By Jason R. O’Day • June 28, 2022 01:15 PM
DICKINSON — The North Dakota American Legion hosted its annual summer convention Saturday at the Grand Roosevelt Hotel in Dickinson. Two high-ranking leaders within the organization, National Vice Commander Angel Narvaez of Carolina, Puerto Rico, and National Commander candidate Vincent Troiola of New City, New York, emphasized some of the organization’s goals and ongoing projects.
“Right now our highest priority is eliminating veteran suicide,” Troiola said. “We’ll be developing a peer-to-peer program where every post in the United States will have the opportunity to identify veterans in their own communities.”
The initiative will be called “Be the One,” with a buddy system in which American Legion members proactively develop relationships with at-risk veterans in their area and more quickly connect them with proper resources to recover. He noted that the per capita suicide rate for veterans is substantially higher than that of the general population.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the veteran suicide rate from 2000 to 2019 was steadily around 6,000 per year. In the last three months of 2020, the rate increased by 25%. Troiola hopes this program will help mitigate stigmas associated with mental health issues.
“There’s a stigma out there among those veterans that if they come forward, maybe they’d be embarrassed, their pride would be hurt or they could lose their jobs, they could lose their families. A lot of them will not come forward to try and get help,” he said. “Through this peer to peer program, we want to teach our members how to start a conversation with a veteran, and how to listen for something the veteran is saying which will identify that this person has a need.”
He explained they also lead several programs to build character and civic leadership skills among American youth. For example, each year posts around the country host mock government competitions called Boys’ State and Girls’ State.
“They’re split into two separate parties, the federalists and nationalists. They get together, write bills and vote on them in the legislature,” he said. “They learn how to work together and how the government operates.”
The students ultimately choose a governor, who advances to the national level competition. Another way the organization cultivates statesmanship is through public speaking competitions.
“These high school students have to speak from memory on a part of the duties of citizenship,” he said.
The Legion also runs a baseball league.
“We have the American Legion World Series every year in Shelby, North Carolina. And 36% of all Major League Baseball players have played American Legion ball, it’s a pretty big thing,” Troiola said.
In addition to all of these youth programs that award college scholarships, Narvaez said they also have lobbyists in the nation’s Capitol advancing the interests of veterans.
“Right now we’re working on a bill to grant citizenship to immigrants who join the military,” he said.
Troiola added that all posts are happy to have volunteer support for their community engagement projects and veteran support services.
“I would contact either their Legion or veterans service organization in their own communities and ask them how they can help,” he said.