Preventing military veterans’ suicides deemed a priority
By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
The American Legion’s National Commander Vincent J. Troiola addressed a senior-echelon gathering of business, military, and law enforcement leaders during the monthly meeting-luncheon of the Association of the United States Army’s (AUSA) Fort Jackson-Palmetto State Chapter at Fort Jackson, Tuesday, March 7.
Troiola, who has served as commander of the nation’s largest military veteran’s service organization since Sept. 2022, discussed a variety of key legislative priorities and pressing veterans’ issues, chief among them the rise in veteran suicides nationwide.
Speaking of the Legion’s ongoing BE THE ONE campaign, Troiola urged attendees to: “Be the one to discuss a topic that for years went unmentioned in polite society. Be the one to reach out to a veteran who may be struggling. Be the one to encourage the veteran to seek help. Be the one to follow-up with the veteran to let him or her know that they are not forgotten. Be the one to convince a veteran that life is worth living and that suicide is absolutely not an option. In other words, be the one to save one.”
Troiola delivered a similar message to the U.S. Congress a week earlier, to officers and senior staff NCO’s at Shaw Air Force Base earlier in the day, and then to members of the S.C. General Assembly on Wednesday.
The meeting with AUSA’s Fort Jackson-Palmetto State Chapter was not the first time ranking veterans-organization influencers like Troiola have addressed the Midlands’ AUSA organization. In January 2020, retired U.S. Army four-star General Carter Ham, then-president of AUSA, spoke to chapter members at Columbia’s Capitol City Club.
Troiola’s message on Tuesday resonated with Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, president of the Fort Jackson-Palmetto State Chapter, whose near 900-employee Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) has been recognized as one of the nation’s thought-leader agencies in terms of addressing military veteran and deputy suicides. In a 2019 New York Police Department (NYPD) report from the NYPD Inspector General’s Office, RCSD was referenced as an agency in which its “training removes the perceived stigma or the perception that being a cop means you have to prove yourself, be tough, and not tell others how you feel.”
According to Lott, “A deputy’s or a former deputy’s mental wellness – like a military veteran’s – is near-and-dear to us. Always has been, which is why Mr. Troiola’s words ring true. And yes, ‘Be the one’ must be a priority mantra.”
The AUSA meeting concluded with a recognition of retired Maj. Gen. Eli Wishart, former S.C. State Guard commander and retired U.S. Army Special Forces colonel, receiving the James M. Roche Spirit of Volunteerism Award from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
“Our [AUSA] chapter is unique in that we don’t compete with other military veterans organizations,” said Lott. “They are our partners, not our competitors.”
– Pictured (L-R) are Maj. Gen. Van McCarty, the adjutant general of South Carolina; Mr. Vincent J. Troiola, national commander of the American Legion; Brig. Gen. Jason E. Kelly, commanding general of Fort Jackson; Maj. Gen. Robert D. Harter, commanding general of the 81st Readiness Division – Army Reserve, and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, president of AUSA’s Fort Jackson-Palmetto State Chapter.