American Legion using Indy 500 sponsorship to raise awareness about veteran suicide

American Legion veteran suicide
James Black/IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS — The American Legion launched a new campaign around ending veteran suicide, using its sponsorship of the No. 48 Dallara-Honda driven by Tony Kanaan in Sunday’s Indy 500 to drive awareness.

Friday marked National Poppy Day, which is “about honoring the fallen by assisting and remembering and serving and supporting the living,” said Sergeant Major Michael Barrett, who took part in a news conference Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Kanaan, team owner Chip Ganassi and American Legion chief marketing officer Dean Kessel.

Noting that Poppy Day commemorates the start of Memorial Day observations, Barrett said the same principles apply to solving the issue of veteran suicide.

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“Saying ‘we remember’ and ‘thank you for your service’ is just not enough,” said Michael P. Barrett, American Legion member and 17th Sergeant Major of the United States Marine Corps. “The best way we can honor those who gave their lives to this country is to support and protect those who served alongside them. I’m talking about the men and women who saw their friend take their last breath in battle or experience one of the other horrors of war that they now must live with for the rest of their life. I’m here today to ask you – no, I am imploring you – to honor our nation’s veterans by joining us in giving everything we’ve got to end veteran suicide.”

During a video played at the news conference, No. 48 co-driver Jimmie Johnson noted that upward of 20 veterans die by suicide daily.

In launching the campaign, Veterans United Home Loans presented a check to The American Legion for $2 million that will be used to expand programs and opportunities for Legionnaires to obtain peer support training and distribute important mental health and wellness tools and resources through The American Legion infrastructure.

The American Legion plans to focus will be on lobbying for legislation, implementing programs and training to strengthen peer support networks for Legionnaires and increasing peer support research.

“From the day of our founding after World War I, The American Legion has been responsible for tackling the most important issues facing our nation’s veterans,” American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford said in a release. “First, it was in creating the Veterans Bureau, now known as the Department of Veterans Affairs. Then it was by authoring the G.I. Bill. We went on to study and fight for disability relief for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress and conditions related to Agent Orange exposure, and so much more. Through our mission and our infrastructure, we can fight the battle to end veteran suicide on all fronts, and that’s exactly what we intend to do.”

“We must do something now,” Barrett said. “We must show our nation’s veterans that there are welcoming spaces, like The American Legion, where they can go for an understanding ear and helpful resources to get the support they need.”