A few experiences from people close to 2023-2024 American Legion Auxiliary National President Lisa Williamson have led to an ALA national focus on preventing veteran/military suicide. Williamson said her focus for the administrative year is surprising to many who know her bubbly personality.
“I know it’s not a subject anybody ever thought I would take on because I like to have fun and roll up my sleeves and go do a service project or have fun and go to a ballgame,” Williamson said. “But the ALA mission has always been there in my mind, and so I think that maybe because it is so unlike what people think of me, it will make even more of a strong impact because this is not something they see me doing. I could have done something less serious.”
Living in Alaska with the shortest day of the year only about seven hours of daylight and being away from family, Williamson said she can see how military members could get depressed in that environment.
“You’ve got that single soldier who is in the barracks, away from family, in the dark, who has no resources when it comes to mental health — I can see why we have an epidemic for veteran/military suicide,” she said.
Additionally, she has a really good friend she met one year when she and her husband, Darrel, went to Mexico. Four years ago, that friend’s son died by suicide. There was no indication. The day it happened, he was upbeat and everything seemed well. He died by suicide using a firearm.
Another story — this one from Williamson’s son — solidified her decision.
“My son is in the Guard and his deskmate on one beautiful summer day went to a lovely lake and died by suicide with a firearm,” she said. “My son worked across from him and had no indication the kid was struggling.”
The No. 1 thing is to destigmatize getting help, she said.
“Especially in the military, you’re made to be tough and strong and so you have to suck it up,” Williamson said. “It’s something that’s engrained in them from the very get-go. They think that getting help is making them weak or less of a person or less of a man.”
She said The American Legion’s Be the One initiative is not just the Legion’s, but The American Legion Family’s with all three leaders — American Legion, Sons of The American Legion, and the ALA — focusing on this important issue for the 2023-2024 ALA administrative year.
“Just be the one to save one,” Williamson said. “All those ones add up. Between three organizations, we are over 2 million strong. If each one of us helps one, there are 2 million we save.”
For veterans: ANY veteran in suicidal crisis can now be seen at any VA or non-VA health care facility FREE OF CHARGE. The veteran does not even have to be enrolled in the VA system for this benefit. It includes up to 30 days of inpatient or 90 days of outpatient care at any VA or non-VA facility.
The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline’s new number—988 then press 1—helps make it easier to remember and share the number to access help in times of need. This service is free and confidential. When you call, chat, or text, a trained responder will listen and help. You decide how much information to share. Support doesn't end with your conversation. Our responders can connect you with the resources you need.
You can also send a text message to 838255 to communicate with trained professionals.
For more information, please visit www.veteranscrisisline.net.
BUDDY CHECKS: Contact your local American Legion post to see if you may volunteer with their Legion’s Buddy Check Program. For more information, please visit www.legion.org/buddycheck/about.
VA S.A.V.E.: Suicide Prevention Training
S.A.V.E. stands for:
Additional information may be found at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/prevention/index.asp.
More information is available in this video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eljsbl3zu-A.
More mental health support information offered by the VA may be found at www.mentalhealth.va.gov.