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American Legion’s ‘Be the One’ aims to destigmatize mental health support

Several motorcycle riders line up outside the Virginia War Memorial. Several are wearing leather jackets with a Combat Vets Association logo and their respective combat tour location patches
Veterans park their bikes in front of the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond on Nov. 20. (Photo: Jackie Llanos/VPM)

The American Legion recently launched an initiative to reduce the rate of veteran suicide by destigmatizing mental health issues.

Be the One's goal is to make mental health support more accessible to veterans, because of the high rates of suicide within the community. For the past two decades, the suicide rate for veterans was 57.3% greater than for non-veteran U.S. adults, according to a 2022 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs  report.

Part of the effort to destigmatize asking for mental health help starts within individual communities. Be the One encourages local chapters of American Legion to provide peer-to-peer support at events, even when they do not focus on raising awareness on the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide.

According to Randy Gunn, who has been a member of the American Legion for 32 years, Chesterfield County’s Veterans Day Motorcycle Biker Rally in November served as the perfect opportunity to promote the initiative.

“We are attempting to bring awareness to let anybody who is on the bubble or having trouble know that we can bring it to the forefront and give them the right information,” Gunn said, “so they can call somebody and get some help.”

This was the fifth year that Chesterfield has organized the Veterans Day event, which honored Vietnam War veterans who had difficulty acclimating to their communities when they returned home.

Ed Norris, an Army veteran who attended the rally, said he was glad that there had been recognition of all veterans.

“I'm really pleased with it,” he said. “Today has turned out to be a pretty good day.”

Despite the rescheduling of the event from Veterans Day due to rain, Vicki Kliger, Chesterfield County’s special events coordinator, was pleased with the turnout of around 60 riders and their families.

“We need to always note how important our veterans are to us,” she said. “I think sometimes we don't always acknowledge that. So, it's just our way of trying to help bring some acknowledgment, and some services to them and some gratitude.”

The Virginia Department of Veterans Services also had a booth at the event to distribute information about resources and benefits for veterans.

Non-veterans can also get involved with the initiative by reading the Be the One website and reaching out to people in their community who may exhibit signs of depression.

“So long has gone by that we think we didn't know what to do,” Gunn said. “But the American Legion is bringing that to the forefront, so we all know what to do.”

The initiative also includes a round-the-clock Veterans Crisis Line where current or former servicemembers and their families can get immediate support. The line is confidential, and may be accessed by dialing 988 and then pressing 1, by virtual chat, or by sending a text message to 838255.

Mental health and suicide prevention resources

In emergency situations, call 988 or 911.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

  • Deaf or Hard of Hearing? 1-800-799-4889
  • En Español: 1-888-628-9454

Mental Health America of Virginia Warm Line: 1-866-400-MHAV (6428)

  • Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Saturday, Sunday and Holidays, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Spanish Services (Friday and Saturday), 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Text/Chat Support (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday), 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Veterans Crisis Line & Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, Press 1 Crisis Text Line: 741-741