work, they don’t always have time to research what their post is doing. We want to put it right in front of them all the time.”
Post 522 has engagement days and service projects throughout the year for Legionnaires and their family members to be together. “We know that veterans want their family surrounding them,” Boehm said. Together, they have been bowling, to the Conner Prairie museum, dined at veteran-owned and friendly restaurants, served at the Wheeler Mission homeless shelter, walked a virtual suicide prevention 5K downtown Indianapolis on the Canal, and much more.
“We look where we can support the community, and be a part of the veteran community where we can serve,” Boehm said. “And we use the strengths within our own post but also rely on other American Legion post to connect with and be a part of our service day projects. Because at the end of the day it’s not about Post 522 … it’s about us as a Legion Family and how were helping other veterans.”
In the end, Post 522 wants “to be that missing link” between veterans and their community. “The American Legion has so many amazing programs for veterans, for the community and we want to make sure that we are being that link and we are providing a piece of that puzzle.”