Large numbers of our veterans are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan finding that they must cope with a wide range of psychological difficulties. Many are struggling with severe physical injuries or traumatic brain injuries—referred to as TBIs. We have both the opportunity to prevent a national tragedy and the obligation and resources to do so.
Fortunately, we are more capable of responding to this potential tragedy than ever before. We have more knowledge about the psychological impact of war than any prior generation has ever had. We know that at least 12 percent of the returning soldiers will come back with a serious mental disorder. Some reports have identified as many as one-third returning with psychiatric symptoms. In addition, we anticipate that as many as 20 percent will suffer a TBI. We know that family members are also severely affected by a soldier’s experience of trauma. Indeed, we now refer to “secondary trauma” as a significant mental health consequence of war. We know that children who grow up in families where post-traumatic stress disorder is not treated often become severely impaired themselves. Luckily, we also know that early treatment of mental health symptoms is the best way to prevent long-term consequences.
The U.S. military is clearly trying to stay in front of this issue. Studies conducted by the military community provide information that was not available during prior wars. In addition, the military is making an unprecedented attempt to encourage personnel to seek treatment. Unfortunately, limited resources are available to provide the needed mental health care, and, while the inevitable budget debates are important and necessary for future policies, they will not help the soldier disabled today by his or her psychological demons or physical injuries.
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan give us all a chance to reach out to those in need to ensure that they can continue to function as productive members of our society. Some of us have specific skills that can and should be tapped. There are over 400,000 mental health professionals in the U.S. We represent a tremendous resource. As mental health professionals, we now have the opportunity, through the volunteer network established by the nonprofit organization Give an Hour™, to respond to this clear and obvious need. As we continue to build our national network, our efforts will provide much needed assistance to the military’s efforts to care for its own.
Give an Hour™ is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to develop a national network of volunteers capable of responding to both acute and chronic conditions that arise in our society. We are currently establishing a national network of mental health professionals to reach out to the U.S. troops and families affected by the current military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Thus far, over 5,000 professionals from the mental health community have registered to participate in this critical effort. These mental health professionals sign on to give an hour of their time each week to provide free mental health services to military personnel and their families. Professionals are being asked to provide the type of services they currently provide in their offices. They may also have the opportunity to engage in public education or to consult to other agencies and organizations tasked with responding to the needs of our military community. In fact, since we began providing services in July 2007, our providers have donated nearly 31,000 hours in direct counseling, education, and outreach.
While no additional training is required, we offer a variety of training opportunities to those individuals interested in increasing their knowledge of military culture and the specifics of combat stress. In addition, our participants will have the opportunity to interact with each other, to share information about their experience, and to seek feedback and additional resources.
We ask our providers to participate in our network for one year in order to offer continuity of care for these deserving families. Over the past three years, we have started to match members of the military community in need with members of our network. Indeed, we are now hearing from military personnel and their families on a regular basis. Many of these men and women share their stories and express their gratitude. They are so thankful that members of the mental health community have stepped up to join this effort. Those individuals who receive services from the Give an Hour™ network will be given specific ways to give back to their own communities.
We have developed important relationships with DoD, the VA, and many Veterans Service Organizations including the American Legion Auxiliary, TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), the USO, Blue Star Families, and Vets 4 Vets. As a result of these relationships, our mental health professionals will have opportunities to work with individuals from a number of organizations to co-lead support groups and participate in community events.
We have also developed important relationships within the mental health community. In February of 2008 the American Psychiatric Association officially endorsed Give an Hour™ and began encouraging its 38,000 members to join our network of providers. In partnership with the American Psychiatric Foundation, we were awarded a $1 million grant from the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation to assist in our public education efforts. In November of 2008 we announced the support of the National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychological Association, the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. In addition, we have recently joined forces with the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology, Mental Health America and the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.
We have also developed cooperative relationships with such noteworthy organizations as the Red Cross, Student Veterans of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Postpartum Support International. We are proud of our efforts to bring the military and mental health communities together as we strive to provide critical services to these deserving men, women, and families.
We are asking all mental health professionals to join in this critical effort. If you are currently licensed, please visit our Web site at www.giveanhour.org to sign up for our national network and to learn more about our organization. We also welcome volunteers who want to join us in developing and implementing this project. Please share our Web site with your colleagues. Thank you.