Leveraging the power of veteran-to-veteran connection

This week on the American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast, VA psychologist Dr. Jay Gorman discusses veteran socials and how they are helping to decrease social isolation and loneliness among veterans.

Veteran socials are veteran-led weekly community-based social events with a purpose – getting veterans of all ages and service branches in one place to support and build connection with each other. It can be having coffee, fishing, play board games or volunteering in the community.

“The idea is that this a regularly occurring event and that’s how you build a social support system,” Gorman said. “You want to offer opportunities for increased contact over time. That’s essentially how we form friendships. We have regularly occurring positive contact. It kind of reminds me of in a lot of ways what we’ve taken on some of the mantle of The American Legion is the spirit of the Buddy Check … is to check on one another, look out for one another. It’s that power of veteran-to-veteran connection and getting that culture of everyone having your six.”

Gorman is a clinical psychologist; education director of the VISN 1 Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center at the VA Bedford Healthcare System; assistant professor of psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine; director of VA’s Veteran Outreach Into the Community to Expand Social Support Team; and a 2024 VHA Innovation Fellow. He helped form the veteran social program after VA peer specialists and therapists noticed that veterans receiving VA mental health care would often return for the same treatment because the lack of a support system within their community.

“As a therapist, we can provide a lot of mental health services, but what we really can’t do is provide social connection and friendship,” Gorman said. “And what we know is individuals who have social support systems, who have social connections in their lives, are healthier in all sorts of ways – better heart health, less cognitive decline, it buffers symptoms of post-traumatic stress. If you’re lonely and isolated, your risk of death increases by 32 percent. We know there’s all these health enhancements that happen.”  

Veteran socials are held across 20 states at 98 locations that include American Legion Post 98 in Rockport, Mass., and Post 113 in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. Each one is customized based on the needs of veterans in the community. Want to start a veteran social? Learn how here.  

“The goal is to increase social connection across the nation and doing it one community at a time,” Gorman said, adding that just like the Legion’s suicide prevention mission of Be the One, veteran socials are about peer-to peer-connection and decreasing the mental health stigma. “Before the point of crisis, it’s increasing protective factors and decreasing risk factors. One of those ways we can do that is increase social connection and social support system. People with healthier support systems can manage the bumps and challenges of life a little easier. What we’re trying to do with veteran socials and your Be the One goes a long way in making those efforts.”

Also, co-hosts Stacy Pearsall, Joe Worley and Adam Marr discuss:

·         New bipartisan legislation that will allow servicemembers awarded the Purple Heart after their service the ability to transfer education benefits to independents.

·         How the U.S.-built Gaza peer structure can trace its origins back to 1930s cigar boxes.

·         The more than 3,250 keepsakes left on gravestones in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery that need someone to store them in a meaningful way.

·         A Bravo Zulu to Post 127 in Sugar Hill, Ga., for helping a veteran living in his car get a new transmission and other repairs done and finding him housing.

 Check out this week’s episode, which is among more than 250 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion’s YouTube channel.