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Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Washington, D.C., area and the founder and president of Give an Hour™ a nonprofit 501(c)(3), founded in September 2005. The organization's mission is to develop national networks of volunteers capable of responding to both acute and chronic conditions that arise within our society.
Special to Veterans Advantage
Most Americans probably don't know that June 27 is National PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) Awareness Day and June is PTSD Awareness month. In addition, most Americans probably don’t know that a recently released study suggests that suffering even a mild traumatic brain injury can place service members at higher risk for the development of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress. Nor do they know that as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, some Vietnam veterans are experiencing—for the very first time— mental health symptoms associated with the invisible wounds they suffered so long ago.
I don’t know when our nation began drawing attention to issues or populations by assigning a month to a cause or group. Nor do I know the process by which such a designation is achieved. I do know that there are many issues and groups that share the spotlight each month. For example, May was both Mental Health Awareness Month and National Military Appreciation Month. Unfortunately, because there are so many populations and concerns currently recognized—all no doubt quite deserving of the attention—it is likely that our collective limited attention span prevents us from grasping much beyond a cursory understanding of any of the issues being discussed and recognized, unless we have a reason to pay attention.
Meanwhile, although the internet is an amazing technological advancement and an extremely useful tool, it leaves us all struggling to keep up with more information than any of us can possibly process. It is certainly understandable that valuable information is frequently missed. Out of self-preservation, we tune out what we believe is unimportant or seems to be of lesser interest to us. Indeed, marketing professionals spend the bulk of their time looking for ways to reach us—the consumers of information and products—through the information clutter that exists in modern day life. And while clever and creative 5th Avenue wizards can sometimes lead us and our children to buy items that we may neither truly need nor want, we are still more likely to purchase an item or pay attention to an issue if we are personally interested in it or affected by it.
And therein lies a significant problem as we work to build and maintain support for those who serve and their families. While the vast majority of Americans would readily agree that they “support” our troops, most take little if any action to do so. It is very difficult for any of us to respond to every need that seems worthy of our support. We would all love to end world hunger, illiteracy, AIDS, and child abuse, but none of us have unlimited resources or sufficient time to address all of these very concerning issues.
I had the privilege of attending the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago earlier this month. This annual gathering brings together leaders and decision makers to work on the domestic and economic issues affecting our nation. CGI America, like its internationally focused predecessor, aims to challenge participants of the conference to find partners and make commitments for new and innovative programs and projects that can affect real change. It is a very stimulating and exciting environment.
Just as he did last summer, President Clinton began this year’s conference by showcasing a commitment that has already been made—a new and innovative project that is underway. He did this, of course, to inspire attendees to get creative, partner up, and bring forth multiple commitments by the end of the conference.
Got Your 6 will inspire Americans to help bridge the civilian-military divide. Got Your 6 is a campaign led by the entertainment industry that will help create a new conversation in America, one where veterans and military families are perceived as both leaders and civic assets. Click image to enlarge
This year President Clinton chose to showcase the Got Your 6 (www.gotyour6.org) initiative, which joins the entertainment industry with a well-respected collection of nonprofits and veterans service organizations focused on supporting our military and veterans community. “Got Your 6” is a military term that means “I’ve got your back.” The initiative behind the phrase beautifully illustrates the CGI model. It is a campaign that unites multiple organizations to ensure that those who serve have the opportunities they deserve and the support they need as they return to our communities. The shared belief behind the effort is that those who serve and their families are valuable assets. If we engage them properly, they will help lead our neighborhoods, our communities, and our country into the future. Give an Hour is proud to be the activating partner for Health Pillar of the Got Your 6 initiative.
Not surprisingly, the announcement of the GY6 campaign was extremely well received at CGI America. Many corporate and nonprofit leaders approached me and my GY6 colleagues to express their support and interest in the campaign. Many shared that this was the first they were hearing of the issues that affect those who serve: the significant numbers struggling with post-traumatic stress, the high rate of unemployment among this generation of veterans, and the tremendous financial cost to our nation if we fail to provide adequate care and support to the men and women who have sacrificed so much and ask for so little.
But I also had another interesting and somewhat unsettling experience at CGI. During one session specifically focused on veterans and military families, an attendee became very frustrated about what she considered a failure on the part of those working in the military space. She spoke passionately about her perception that we aren’t all working together toward a common goal. The attendee was not involved in this work herself; she was not part of a military support effort. And she was unaware of the current initiatives underway to meet the needs of those who serve and their families, including the White House’s Joining Forces Initiative (www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces ), Got Your 6, and the Community Blueprint Network (www.handsonnetwork.com/community-blueprint). Indeed, she used the fact that she wasn’t aware of these efforts to make the point that there was no successful unified effort underway.
Several in the room explained that any effort to coordinate thousands of organizations around any issue or group is extremely difficulty, that we have made tremendous progress in building coalitions and in working collaboratively, and that there are now several coordinated efforts affecting significant change through the Community Blueprint Network in communities across the country. They further noted how many dedicated and committed people are working tirelessly—and together— on these issues.
Several hours later I reflected on the exchange with the woman at the conference. I appreciate her sense of urgency. I feel it too. I also appreciate that she can't possibly be aware of all that is underway and all that has changed over the last 10 years. She has her own area of focus, her own domain of concern. Perhaps she is right in pointing out that we must work harder to get the word out about our efforts. Perhaps she will serve as an important reminder that we must continue to be smart so that we can compete with the information noise that overwhelms us all. Her comments can remind us that we must continue to engage and educate more civilians—employers, educators, mental health professionals—so that they know that they are needed for this effort. And we must continue to engage and educate more military families so that they know that we are here to assist.
Most important, we must not get distracted. We must continue our steady progress toward our important goal of creating a comprehensive and integrated system of care for those who serve. We must methodically chip away at the remaining obstacles that interfere with our mission. We must continue the heavy lifting of community organizing, one community at a time if need be. And we must continue the quiet work of providing care and support to our service members, veterans, and military families, one individual or family at a time if necessary.
Give an Hour™, providing free mental health services to military personnel and their loved ones, at www.giveanhour.org.
Editors Note: Give an Hour™ is a strategic partner of Veterans Advantage. Learn more about our partnership with Give an Hour™.
Veterans Advantage is also hosting a special online PTS Transition Center for its members, with customized news and resources to help in this vital area.
About Got Your 6
Got Your 6 is a campaign designed to change the conversation in America such that veterans and military families are seen as civic assets and leaders who will reinvigorate our community. The campaign combines the reach and resources of the top American entertainment studios, networks, guilds and agencies with the expertise and commitment of more than two dozen non-profit organizations. Through an extensive media footprint and a set of substantial service commitments, Got Your 6 will ensure successful reintegration of veterans into civilian life. For more information, visit www.gotyour6.org.
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