American Legion National Security Commission Chairman Matthew Shuman is featured in a Veteran's Health Administration's Office of Healthcare Innovation & Learning video promoting VA healthcare in the LGBTQIA+ community. Watch the video here.
The video promotes VA’s PRIDE In All Who Served program, an initiative that emerged out of the Hampton VA Medical Center in 2016 to connect LGBTQ+ veterans, foster a peer support system and enhance health literacy within this community.
It has been widely documented by multiple studies that LGBTQ+ veterans are at increased risk for suicide and other healthcare inequities, due to discrimination and barriers to accessing care. Despite existing provider-focused education and inclusive policies, a gap in clinical services for LGBTQ+ veterans remains.
The impact of a peer support program such as PRIDE In All Who Served extends beyond camaraderie. It is aimed to serve a a safeguard against issues like suicide and stigma-related stress that disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ individuals.
Watch the video to hear from two members of the PRIDE in All Who Served team: Tanisha Anderson, LCSW, LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinator at the Richmond, VA Medical Center; and Sierra Phillips, LCSW, LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinator at Tomah VA Medical Center. Shuman, a U.S. Army veteran, shares his personal experiences and the benefits of PRIDE In All Who Served program.
Learn more about the PRIDE in All Who Served program here.
The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration continues to conduct sizable Welcome Home events across the country celebrating and honoring Vietnam War veterans and their families. Still to come in 2023: a partnership with the Navy Office of Community Outreach for Philadelphia Navy Week (Oct. 9-15), in conjunction with the Navy’s birthday; and events around Fleet Week in San Diego Nov. 6-12, in conjunction with Veterans Day.
The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the war was launched in 2012. Congress penned five objectives for the campaign; the first is “To thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war or listed as missing in action, for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States, and to thank and honor the families of these veterans.” Vietnam Veteran lapel pins are among the markers distributed. Planning is underway for 2024 events, and the final official commemoration event will be held on National Vietnam War Veterans Day 2025, March 29.
Over the last 10 years, “thousands upon thousands” of commemorative-partner organizations across the country have conducted such events on their own, including American Legion posts. Posts that have not yet done so but wish to can learn about the process and find resources on the commemoration’s website. Partners are encouraged to report their event for inclusion on the website, and posts are encouraged to share recaps of their events on Legiontown.
The Department of Veterans Affairs must improve mental health care access for veterans with suicide risks, senators told VA officials on Wednesday in the wake of an inspector general report that found problems with the agency’s crisis hotline for suicide prevention.
“We’ve had so damn many hearings on mental health, and it doesn’t seem like anything has changed,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told VA officials during a hearing of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “There’s no doubt in my mind that you want to do your best for veterans, and you’re trying to do the best for your veterans.
“But this is really frustrating for me to say, but we’ve got to do better. We just have got to do better.”
Wait times to see mental health specialists are too long, and too few veterans at risk for suicide are actively in the VA’s health care system, multiple senators said. New authorities for expanded mental health care access via telehealth have been implemented too slowly, Tester told Matthew Miller, the executive director for suicide prevention at the VA’s Veterans Health Administration.
The committee would “probably give you anything you asked for when it comes to mental health,” Tester, who is the chairman of the Senate panel, told Miller. “We just need to make sure that what you’re asking for is something that can actually make a difference.”
Suicides are multifaceted and complex, Miller told the committee, thanking senators for granting the VA several new authorities via legislation in recent years that are helping the department improve.
The VA’s most recent veteran suicide statistics show a slight decrease in suicides among veterans in 2020, but suicides among Americans with military service time far outpaced the rate among civilians. That year, 6,146 veteran deaths were ruled suicides. Data for 2021 is expected to be released in the coming months.
Nonetheless, Miller acknowledged the VA faces many challenges in suicide prevention from technical issues implementing telehealth services to a shortfall of qualified mental health specialists to hire.
“With no single cause, there is no single solution to suicide for veterans,” he said.
The hearing came just days after the VA inspector general published a report that found a Texas veteran died by suicide within an hour of receiving subpar help from the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line in 2021.
The IG report released Sept. 14 found crisis line responders failed to recognize the veteran’s suicide risk or implement a prevention plan after engaging in a 75-minute, 80-text conversation. The veteran — a male in his 30s with diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, alcohol-use disorder, obstructive sleep apnea and documented past suicidal behavior — advised he was in a “shed with a belt around a hook that hangs from the rafters of the shed.” Less than an hour after the crisis line conversation, the veteran hanged himself, the investigation found.
In that incident, crisis line staff also failed to properly document communications with the veteran and failed to inform local VA officials in Texas about the death, according to the IG. The inspector general also found the VA was not properly monitoring or reviewing responders’ conversations and actions with potentially suicidal veterans to ensure the highest quality of care.
Miller said Wednesday that the crisis line has since improved. The VA has installed silent monitors to track call responders’ actions and is working on improving its ability to maintain records of text messages.
The VA’s crisis line has grown in use in recent years. The hotline received more than 750,000 calls before July 2022 to July 2023, about a 12.5% increase from the previous year. Another 250,000 veterans contacted the crisis line via text or chat message during that time, according to the VA.
Miller said the VA has vastly expanded its crisis line, hiring more than 900 individuals to work as responders and quality controllers since 2021 when it had about 550 responders. He told lawmakers that he believes the problems highlighted in the IG report have largely been addressed, and more improvements are imminent.
“I, as a veteran, grieve the loss of this veteran. From the painful lens of retrospective review, we wish we could have done some things differently. It’s our earnest desire and pledge to apply the wisdom gained through this review to strengthen processes as we continue to serve veterans, who are at the center of all we do, even at this very minute as we answer calls,” Miller said. “We’re better than what was depicted in that report, and we have to do better than what was depicted in that report.”
Senators from multiple states lamented the wait times that veterans face in attempting to receive care from the VA, including mental health care. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said waiting periods in her home state stretched from about one week in Nashville to more than 90 days at a rural clinic in northern Tennessee.
“I hear a good bit about this” from constituents, Blackburn said. “This access issue is one we have got to solve.”
Miller said the VA is working toward ensuring veterans in crisis receive immediate mental health care when they need it. If a veteran is in crisis, he should be seen at a local clinic, he said.
“Same day access is the first step that should be in place at every local facility regarding this,” he told senators. “That’s what should occur.”
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said the VA needed to speed up its telehealth improvement efforts to decrease wait times and better respond to veterans when they face a crisis, such as suicidal thoughts. Miller agreed.
“I think telehealth is an opportunity to provide the care nationwide that perhaps might not be available, particularly in a rural area,” King said. “What I hear form my veterans in Maine – they really like the care they are getting from the VA … The question is access — when do they get the care? And that’s a large issue.”
I frequently use the internet to pay bills, shop and keeping up with my grandchildren on social media. But a few months ago, my computer was infected with malware and a cyber hacker opened a credit card using my identity. Do you have any tips to help me stay safe while online?
Cybercrimes, especially against seniors, continues to be a major problem in the United States. According to the FBI’s 2022 Elder Fraud Report, cybercrimes cost Americans over 60 more than $3 billion last year, an 84% increase from 2021.
While anyone can be a victim of cybercrimes, seniors are frequent targets because they tend to have more money than their younger counterparts. But there are several things you can do to protect yourself from online fraud, hacking and scams. Here are a few tips.
Strengthen your passwords A strong password should contain at least 12 characters and include numbers and a special character, such as an exclamation point or asterisk. Be sure to have unique passwords across different sites and applications to ensure that a hacker would not gain access to all of your accounts through one password. Use an encrypted and trusted password manager to store all your passwords. If you keep a written list of all your passwords, make sure you store it in a safe, secure place. Avoid storing passwords on devices using the “remember me” feature as it only increases your chances of being hacked. When using smartphones or tablets, be sure to set up a password to access and protect your device in the event it is lost or stolen.
Opt out of pop-ups To protect yourself from computer viruses and other forms of malware, avoid any pop-up style message when you are on a website. Additionally, internet browsers provide options to customize settings, including the ability to disable pop-ups for added security. Hackers often disguise their malware as pop-up advertisements or "special offers" when you are shopping or reading online. Clicking on these pop-ups can lead to viruses or data breaches. If you encounter a suspicious pop-up message, do not click on anything in the window. Simply leave the site or close out of your web browser.
When in doubt, throw it out Sometimes online hackers will engage in a tactic known as phishing. The hacker will send an email or text message and pretend to be someone to convince a victim to share valuable information with them, such as Social Security number, address or credit card information. If you receive a suspicious message from an unknown sender, do not respond or click on any links or attachments. Instead, delete the message, or if you are on a work email, follow your employer's phishing protocol and report the message as phishing.
Share with care It is possible to overshare information online. This applies to private information you may post on various online profile accounts. Using popular social media platforms makes it easier for hackers to collect information about you based on what you share, including details like your home address and personal contact information. Ensure that your privacy settings are up to date so that only people who follow you can see your posts. Be mindful not to post information that may be related to security challenge questions or financial accounts.
Verify websites Before you shop or access your bank online, double-check the validity of the website you are using. Reputable websites use technologies such as SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) that encrypt data during transmission. You will see a padlock icon in your browser, and usually "https" at the front of your address bar to confirm it is a secure connection. If you do not see it in the web address you are on, you should not trust that website with your passwords, payment or banking information.
Have some backup While practicing safe habits can protect you and your information, you do not have to solely rely on your own efforts to stay safe. Anti-virus software can be used to prevent and detect viruses or other types of malwares from your computer. It works in the background and helps make it easier to avoid threats while on the internet.
For more information on how to safeguard your personal technology devices and personal information, visit consumer.ftc.gov and search "Protect Your Personal Information and Data." To report fraud or identity theft, go to either ReportFraud.ftc.gov or IdentityTheft.gov.
“Savvy Living” is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to NBC’s “Today Show.” The column, and others like it, is available to read via The American Legion’s Planned Giving program, a way of establishing your legacy of support for the organization while providing for your current financial needs. Learn more about the process, and the variety of charitable programs you can benefit, at legion.org/plannedgiving. Clicking on “Learn more” will bring up an “E-newsletter” button, where you can sign up for regular information from Planned Giving.
1. Don’t miss this PACT Act deadline
Under the PACT Act, there is a special opportunity for post-9/11 veterans to enroll directly in VA health care without first applying for VA benefits by Sept. 30. Those eligible are veterans who were discharged or released between Sept. 11, 2001, and Oct. 1, 2013 and who haven’t enrolled in VA health care before. Also to be eligible, the veteran must meet one of the following:
- served on active duty in theater of combat operations during a period of war after the Persian Gulf War; or
- served in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostilities after Nov. 11, 1998.
The quickest way to enroll in VA health care is at this link. Veterans also can enroll by calling 877-222-8387 or by visiting their local VA medical facility or clinic.
Help is available: Veterans and their survivors have filed more than 1 million claims for toxic exposure-related benefits under the PACT Act since President Biden signed it into law Aug. 10, 2022. And the Department of Veterans Affairs has processed more than 551,000 of those claims, granting 77.9% of them and awarding more than $2.2 billion in earned benefits to veterans and survivors. The American Legion has accredited service officers to help you, free of charge, understand your benefits or file a claim. Find one near you by searching here.
2. Time to check on your battle buddies
The American Legion’s Buddy Check program was launched in March 2019 as an initiative to urge local American Legion posts to contact veterans in their communities to see how they are doing and if they needed any help. The program has now reached more than 1 million veterans, according to Consolidated Post Reports (CPRs) between 2020 and 2023.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will conduct its first National Buddy Check Week from Oct. 16-20. During VA’s Buddy Check Week, veterans are asked to make a pledge to contact up to 10 of their battle buddies and friends from service, as well as complete peer wellness, resiliency and S.A.V.E. suicide prevention training.
If your post, district or department is planning a Buddy Check Week event, please let us know ahead of time so we can possibly arrange coverage through our national media channels. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the details for your Buddy Check event: location, date and time, as well as number of participants.
Resources to get started: An American Legion Buddy Check Toolkit is available that explains the program, provides steps to conducting a successful Buddy Check, gives sample scripts and more.
3. Legion calls for support of immigrant veterans
Join The American Legion in calling for Congress to streamline the process for immigrant veterans to more easily obtain their citizenship which they earned through their service to our country. The American Legion supports H.R. 4569, the Veteran Service Recognition Act of 2023, which honors the sacrifices of our immigrant servicemembers by giving them enhanced opportunities to become U.S. citizens and preventing their unjust deportation from the country they swore an oath to defend.
“Men and women who served honorably should not face undue barriers to citizenship or face deportation from the country they served or fought to defend,” wrote American Legion National Commander Daniel J. Seehafer. “Congress must act to ensure our nation honors the service of non-citizen immigrants who have honorably served our nation.”
There’s more: Visit The American Legion’s Grassroots Action Center, a platform for connecting American Legion members and advocates with their members of Congress on Legion-supported legislative issues. Through this site, veterans and advocates can contact their representatives to pass other important legislation such as the Afghan Adjustment Act.
4. Gaming to recruit
Department of New Jersey Legionnaire Mike Smith won a new gaming PC during the 2023 American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., last August. Smith won the PC through a drawing at the REGIMENT GAMING display in the convention’s exhibit hall.
A U.S. Army Reserves and Air Force veteran, the 56-year-old Smith has been gaming since the late 1980s and joined REGIMENT around a year ago. He knows exactly how he wants to use the new PC at Post 174.
“I want to use this as a recruiting tool, as a platform to reach out to younger veterans and say, ‘Hey, come down to the Legion. Hang out. Check out the computer we won. Sit down and play some games,’” Smith said. “For the families with kids that we have at the post, they can come to events and their kids can play the educational games.
“I want to make a big splash about this … get some local press to come by,” Smith added. “I want this to be a platform for the younger veterans in our area. And hopefully, as news gets out, it doesn’t have to be just here. It can be at other places, too.”
A partnership: The American Legion is now the official veteran service organization of REGIMENT Gaming, the nation’s largest military gaming community. Learn more about this partnership and how you can get involved.
5. Learn how to start a post
The American Legion Internal Affairs and Membership Division is resuming its Training Tuesday sessions on Sept. 26. The topic of discussion for this month is how to start an American Legion post, which will include membership recruiting strategies and community engagement opportunities.
The virtual training will be held from 7-8 p.m. Eastern time. Register here.
More training: Visit legion.org/training/training-tuesdays for recorded sessions of past Training Tuesday sessions on mental health, Legion programs, membership and more.
Greetings, Sons of The American Legion,
We are off and working to make 2023-24 a great year! What an honor to be elected as your national commander and be able to represent my grandfather’s service in the Army during World War II.
“Representing More Than Me” is my slogan for the year because I truly believe that is what the Sons of The American Legion should be all about. As we sign the membership paper it is a commitment to pay respect to our family member’s service in our military. Let’s make sure that our commitment is worth the sacrifices they made.
I believe in the Four Pillars of our organization, and what they stand for. The American Legion was built believing in Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation, Americanism, Children & Youth and National Security and they are still the core beliefs of what the American Legion Family stands for. I have issued a commander’s challenge to all squadrons to support the Four Pillars and become a National Four Pillar Squadron. To do so, all you need to do is raise one dollar per member each for Operation Comfort Warriors (VA&R), the Child Welfare Foundation (Children & Youth) and your department’s Boys State program (Americanism) and hold a blood drive (National Security). You will then receive an award for being a National Four Pillar Squadron. That is not that hard to do, if we plan and work to get it done.
I believe that the Sons of The American Legion can reach new heights and crush our records for hours volunteered and donations. It will take all of us working and believing in the work we do to help our veterans, children and community. Aaron Tippin sang a song that said, “You’ve got to stand for something or you will fall for anything.” Let’s stand for what is right and show that our family’s service is worth all of us being the best Son we can be. “Be the One” in more ways than one.
“Representing More Than Me”
Donald L. “JR” Hall, Jr.
Sons of The American Legion
The Sons of The American Legion approved a $250,000 donation to the Veterans & Children Foundation during the SAL’s 51st National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
The donation from the SAL Reserve Fund met the guidelines set by a 2017 American Legion resolution that establishes a ceiling for the fund and calls for money in excess of that ceiling to be transferred “to an approved American Legion charity for America’s veterans or youth.”
“The Sons of The American Legion always strive to support our nation’s veterans and youth, and being able to provide this kind of support all at once to the Veterans & Children Foundation is something that every SAL member should be proud of,” said SAL National Commander Donald L. “JR” Hall, Jr.
Three years ago, Florida’s American Legion Riders started their Seven Bridges POW/MIA Remembrance Day Ride & Ceremony. Around 160 riders and 40 passengers took part in the ride, which starts at Adamec Harley-Davidson in Jacksonville, traverses the Seven Bridges of Jacksonville that cross the St. John’s River and finishes at the National POW/MIA Memorial & Museum for a ceremony.
A similar ride took place in 2022 on the Saturday after National POW/MIA Recognition Day, with more than 200 motorcycles taking part. And this year’s ride, which took place Sept. 16, blew those numbers out of the water: 248 motorcycles and a total of 361 participants.
But as happy as he is to see participation continue to grow, Department of Florida POW-MIA Chairman Denny Luke – a Legion Rider and member of Dewitt B. Tilden Memorial American Legion Post 316 in Atlantic Beach – it’s the impact of the ride’s mission that really hit home for Luke.
He shared a message he received following this year’s ride from one of its participants:
This is our first time to participate in this ride of remembrance for our POW and MIA servicemembers. My husband is a Vietnam veteran, and I am a Gold Star Daughter (of a Vietnam War KIA). He was MIA for a short time, and it seemed like an eternity of living hell, of not knowing and hoping. Thank you so much for honoring the POW/MIA daddies, and especially the dad of mine and my siblings.”
“It makes you very emotional,” Luke said. “There were a lot of people on the ride or at the ceremony who were POWs or are relatives of POWs/MIAs. Any of us who have worn the uniform … we’ve sat down and had a meal with a (fellow servicemember, watched them walk out the door, and the next time we’d see them would be in a flag-draped coffin.
“I can’t imagine the heartache of watching your buddy walk through the door and never return. I cannot imagine the strife that family members have when they get the message that their loved one is MIA. To me, that’s unimaginable, and I’m honored to honor their sacrifice.”
Department of Florida Commander Michael Raymond, American Legion Auxiliary Department President Dee Bell and Sons of The American Legion Detachment Commander Gerard Sambets were among the Florida Legion Family leadership who attended the event, with Raymond and Bell riding on the back of motorcycles.
During the ceremony that took place at the National POW/MIA Memorial & Museum, attendees heard from Meghan Wagoner, the daughter of former U.S. Navy pilot Scott Speicher. Shot down on the first day of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Speicher was missing in action until his remains were found by U.S. Marines in Iraq in 2009.
“She gave a very emotional and moving rendition of everything they went through,” Luke said of Wagoner’s address. “They had about 18 years of not knowing.”
Luke said the purpose of the ride and ceremony isn’t just to honor U.S. POWs and MIAs and show support for their families. It’s about educating the general public that more than 80,000 servicemembers remain unaccounted for since World War II.
“We put out that the (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency) needs DNA samples from any relatives of servicemembers who are MIA,” Luke said. “If we can get the word out, quite possibly the remains that have been found but not identified can be identified and brought home. We put this ride on to inform the public the hunt is not over, and they can help by either volunteering, or if they’re a relative of an MIA they can submit a DNA sample, and hopefully we can repatriate some of these souls.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Sept. 20 awarded $52.5 million in grants to 80 community-based organizations working to prevent veteran suicides.
The grants, part of the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program, were awarded to organizations in 43 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and American Samoa. They will help these organizations provide or coordinate the provision of suicide prevention services for eligible veterans and their families. For more information and the list of awardees, visit the SSG Fox SPGP website.
Reducing the rate of veterans who die by suicide is the focus of The American Legion’s highest priority, Be the One. The mission is aimed at reducing the perceived stigma associated with mental health treatment, raising awareness about the issue and empowering everyone to take the appropriate action when a veteran may be at risk.
Additionally, VA announced:
• Its new PSAs on suicide prevention: The PSA directs viewers to the website VA.gov/REACH where veterans and family members can navigate a range of resources available to help in a time of need. That’s why the new PSA asks the question: “When was the last time you asked for help?” Learn more here.
• New program yields results: More than 32,000 veterans in crisis have received free emergency health care under a new VA program. Since Jan. 17, veterans in acute suicidal crisis have been able to go to any VA or non-VA health-care facility for emergency health care at no cost – including inpatient or crisis residential care for up to 30 days and outpatient care for up to 90 days.
• 988 number hits milestone: Since the launch of “Dial 988 then press 1” as the shortened Veterans Crisis Line number in July 2022, the crisis line has fielded more than 1.1 million contacts. This includes over 953,000 calls, an increase of 12.1% from the same timeframe from the previous year, with an average speed to answer of 9.48 seconds. There was also a year-over-year increase in text messages (58.1%) and online chats received (10%).
“There is nothing more important to VA than preventing veteran suicide — nothing,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said. “One veteran suicide is one too many, and VA will continue to use every tool at our disposal to prevent these tragedies and save veterans’ lives.”
DoD announces effort to make it easier for those discharged for sexual orientation to obtain corrective relief
On the 12th anniversary of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced an effort to make it more accessible and efficient for veterans who were discharged based on their sexual orientation to obtain corrective relief. This includes the launch of a new web platform that consolidates DADT resources.
“Over the past decade, we’ve tried to make it easier for servicemembers discharged based on their sexual orientation to obtain corrective relief,” Austin said in a statement. “While this process can be difficult to navigate, we are working to make it more accessible and efficient. In the coming weeks, we will be initiating new outreach campaigns to encourage all servicemembers and veterans who believe they have suffered an error or injustice to seek correction to their military records.”
During a Pentagon briefing earlier today, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks provided more details about her department’s new initiative. “DoD will, for the first time, begin proactively reviewing the military records of veterans discharged because of their sexual orientation, who may be eligible for discharge upgrades, but have not yet applied,” she said. “We’ll start with those discharged during the period of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Where the VA and the National Archives might have digitized records that can help expedite our review, we’ll seek to collaborate with them. And when we find indications that someone’s less-than-honorable discharge was due to their sexual orientation, we’ll put their name forward to their respective military department’s review board for consideration. As we do this, we will be laser-focused on preserving the privacy and dignity of each veteran.”