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Our mission is to develop national networks of volunteers capable of responding to both acute and chronic conditions that arise within our society. Our first target population was the U.S. troops and families affected by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other post-9/11 conflicts but our services are now open to veterans of all eras.
Give an Hour™ is asking mental health professionals nationwide to literally donate an hour of their time each week to provide free mental health services to military personnel and their families. Research will guide the development of additional services needed by the military community, and appropriate networks will be created to respond to those needs. Individuals who receive services will be given the opportunity to give an hour back in their own community.
Our organization is currently focusing on the psychological needs of military personnel and their families because of the significant human cost of the current conflicts. Over 2 million troops have been deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf since September 11, 2001. Nearly 550,000 of these troops have been deployed more than once. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, as of March 23, 2012, a total of 6,391 U.S. troops have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn. In addition, 47,712 U.S. troops have been injured during these conflicts.
In addition to the physical injuries sustained, countless servicemen and servicewomen have experienced psychological symptoms directly related to their deployment. According to a RAND report released in April 2008, over 18 percent of troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan--nearly 300,000 troops--have symptoms of post-traumatic stress or major depression. At the same time, about 19 percent of service members reported that they experienced a possible traumatic brain injury. And let us not forget: millions of Americans belong to the families of these servicemen and servicewomen. Spouses, children, parents, siblings, and unmarried partners of military personnel are all being adversely affected by the stress and strain of the current military campaign.
Our military leaders are well aware of the human cost of this campaign. Indeed, they are attempting to address the psychological needs of the troops through a variety of programs within the military culture. Unfortunately, the tremendous number of people affected makes it impossible for the military to respond adequately to the mental health needs in its greater community. For example, according to the RAND study, only 43 percent of troops reported ever being evaluated by a physician for their head injuries. Moreover, returning combat veterans suffering from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not routinely seeking the mental health treatment they need. RAND also reports that only 53 percent of service members with PTSD or depression sought help over the past year.
A major barrier preventing military personnel from seeking appropriate treatment is the perception of stigma associated with treatment. Many fear that seeking mental health services will jeopardize their career or standing. Others are reluctant to expose their vulnerabilities to providers who are often military personnel themselves, given the military culture’s emphasis on strength, confidence, and bravery. Servicemen and servicewomen might be more inclined to seek help if they know that the services provided are completely independent of the military. By providing services that are separate from the military establishment, we offer an essential option for men and women who might otherwise fail to seek or receive appropriate services.
We are also offering services to parents, siblings, and unmarried partners who are not entitled to receive mental health benefits through the military. Although these individuals may have access to mental health services through other means, they are less likely to seek the help they need and deserve if that help is difficult to find or costly. Our goal is to provide easy access to skilled professionals for all of the people affected by the current war. The participating mental health professionals offer a wide range of services including individual, marital, and family therapy; substance abuse counseling; treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder; and counseling for individuals with traumatic brain injuries. Whether it is a young military wife who is anxious because her four-year-old has had nightmares since her husband’s deployment or a father who is struggling to cope with his son's loss of a leg as a result of an explosion in Iraq, both will receive the assistance they need to move through their experience. The healthier the support system for the returning troops, the lower the risk of severe or prolonged dysfunction within these military families.
Give an Hour is reaching out to the military community in several ways. As a member of America Supports You, a Department of Defense program that provides opportunities for citizens to show their support for the U.S. Armed Forces, we are identifying individuals involved in post-deployment processing of returning troops. We are developing collaborative relationships with the commanding officers of returning troops so that these officers are aware of and comfortable with the services we provide. We are also working closely with a number of veterans service organizations to promote our services directly to the family members of troops.. We are also collaborating with the Veterans Administration to distribute information about our services through Vet Centers across the country and to take referrals from their Veterans Crisis Line. Finally, we are promoting our services to the military community and the public through a media campaign that includes print, television, and radio coverage. In fact, our founder and president, Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen is routinely interviewed in national media outlets from CNN to MSNBC, NPR's Diane Rehm Show, Time Magazine, the New York Times, and the Huffington Post.
Give an Hour recruits mental health professionals in several ways. We have been endorsed by the major mental health associations in the United States--the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American Association of Pastoral Counselors, American Group Psychotherapy Association, American Mental Health Counselors Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychiatric Nurses Association, American Psychological Association, Anxiety Disorders Association of America, Mental Health America, National Association of Social Workers, North American Association of Christians in Social Work, and Therapeutic Communities of America.
Only licensed mental health professionals are included in the network. Licenses are verified. Nonlicensed pastoral providers may be included in the network as long as they meet other criteria, including membership in professional organizations. In addition to coordinating with national organizations, we also recruit mental health professionals through professional publications and Web sites. Only mental health professionals trained and experienced to work with trauma victims will identify themselves as available to work with soldiers who have experienced combat. We are working with experts in the trauma field to prepare materials for our Web site and to find appropriate mental health professionals for recruitment.
We are recruiting volunteers from a number of organizations and institutions as well as through our Web site to assist us in the implementation of our program. Volunteers from retired military personnel to members of military families to concerned civilians throughout thte country are helping Give an Hour. Volunteers are checking licenses, distributing brochures, and coordinating community partnership opportunities for those troops and family members interested in giving back an hour to their own community.
Our primary focus will always be to attend to those in need by linking them to individuals in our society best equipped to respond effectively. In addition, we will develop research and educational programs to further promote the value and importance of a new kind of volunteerism. We hope to encourage an increase in shared responsibility for those citizens who are suffering. We need only look at the outpouring of aid and support following both the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 to see the potential we have to become a truly compassionate and united nation. And we need only look at the significant costs of the war in Iraq and the relief efforts for Katrina’s victims to see that federal and state governments are already strained beyond their means. We have not only the potential but the duty to help one another in times of need.
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