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American Legion national commander visits Jackson

American Legion Post 158 Service Officer Thomas Feltmann (left) gifted Jim Troiola a hand-crafted walking stick during the visit. Photo by Jay Forness

The national commander of the American Legion, Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola visited the Altenthal-Joerns Post 158 in Jackson on Sept. 29, as part of a larger tour through Missouri.

Members of the Louis K. Juden Post 63 in Cape Girardeau were also in attendance.

Troiola, who was elected national commander during the American Legion’s 103rd national convention on Sept. 1, said he made it his goal to see as many Legion posts across the country as possible. “We are a bottom up organization,” he said. “Everything we do comes through the post level.”

He is a life-time member of American Legion Post 1682 in Rockland County, New York, and currently lives in Maine to be close to one of his daughters and his grandchildren.

Troiolia served in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserves from 1969 to 1974. Troiola completed a tour aboard the USS Nitro, an auxiliary ammunition ship with the Sixth Fleet. He was honorably discharged as a boatswain’s mate third class. Troiola is also a member of the Sons of the American Legion, based on the World War II service of his father.

As part of the visit, Troiola spoke about the national organization’s new initiatives, including the “Be the One” program to help reduce the rate of veteran suicide. It is estimated that between 17 and 22 veterans or service members take their lives each day – totaling more than 6,000 annually. The rate of suicide for veterans is more than 50% higher than that of non-veteran adults.

The Be the One campaign asks Legion members and everyone in their community to “be the one to save one life” by helping an individual veteran who may be struggling with their mental health.

“This is about identifying veterans in your own communities that are struggling with problems — PTSD, financial, fitting into their homes, fitting into their families, just coming back from the service, anything that’s causing a problem in the family unit,” Troiola said. “We need to identify these veterans, and we need to provide them with services in the local communities.”

Troiola said the Be the One campaign will be the major priority for the organization for the next seven years, adding that ending veteran suicide and destigmatizing asking for mental help support will be extremely difficult.

“We’d like you to invite your veterans and their families into your post,” Troiola said to the post. “Invite those veterans and their whole family, because if the veteran is still in that stigma stage, you may hear something from a family member that something isn’t right.”

Troiola stressed that the program works best when individual posts build trusted relationships among veterans, learn how to start conversations with those veterans who may be struggling and identify the resources that exist in their community to help these veterans.

“We have 12,000 Legion posts all around the world in seventeen countries, and we want to make resource centers out of them,” Troiola said. “We can’t do that at the national level. We don’t know who the people are in the communities. We have names, but you know who they are. You probably know a lot of them that are struggling, and we need to find out what’s going on with them and we need to get them help.”

Any veteran experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, as well as their loved ones, can confidentially seek assistance via the Military/Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 998 and pressing “one,” via text at 838255 or chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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