Army veteran dedicates himself to helping others who struggle with mental health September 21, 2020   As a platoon sergeant in the U.S. Army with 20 years of service, David Sousa knew how to watch out for and help the men and women around him when they faced struggles. He didn’t expect to lose a friend and find that he needed help too. “A good friend of mine committed suicide in March 2013 and it triggered some major emotions with me. I had a hard time dealing with my own struggles, and I made several attempts at suicide,” said Sousa. “I went to a military training called Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) to prevent suicide by recognizing signs, providing a skilled intervention and developing a safety plan to keep someone alive. ASIST opened my eyes to seek out therapy for myself.” Sousa, who lives in Sparks, Nevada, started a journey that led him to dedicate himself to helping other service members and veterans who struggle with mental health. An important early step was getting connected to the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health Office of Suicide Prevention as he began working through his PTSD. “We started a group dealing with the rise in veteran suicides and developed some courses of action,” Sousa said. “In 2014, I was appointed by then-Governor Brian Sandoval to the Veterans Suicide Prevention and Awareness Council. We worked on landmark legislation in the state mandating that anyone with a health care license must get training for suicide prevention.” Sousa retired from the Army in 2015 after more than two decades. Highly decorated for his honorable service, his experiences ranged from humanitarian missions in Kenya and Somalia to combat and security missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seeing so much while on active duty gives him empathy and motivation as he looks for ways to help veterans. One meaningful resource for Sousa is “The Spartan Pledge,” which resonated with him as he met and corresponded with Boone Cutler, creator of the pledge and a fellow veteran. “The pledge is, ‘I will not take my life by my own hand without talking to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family.’ It’s powerful,” said Sousa. The pledge to stay connected and find a mission in life is valuable to Sousa, and he’s proud of making it a part of events with the VFW and a VA hospital. Sousa is a member of Post 3396 and the Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service Representative at the VA Sierra Nevada Healthcare System in Reno. He’s a past Post, District and Department commander and has served on the VFW National Legislative Committee. Currently, Sousa also is involved with several groups that host outdoor walks, hikes and bicycle rides for veterans. It’s become another good way to ensure service members find connection and activities to stay healthy physically and mentally. He’s committed to serving their loved ones as well. “I assist with and create programs for service members, veterans and their families to receive valuable training and to build camaraderie in our communities,” Sousa said. “I also help people in my community that are suffering from suicide to get them what they need. That could be people in need of immediate assistance that have thoughts of suicide as well as being there for families if they’ve lost someone to suicide to help them with resources and community support.” Sousa knows his new mission is vital, and he plans to keep serving as long as he’s needed.
(The American Legion) Around 82,000 Americans remain missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War and other conflicts. Friday, Sept. 18, is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, when Americans are asked to pause and reflect on the sacrifices made by the military men and women who are imprisoned or unaccounted for as a result of their military service. As part of the day of recognition, held each year on the third Friday of September, Americans and businesses should also fly their POW/MIA flags, which commemorate U.S. servicemembers who are recognized prisoners of war (POWs) or are missing in action (MIA). In observance of the day, rallies and ceremonies are also held throughout the nation to honor those U.S. servicemembers who have yet to return home, and the families they've left behind without closure as to the fate of their loved ones. American Legion Family members are encouraged to share how they observe POW/MIA Recognition Day by posting stories on the popular Legiontown website, The American Legion remains committed to achieving a full accounting of all U.S. servicemembers from all war eras who are either imprisoned or listed as missing in action. As part of this commitment, the Legion encourages a return of living POWs, repatriation of the remains of the fallen from war zones abroad, or a determination through convincing evidence that neither is possible, as noted in Resolution 22 from the 99th National Convention. The following is a suggested POW/MIA Remembrance Service to be used at American Legion meetings, banquets, luncheons or memorial gatherings in conjunction with the POW/MIA flag draped over an empty chair. The service can be adopted or modified appropriately. Members should remove their caps during this service. Those who have served, and those currently serving in the uniformed services of the United States, are ever mindful that the sweetness of enduring peace has always been tainted by the bitterness of personal sacrifice. We are compelled to never forget that while we enjoy our daily pleasures, there are others who have endured and may still be enduring the agonies of pain, deprivation and imprisonment. Before we begin our activities, we pause to recognize our POWs and MIAs. We call your attention to this small table which occupies a place of dignity and honor. It is set for one, symbolizing the fact that members of our armed forces are missing from our ranks. They are referred to as POWs and MIAs. We call them comrades. They are unable to be with their loved ones and families, so we join together to pay humble tribute to them, and to bear witness to their continued absence. The table is small, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner, alone against his or her suppressors. The tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their Country’s call to arms. The single rose in the vase signifies the blood they may have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America. This rose also reminds us of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep faith, while awaiting their return. The red ribbon on the vase represents an unyielding determination for a proper accounting of our comrades who are not among us. A slice of lemon on the plate reminds us of their bitter fate. The salt sprinkled on the plate reminds us of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait. The glass is inverted, they cannot toast with us at this time. The chair is empty. They are NOT here. The candle is reminiscent of the light of hope, which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home, away from their captors, to the open arms of a grateful nation. The American flag reminds us that many of them may never return - and have paid the supreme sacrifice to insure our freedom. Let us pray to the Supreme Commander that all of our comrades will soon be back within our ranks. Let us remember - and never forget their sacrifice. May God forever watch over them and protect them and their families.
WASHINGTON — The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) Office and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today 42 states and one U.S. territory signed the PREVENTS state proclamation pledging their prioritization of suicide prevention for Veterans and all citizens in their jurisdictions.  Each state pledging promises to promote and amplify the REACH public health campaign that encourages everyone to reach out to those who are vulnerable and to reach out when they themselves are in need of help.  As part of the implementation of the president’s roadmap, the PREVENTS Office is meeting with state and community leaders in all 50 states and territories to ensure best practices for suicide prevention are identified and applied, efforts are coordinated within the state and federal government and the public health messages are promoted before the initiative concludes in March 2022.  “With the commitment of our nation’s governors, this undertaking has moved beyond an idea to reality — as it is only viable when governors enlist the full authority and backing of their state to combat this crisis,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “September is National Suicide Prevention Month and through the outpouring of support echoed by governors issuing state proclamations, their efforts assist with meeting the requirements of the president’s White House Task Force for PREVENTS, which provides the nation with an essential, collaborative forum to address this national crisis through local and state-focused solutions to help us end Veteran suicide.  To engage all 50 states and five U.S. territories, the PREVENTS office developed a state proclamation for governors codifying their full commitment to preventing suicide in their states, with a special focus on Veterans and other high-risk populations, such as Native Americans, first responders, individuals age 10-34 for whom suicide is the second leading cause of death, people living in rural communities and LGBTQ individuals.  Additionally, the office is working with key community leaders — including Veterans Service Organizations, Military Service Organizations, business leaders, academic institutions and faith-based communities. To date, PREVENTS has held in-person visits in Arizona, California, Florida, Tennessee and Texas, and virtual visits in Indiana and Oklahoma.  “Collaborating with state and community leaders to advance the mission of suicide prevention for Veterans and all Americans is imperative,” said PREVENTS Executive Director Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D. “As we move forward to change the culture around mental health in general and suicide in particular, we will continue to elevate and amplify the great work our states are already doing as we leverage lessons learned and best practices to accelerate our efforts to heal families and save lives.”   PREVENTS was established by Executive Order 13861, March 5, 2019. The Roadmap, released by President Trump June 17, emphasizes the critical role of states and local communities in suicide prevention.  PREVENTS is charged with creating an all of government and all of nation approach to preventing suicide among the nation’s Veterans and all Americans through a national public health campaign, enhanced community integration, prioritized research activities and implementation strategies that emphasize improved overall health and well-being. 
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie today released the following statement after a bipartisan group of more than 30 senators called on House leaders to pass S. 785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which would expand mental health resources for Veterans both inside and outside VA. “The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is an honest and bipartisan solution to an issue that demands Congress’ immediate attention. The bill would boost care at VA facilities by expanding in-person and telehealth mental health services and allowing Guardsmen and Reservists to receive counseling at VA Vet Centers across the country. It would also expand the amount of non-VA community resources available to Veterans, wherever they may live, a key component of President Trump’s President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) initiative. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and we call on the House to give it the timely attention and bipartisan support it deserves.” – Secretary Robert Wilkie
The American Legion As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make social distancing a priority for the health and safety of everyone, and to stop the spread of the virus, Fall Meetings of The American Legion National Executive Committee will be held virtually. This includes the meeting of commissions and committees. In advance of these meetings, commission chairmen or division directors will send attending members instructions on how to join the meeting. The month and date for the meetings is as follows. September 3 – Endowment Fund 4 – Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission 15 – Child Welfare Foundation 15 – Committee on Children & Youth 15 – Committee on Youth Education 15 – American Legion Baseball Committee 15 – Youth Cadet Law Enforcement Committee 18 – National Security Commission 18 – Veterans Employment & Education Commission 19 – Marketing Commission 24 – Internal Affairs Commission 28 – Media & Communications Commission 29 – Internal Affairs Commission October 2 – Finance Commission 3 – Americanism Commission 5 – Convention Commission 5-6 – Finance Commission   National Executive Committee Meetings Oct. 14-15
(VAntage Point) September is Suicide Prevention Month. This month – and every month – you can take action to help prevent suicide. Simple acts of support can make a real difference to someone going through a difficult time. Check in with a phone call, send a text or an email. Simply reaching out can remind someone they are not alone. Resources Long Description Take time to check in with Veterans this Suicide Prevention Month. Here are some resources that can help you Be There for a Veteran in your life: Start the Conversation: This toolkit provides the information about common issues that many Veterans face. It also offers concrete steps to help you support a Veteran who may be dealing with emotional distress. Learn tips to start conversations about mental health and suicide using these fact sheets and find resources to understand common challenges that you and other Veterans may face. VA’s Make the Connection: This website encourages Veterans and those in their community to explore topics of mental health and common life challenges. It also has videos of Veterans openly discussing their experiences with mental health treatment and recovery. You are never alone, especially if you or someone you know is thinking of ending their life. At the Veterans Crisis Line, caring, qualified responders are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via phone, chat and text. Veterans having a difficult time or those concerned about a Veteran can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or text 838255. Take a moment to visit for resources you can use and share. Reporters covering this issue can download VA’s Safe Messaging Best Practices fact sheet or visit for important guidance on how to communicate about suicide. Matthew Miller, Ph.D., is the director of VA’s Suicide Prevention Program, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
(American Legion) 100 Miles for Hope is a virtual 100-mile walk/run/ride challenge that started Aug. 3 and will continue through Veterans Day in 2020. It’s a way to invigorate donations for the Veterans & Children Foundation, as well as encourage American Legion Family members to be active in this time of social distancing. The foundation serves two primary functions. It provides critical grants for military and veteran parents in unexpected financial crises, and support for service officers in their tireless efforts to obtain care, benefits and opportunities for disabled veterans and families. The American Legion's 3,000 accredited service officers provide free assistance for any veteran in need. Participants in 100 Miles for Hope would have from the official kickoff to run, walk, bike or ride their motorcycle for 100 miles. That time frame is 100 days so it would mean being active for just a mile day, roughly 20 to 30 minutes for walkers — which coincidentally is the activity level many health experts recommend.  Some may choose to walk a mile a day. Others may do longer stretches of walks, runs and/or bike rides on a less frequent basis. Legion Riders could easily knock off 100 miles on a single trip. To register, go to the Emblem Sales site. For a $30 registration fee, participants will receive a men’s, women’s or children's tech shirt, and a sign they can display once the 100 miles is completed. After figuring the cost for the shirt, other materials and shipping, the remaining proceeds will go directly into the Veterans and Childrens Foundation. Participants are encouraged to wear their shirts when they are walking, running or riding their 100 miles. Additionally, they are encouraged to share their experiences on social media using the hashtag #100MilesForHope. After completing their 100 miles, participants can download and print a Certificate of Accomplishment. They are also encouraged to share their journey on a special category on Legiontown where they can publish their stories and photos.   
By Mackenzie Wolf   Bryan Crosson always loved creative writing. From a young age, the Marine Corps veteran used writing as a form of catharsis. So when one of his professors at Georgetown University reached out to him about possibly publishing a book, Crosson was struck by the opportunity. “I figured if nothing else,” he said, “even if the book doesn't get published, it is an exercise in creativity for myself and it's a structure that holds me accountable to writing and creating something new every week.” Writing his book, “The Lonesome Thread,” was more than just an exercise in writing and publishing for Crosson, who served as a military advisor in Sangin District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan — it was a period of learning more about himself and deeper self-actualization. “I initially wanted to write it because I think there's a lot of power in the amount of time that we spend alone and how we structured that time,” said Crosson, a member of Post 297 in The American Legion Department of Maryland. “It’s this idea that the time that we spend out in the woods or in our own heads, alone and thinking about whether or not we made the right decision or wrestling with feelings of self-doubt, but then you gain this level of confidence from navigating the woods on your own … this is the type of confidence I think more people need in everyday life.” In terms of learning about himself, Crosson says this was what he wanted to explore. “Taking that pretty simple idea and turning that into a bigger idea of the inner lives that we build for ourselves … that was very much a learning experience for me,” he said. The reflections Crosson found in writing his book became timely with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I started writing it in January because it was something that was deeply important to me,” said Crosson. “And then it just so happened that by March the world had stepped off the precipice into this crisis of a pandemic and social isolation.” “The Lonesome Thread” started out as anecdotes that Crosson had about all the time he’d spent alone and the techniques that he’d used to structure his time from day to day. From there, the book blossomed as he started to collect stories that span place and time. Crosson delves into stories of those who’ve taken the time to go into retreat and spend time alone — from historical figures like Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, to Andy Puddicombe, the Buddhist monk and co-founder of a modern-day digital health company Headspace — they’ve used their experiences and lessons learned in solitude as catalysts that then allowed them to return to society and make better contributions than they had been before. “There are quite a few anecdotes from my own life experiences, but I think what really makes it special is being able to include all of these stories and thoughts from other people and places,” Crosson said. “What I wanted to do with this is make it an entertaining read that's worth people's time, and to also create a kind of a toolkit for people. So I included tools for how to create time in your life.” While Crosson was writing his book, he was also pursuing his Master of Business Administration at Georgetown University. Being self-disciplined in setting aside that time without distraction for himself was critical. That meant avoiding any kind of social interaction — even for just 30 minutes at a time. “But if you take that time every day and aggregate it over six months, then you’ve given yourself a solid amount of time," he said. "Taking that time to be on my own … it made me more present. And that's another premise of the book as well.” If people would take one thing away after reading his book, Crosson says he hopes that people come to grasp that time isn’t something to waste. “Whenever life does go back to normal, we'll look back at this time and we’ll want to feel like we did something useful with it. For me, it was writing this book," he said. "I think everybody should seek out some type of creative endeavor and then use that to enhance the relationships that we have and share the things that we create with people.”
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today it is partnering with OnStar’s emergency services to improve access to suicide prevention resources for Veterans. This partnership will offer Veterans in crisis the opportunity to be transferred to around-the-clock, confidential support via VA’s Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) when they use the emergency services button in an OnStar-equipped vehicle or OnStar Guardian smartphone app. “The VA-OnStar partnership aims to promote suicide prevention and reduce deaths by suicide by providing additional resources to Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This partnership will help Veterans access suicide prevention support services and assistance directly and immediately. More than 400 VA suicide prevention coordinators and their teams, located at every VA medical center, connect Veterans with care and educate the community about suicide prevention programs and resources daily.”  An average of 20 Veterans die by suicide each day. Through this partnership, VA and OnStar, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors, will collaborate to provide education and training to VA clinicians and OnStar call center staff to facilitate suicide prevention efforts for Veterans. Additionally, VA will provide resources and education to OnStar about military culture and how to determine if a caller is a Veteran. “OnStar services are designed to help our customers go out into the world feeling safer, and we recognize that for many people, and in particular Veterans, a crisis can start from within,” said Catherine Bishop, senior global emergency services manager for OnStar. “This partnership with VA allows our emergency-certified advisors to better serve the heroes who have served us.” Suicide prevention is a top priority and VA has made great strides in Veteran suicide prevention, especially in crisis intervention. Partnerships such as this are coordinated by the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Community Engagement.
American Legion AUG 18, 2020   The American Legion issued the following statement today highlighting its commitment to veterans who rely on timely mail delivery to receive prescriptions. “Millions of our nation's veterans depend on a strong U.S. Postal Service for critical needs such as prescription refills. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) fills over half a million prescriptions each day through the Consolidated Mail Output Pharmacy system. The vast majority of these prescriptions are mailed to veterans through the USPS. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reduced availability of in-person services at VA facilities, including access to the pharmacy, places veterans in larger reliance on mail-ordered prescriptions and a strong USPS. If our leaders in Washington, D.C., choose not to fund the post office by the end of September, The American Legion is concerned it could have dire consequences for the millions of veterans who rely on the mail every day to deliver life-saving medication. The Postal Service often plays a pivotal role in the delivery of paperwork needed to process claims for veterans who have been disabled in the service of their country. “The American Legion has spoken out in favor of a strong USPS before with the passage of Resolution No. 344 at our annual national convention in 2016. The American Legion implores Congress to address this issue impacting our nation’s veterans in an expedited manner so they can continue to receive the critical services they need during these difficult times.”