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Veterans Advantage News

Cover Story

Anticipating 2012, Engaging Communities

Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D. Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder and president of Give an Hour™

Special to Veterans Advantage

As families make plans to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah and our nation anticipates ringing in the New Year, many individuals are working tirelessly to prepare for the return of our troops from Iraq. While the end of this conflict is cause for celebration, there is a sense of urgency and unease among some at the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, among some in state and local governments, and among some in the nonprofit and the veteran service organization community. While we are all eager to welcome our troops home, we want to ensure that we are able to provide the services and support they may need after the sacrifices they have made during their service to our country.

After a decade of war we are able to identify the issues that often affect military families - issues that result from the challenge of repeated deployments and numerous and frequently difficult transitions home. We know that many service members come home with physical injuries and ailments that range from minor or moderate discomfort to chronic pain. We know that many of those who experience combat - some studies suggest that it is as many as 35 percent - will come home with the invisible injuries of war including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and traumatic brain injury. We know that many service members have difficulty finding meaningful employment once they separate from the military. And we know that those veterans who wish to continue their education after they leave the military often feel out of place and misunderstood by students and faculty on campuses across the country.

We also know that there are some significant gaps in the delivery of services. Although the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are doing more than ever before to address the needs of those who serve, the suicide rate continues to climb among service members (especially for those in the Guard and Reserves), and it remains high among veterans. Unfortunately, many of those in need of mental health treatment and support fail to seek services. We know that veterans from post-9/11 conflicts are entering the homeless population at an alarming rate; female veterans seem to be especially vulnerable, with many reporting that they experienced sexual trauma while serving. And we frequently hear from families who struggle to navigate through complex systems. They are often frustrated by systemic hurdles and unable to identify benefits or locate options for needed care.

If you ask most Americans about their interest in helping those who serve our country—and their families—pick up the pieces of their lives after a decade of war, they will most certainly say that they are not only interested but eager to do what they can to assist. Indeed, we see evidence of support at sporting events, in airports, and in surveys of attitudes held by our citizens toward those who serve. Yet even those who have studied this issue carefully are challenged by the task that confronts us. How do we translate all of the good will our country expresses into action?

Our country has faced difficult and often frustrating challenges in its efforts to care for vulnerable populations throughout its history. Although ours is the richest nation in the world, many of our citizens— and their children—continue to live below the poverty line. Far too many men and women suffer from chronic mental illness and live on our streets or are incarcerated in our jails. And countless inner-city neighborhoods are plagued by crime and violence. Clearly our difficulty in solving these social issues is not due to a lack of financial support. We Americans give approximately $300 billion annually to charities each year. Indeed, we are the most generous nation in the world when it comes to charitable donations. But the struggles continue because these are complex problems that demand sustained efforts.

Community Blueprint Network, Give An Hour, VeteransAdvantage.comAlthough we have made progress in facing many social issues, developing innovative solutions to assist vulnerable populations, no single model or set of “best practices” exists to guide us in how to effectively care for those who serve and their families. We have yet to develop a strategy to ensure that every service member, veteran, and military family member finds the help or opportunity that he or she needs. One thing is clear: if we are to solve this challenge, if we are to prevent further suffering, if we are to save lives, we must do things differently and we must work together.

Perhaps this is why a new model is emerging – one that is driven by the awareness that what we have done thus far hasn't quite worked; one that is driven by the recognition that no one agency, organization, or effort can address all of the needs of those who serve; one that harnesses not only the financial resources of the philanthropic community but also the human resources across professions and other communities needed to care for service members, veterans and their families. This new model is building upon the success of organizations that have taught us about the value and benefit of engaging citizens in volunteer efforts designed to care for their neighbors. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the Points of Light Institute, United Way and others - as well as corporations that regularly offer, encourage, and coordinate volunteer activities for their employees - have demonstrated the power of volunteerism in solving the challenges that face our communities and the benefit to citizens who engage in these efforts.

This new model, called the Community Blueprint Network, harnesses the strength and power of the community. It is action oriented and inclusive. It seeks to knit together organizations and agencies that work to assist those who serve and their families. It strives to develop and share a set of common practices with any and all who are interested in developing a comprehensive and integrated system of care. It plans to engage civilians along with service members, veterans, and their families in a shared mission of support and service. And it offers an opportunity to establish clear and consistent messages that will guide those who serve and their families when guidance and support is needed. For more information about the Community Blueprint Network, visit http://www.handsonnetwork.org/community-blueprint.

May all those who have served our country or continue to serve–and their families—enjoy a happy and safe holiday season. And may 2012 bring hope and opportunities for a bright future.

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.

 

I am a U.S. Veteran, active duty, retired military, current or former National Guard or Reservist.
 
I am immediate family: Spouse, father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter of a Veteran, Guardsman, Reservist, or servicemember (living or deceased).
I am a U.S. Veteran, active duty,
retired military, current or former
National Guard or Reservist.
 
I am immediate family: Spouse,
father, mother, brother, sister,
son or daughter of a Veteran,
Guardsman, Reservist, or
servicemember (living or deceased).
 
 

 

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Founder's Blog: Scott Higgins

 
What the Army Birthday and Flag Day Mean to Vets
 

June is a busy time of year for so many of our members. This week, in particular, is a double-feature week. For starters, this week marks the 242nd anniversary of the United States Army which was established June 14, 1775. I am reminded of my own Army service during the Vietnam War, memories that rekindle the pride I felt serving our country. To our active duty currently in uniform and all the veterans who have served in the Army, we salute you. Happy Birthday to the U.S. Army!
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