Kean University Student-Veteran Receives K-9 Service Dog

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K-9 Keen and Jason Pryor stand outside in a group photos with student body members

Jason Pryor of Elizabeth received the K-9, named Keen, as a gift from the Kean Office of Student Government.

A special Veterans Day ceremony was held on Kean University’s Union campus as senior Jason Pryor, a U.S. Army veteran, introduced the K-9 service dog that he received through an on-campus fundraiser.

Pryor, a senior from Elizabeth majoring in exercise science, did tours in Iraq and Honduras and suffers from PTSD. He received the K-9, named Keen, at the start of the Fall semester as a gift from the Kean Office of Student Government.

“Being with Keen has taught me to be more patient,” said Pryor, whose dog accompanies him to class. “Keen is used as a measure to help prevent me from going through the symptoms and effects of spiraling down, by me tending to his needs and having him tend to me.”

Kean is ranked first in the nation among large public schools for its programs supporting student-veterans, according to the Military Friendly Schools survey.

Student Government raised nearly $20,000 to support service dogs through Rebuilding Warriors, a volunteer non-profit organization whose mission is to provide trained service dogs to veterans. The bulk of the funds raised went toward training Pryor’s dog, and the rest was donated to Rebuilding Warriors to help train other K-9 dogs.

At the ceremony held outside Miron Student Center, Vito Zajda, director of Veteran Student Services at Kean and a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, called Pryor a remarkable student.

“He has been a big support and influential person in our program,” Zajda said. “He has helped open our eyes about how the University can best support its vets.”

Vice President of Rebuilding Warriors Jeff Mullins, also a veteran, said post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can’t be seen by others. ”It’s invisible, stays with you your entire life, and it’s not easy sometimes,” he said. “Our goal is to provide veterans and first responders with a service dog to help them achieve their new normal.”

The University’s Veterans Day event included a color guard, a performance of the national anthem by the Kean Gospel Choir, and the presentation of other honors.

Juan Leon Torres, a senior from Spotswood also studying exercise science and a U.S. Navy veteran, received the 2019 Kean Veteran’s Award for OutstandingK-9 Keen service dog to U.S. Army Veteran pictured sitting next to his new owner Mentor. He develops transition opportunities and initiatives, and mentors a student-veteran each semester.

“Being a veteran and going back to school is super hard because you go from one community to a different lifestyle,” Torres said.

Zajda noted that it is important to support veterans at all times. “The importance of Veterans Day is to recognize that it’s 365 days a year, as veterans go through different highs and lows in their lives,” he said.

K-9 Keen, the service dog accompanying student-veteran Jason Pryor (pictured at top, left of center, in red shirt), is part of the Kean University community. The Kean Office of Student Government raised funds to donate the dog.

About Kean University

Founded in 1855, Kean University is one of the largest metropolitan institutions of higher education in the region, with a richly diverse student, faculty and staff population. Kean continues to play a key role in the training of teachers and is a hub of educational, technological and cultural enrichment serving more than 16,000 students. The University’s six undergraduate colleges offer more than 50 undergraduate degrees over a full range of academic subjects. The Nathan Weiss Graduate College offers six doctoral degree programs and more than 80 options for graduate study leading to master’s degrees, professional diplomas or certifications. With campuses in Union, Toms River, Jefferson and Manahawkin, New Jersey, and Wenzhou, China, Kean University furthers its mission by providing an affordable and accessible world-class education. Visit kean.edu.

Foundation Trains Shelter Canines as Service Dogs for Disabled Veterans

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service dog trainer pictured with service dog in his arms

Miracles happen every day at CAMO Foundation, and the angels who perform them are the 4-legged variety. Dedicated to providing service dogs specifically trained for the unique needs of disabled veterans, the nonprofit organization in Palm Beach Gardens, FL is the only organization in the country that uses mature dogs rescued from local pounds.

The brainchild of Mike Lorraine, a professional dog trainer with 20 years experience, the foundation is located on a picturesque farm in south Florida, co-owned by Lorraine and a local area businessman, Joe Mullings. Their mission is simple: Provide military veterans who are physically or emotionally challenged with shelter dogs who have the right qualities—intelligence, focus, drive—to be service animals.

Yes, shelter dogs! Most service dogs are raised as puppies. However, Lorraine believes that there’s a certain fearless, stoic quality that makes select shelter dogs the perfect match for injured combatants. You might say that they’ve both seen conflict and survived.

One of CAMO’s biggest success stories so far is 26-year-old Matt Kleemann, a former Navy diver who specialized in underwater repairs on submarines. While driving home along a snowy road, he swerved to avoid a deer and plunged over a cliff. When he awoke, he was paralyzed from the chest down. Wheelchair-bound, he says, “The original plan was for me to just get my dog, Charlie Brown, but Mike saw potential in me. So, I started to come down every day.” Today, Matt serves as a mentor to visiting veterans.

Continue on to CAMO Foundation to learn more.

How Do Wounded Veterans Live with Trauma, Stress, and Disability

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Veteran with PTSD sitting down with hands folded

With today’s advanced medical technology and improved body armor, more people are surviving traumatic events, only to suffer posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In a combat setting, these events can happen suddenly and unexpectedly and cause life-changing injuries that inhibit the mobility of a survivor for the foreseeable future.

And some damage is invisible to the untrained eye. Traumatized veterans have a completely different set of challenges than other wheelchair users. Injured veterans are at risk for developing PTSD. It may even follow them in the form of combat stress, a normal reaction to the atypical conditions of a combat environment.

With the right tools, it does get better. A traumatized veteran can transition into their new life and take on challenges one step at a time.

The Challenges of Limited Mobility and PTSD
Each day brings new challenges for a wheelchair user to overcome. Older buildings often have limited accessibility, sidewalks, and other terrain can be tricky to maneuver, and it may take more time to get in and out of a vehicle without a wheelchair lift. Some days are better than others, but life improves as caregivers and wheelchair users work in tandem to tackle a day’s tasks.

Things are a bit different for traumatized, disabled veterans.

Physical disability and PTSD can occur simultaneously, leaving them with a different set of psychological and emotional challenges. Everyday tasks can trigger a bad reaction or a flashback to the traumatic event. There might be a steep learning curve, but veterans are survivors, after all. One just needs to remain cognizant that there could be a mental burden from the trauma that needs to be addressed.

Social Support is Key
Survivors of trauma, especially if their mobility changes, might not know exactly what they need as they adjust to their new life. It’s important for caregivers and loved ones to be understanding. New wheelchair users are not used to leaning on others, yet this is the time they need that strong support system the most.

Most importantly, friends and family need to remember that a disability can serve as a reminder of a trauma, and the rest of the world does not have this context. Those without physical disabilities may find it difficult to empathize with wheelchair users, let alone ones who have experienced trauma. Certain day to-day activities or conversations can trigger PTSD when a veteran least expects it.

Symptoms to Watch Out For
For some caregivers and loved ones, it’s easy to focus on mthe physical change and miss emotional or psychological symptoms. In addition to doctor’s appointments, it’s important to also see a mental health professional for a full diagnosis. Though PTSD and combat stress may seem similar in the beginning, it’s important to be able to tell them apart. Know the symptoms: disturbing thoughts, feelings, dreams, mental or physical stress, difficulty sleeping, and changes in thought patterns or their personality.

Symptoms of combat stress can include anything from fatigue, loss in concentration, to decreased reaction time. Familiarize yourself with the indicators. After adapting to life with limited mobility, as a caregiver or wheelchair user, you may identify a few symptoms of PTSD or combat stress through changes in behavior. Though combat stress tends to subside after a veteran returns to civilian life, in some cases, prolonged combat stress may even lead to the development of PTSD.

The only way to know for sure is to get a diagnosis from a licensed professional. Not only that, but veterans with PTSD can only find relief through therapy. Therapists work with individuals, couples, families, and groups to overcome PTSD, combat stress, or other psychological and emotional difficulties.

It Takes Real Strength to Ask for Help
It can be difficult to ask for help or address symptoms of PTSD head-on. But after making the choice to seek help, veterans will wonder why they waited so long. It eases the mental burden, freeing up energy to focus on adjusting to life in a wheelchair.

When an injured veteran’s ready to seek support, start with some of these resources:
• Wounded Warrior’s Combat Stress Recovery Program, woundedwarriorproject.org
• Veteran’s Crisis Hotline, activeheroes.org, 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255
• The National Center for PTSD’s About Face, ptsd.va.gov/apps/AboutFace

Caregivers need to be cognizant of what PTSD entails to fully comprehend what a new wheelchair user is potentially going through. It can affect their day-to day life in unforeseen ways. By arming yourself with the right resources, veterans in wheelchairs and caregivers can address and understand these problems one step at a time.

Source: vantagemobility.com

From Battalions to Business Degrees

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Graduating group of veterans lined up to accept their business degrees in caps and gowns shown from behind

If you happen to be one of the millions of veterans leaving the military for civilian life, you face a daunting challenge. You may have flown a gunship; you may have driven a tank; you may have commanded a unit…but how do you convince a corporate recruiter that this counts as management experience?

Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, admitted to US military newspaper, “The civilian business community does not understand military service skills and how to translate them. But they want to.”

Business education can help those with a military background segue into the business world, by equipping them with the means to see how the skills from their previous career can be utilized in a different context. Simply put, an MBA teaches you to speak the language of business.

After years, or even decades in leadership positions, today’s veterans have considerable professional experience – which is very applicable to the business world. A military background, therefore, means that they are often well-prepared for management roles. Despite this, hiring executives are often skeptical and wonder how frontline experience translates to the front office.

To help uncover the challenges and advantages of an MBA education for a veteran, we spoke with Major Grégori Bassaud, who at the time of writing, was pursuing an International MBA (IMBA) at EMLYON Business School in France.

Being a veteran can mean management experience

A married 43-year-old father of two young children, Bassaud is a career officer. He spent 21 years in the French marine corps. His service was primarily spent in airborne units where he rose up the ranks as a platoon leader, a company commander and finally as a staff officer (deputy chief ops in his battalion). He’s been deployed abroad several times, including one-year tours in French Guyana and two-year tours in Réunion Island and Martinique. A skydive specialist, Bassuad has 600 freefall jumps to his name and has been awarded the National Order of Service Merit.

During his time at EMLYON, Bassaud has been impressed with the school’s lecturers, particularly with “their in-depth knowledge in their respective fields; their ability to make it simple whatever the difficulties may be.” He notes that he considered alternative graduate degrees which were less expensive than an MBA, but in the end was convinced that the return on investment would make it worthwhile. “The advantages include relevant events like the career forum, with more than 300 companies, regular testimonies from alumni through the IMBA mentoring program, which gives you access to people holding great positions. Being at EMLYON is already being in business, already being in a professional environment where you learn everyday through the context alone.”

What advantages do you think people with a military background have when they pursue an MBA?

Seniority and maturity, which offer two advantages. First real management experience: the average age of my cohort is barely 30. Only a few of my classmates have real management experience and even that is very limited—they only managed four to five people; I had to manage more than 200.

Secondly, both of your feet are on the ground. When you have gained professional experience in more than 15 countries, worked with a huge and various range of stakeholders – belligerents, allies from various countries, NGOs, diplomats, politicians, religious representatives – you have fewer certainties than your classmates. Your approach to case studies is more careful and exhaustive, you pay more attention to the details and your judgement is often rather softer than your colleagues’ – which might not be what people expect from those who’ve served in the military.

Why do you think people with a military background should consider earning an MBA?

A military background can be useful in terms of soft skills, but you also have to take into consideration your weaknesses when it comes to hard skills such as accounting, finance, marketing, and corporate strategy. Although an MBA does not provide deep insight into all of these fields, except strategy, the very broad range of topics covered gives you the sufficient tools to successfully take up your targeted position.

You should not ignore the benefit of spending a year with people younger than you when pursuing a full-time MBA. Despite their limited background, they have already gained interesting experiences and they are up-to-date, always aware of the latest technology, the latest apps, the latest online tools, etc. A year with them is an accelerated course of training in the latest trends.

How do you think networking is different for someone with a military background?

MBAs are not as widely acknowledged by employers in France as they might be elsewhere, on top of which companies can be hesitant when dealing with candidates with atypical profiles. Even companies that are aware of MBAs expect a classic career path—for instance, an engineering degree followed by an initial professional experience, then an MBA. When coming from the army, networking is much more complicated. You have to rely more on the network of former military personnel who made the switch than on the school’s alumni network. Due to this additional difficulty, having the intensive support of your career services office is useful.

After adhering to a regimented military timetable, how do you handle the challenges of attending study and social functions that happen in the late evening?

As a matter of fact, veterans are used to extended shifts. Being accustomed to early morning hours makes your life easier. You are always on time. Many of your classmates are not, despite regular warnings by the faculty. The main challenge is combining the workload with your family life, which is definitely a huge challenge. Only 10% of my classmates have children. The pace of the course is definitely set for monks, or at least for people with total freedom.

Studies suggest that people who are physically fit are also more successful in their careers. If this is true – do you think it’s another advantage for a military person?

The first thing to point out is not all military veterans remain physically fit. However, in my case, some of my classmates were surprised that I was so physically fit for my age. I also had a comparable feedback from a headhunter, telling me that it presented a good image. So I agree that it is a kind of presentation skill.

Source: topmba.com

Pursuing a STEM Degree = More Money on Your GI Bill

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Woman working in a laboratory wearing face mask and white lab coat looking in to a microscope

Attention STEM scholars! The United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has launched the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship program for students training in high demand STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.

The Rogers STEM scholarship will provide up to nine months of additional Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits (to a maximum of $30,000) to qualifying veterans and Fry Scholars seeking an undergraduate STEM degree, or who have earned a STEM degree and are seeking a teaching certification.

Who is eligible for the Rogers STEM Scholarship?

  • You are pursuing a degree in a STEM field
  • You have completed at least 60 standard or 90 quarter credit hours toward your degree.
  • You will or will soon (within 90 days of application) exhaust your entitlement for the Post 9/11 GI Bill program
  • Your post-secondary degree requires at least 120 semester (or 180 quarter) credit for completion in a standard, undergraduate college degree
  • You have earned a post-secondary degree in a STEM field
  • You have been accepted or are enrolled in a teaching certification program
  • More you should know

  • Priority will be given to individuals who are entitled to 100 percent of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and to those who require the most credit hours.
  • The Yellow Ribbon Program may not be used with this extension. Schools may apply Yellow Ribbonn funding, but VA can’t match it.
  • These additional benefits can’t be transferred to dependents.
  • Fry scholars are eligible to apply for the Rogers STEM Scholarship.

    What fields of study qualify for the STEM Scholarship?

  • Students must be enrolled in or have earned a degree in one of the following areas:
  • Agriculture science or natural resources science program
  • Biological or biomedical science
  • Computer and information science and support services
  • Engineering, engineering technologies, or an engineering-related field
  • Health care or related program
  • Mathematics or statistics
  • Medical residency
  • Physical science
  • Science technologies or technicians
  • How do you apply?

    Apply on VA.gov

    Source: benefits.va.gov

    The National WWII Museum Turns 20 and Commemorates D-Day

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    A photo of the National WWII Museum's Building

    On June 6, 2020, The National WWII Museum will celebrate its 20th birthday and commemorate the 76th anniversary of D-Day.

    To honor both events, the museum will be open to visitors, but to adhere to social distancing guidelines, they will hold all of the day’s activities online.

    The day will be filled with an array of digital events such as  a social media scavenger hunt, educational talks, and a screening of a new documentary that will go over the museum’s history. For those wishing to attend the museum physically, the museum will be open at normal business hours.

    Click here for the museum’s Facebook page where all of the live events will be taking place.

    Check out what events will be transpiring within the next few days:

    Live D-Day Veteran Conversation: Friday, June 5 from 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (CT)

    The Museum’s mission is built upon its collection of oral histories–these are the people we’re committed to remembering, and getting to share their accounts with our audience puts a deeply personal spin on the Museum experience. Join Curator of Oral History Joey Balfour as he discusses the Normandy landings with a veteran who experienced the invasion firsthand. Dr. Hal Baumgarten D-Day Commemoration Ceremony Saturday, June 6 11:00 a.m. (CT) Presented in memory of D-Day veteran and Museum friend Dr. Harold “Hal” Baumgarten, this commemoration ceremony will mark the 76th anniversary of the D-Day invasion with a solemn remembrance of the events of June 6, 1944, and conclude with a moment of silence. The Dr. Hal Baumgarten D-Day Commemoration Endowment, made possible by the generous gift of Karen and Leopold Sher, ensures that Dr. Baumgarten’s legacy will live on in perpetuity and helps the Museum fulfill its mission to educate future generations about the events of World War II and its lasting impact.

    Celebrating 20 Years: The National WWII Museum Saturday, June 6 at 1:00 p.m. (CT)

    Boysie Bollinger, longtime Museum Trustee and one of the its biggest champions, together with the Museum’s Founding President & CEO Emeritus Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, PhD, and current President & CEO Stephen Watson, will reminisce about what it was like to be a part of the grand opening festivities on June 6, 2000; how WWII history has become a larger part of the nation’s fabric, spurring the expansion of The National WWII Museum; and the Museum’s continued transformation into one of the premier cultural and educational institutions in the world. D-Day at The National WWII Museum

    Saturday, June 6 from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (CT)

    The National WWII Museum will be open to the public for normal business hours on our 20th anniversary. Special features for the day include independent family activities, a Social Media Scavenger Hunt, and the premiere of a short documentary celebrating the Museum’s 20th anniversary. Purchase your tickets here!

    Gary Sinise Foundation Launches Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service

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    Gary Sinise Foundation Logo

    While we are doing our part in fighting COVID-19 by social distancing and taking the necessary precautions, we are grateful to those on the frontline fighting the effects of the disease head on. But as we do our part to protect ourselves, how are those on the frontline being helped?

    One of the programs striving to assist frontline workers is the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, created by the Gary Sinise Foundation (GSF). We interviewed Elizabeth Fields, COO of GSF, to find out more.

    When did the GSF decide to form the Emergency COVID 19 Combat Service Initiative?

    On March 9, 2020, a few days before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the Gary Sinise Foundation made grants available across the country to first responders in need of personal protective equipment (PPE) when answering coronavirus-related service calls. We also moved quickly to make financial assistance available to any military service members, veterans, and first responders affected by COVID-19, as well as their families.

    This was the very beginning of our Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, officially launched on April 1, and since then – in addition to meeting the urgent needs of our first responders, service members, and veterans – the campaign has grown tremendously and expanded to provide critical support to health-care professionals and all of our frontline workers.

    What prompted GSF to create it? What is the main purpose?

    As COVID-19 spread rapidly across the nation, we at the Gary Sinise Foundation thought: Just as our first responders and all of those on the front lines are working so hard to protect us, we want to do everything we can to protect and support them. So, we launched the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, which is an extension of our mission to serve and protect those who so bravely protect our nation – our first responders, military, veterans, their families and those in need – which we do 365 days a year.

    Have you already sent out grants? If so, how many, and where?

    Since announcing, the availability of grants for first responders and those battling this pandemic, the Foundation has made significant strides through our Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service. We’ve donated PPE and key decontamination equipment to 54 first responder departments across the country, provided 5,074 pieces of PPE and large-scale decontamination equipment to first responder departments on the front lines of COVID-19, and assisted 25 states in the fight against this pandemic.

    What has the response been to this initiative?

    Elizabeth Fields Headshot
    Elizabeth Fields, COO of Gary Sinise Foundation

    The Gary Sinise Foundation has received an outpouring of support from our partners, as well as the military, veteran, and first responder communities we proudly serve. The Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service launched with a video call-to-action from our founder and chairman, Gary Sinise, and this video has inspired people across the country to pitch into this collective effort on a grassroots level. In these uncertain times, it has been incredible to see our country come together to support those who so bravely defend our freedom and safety, 365 days a year.

    Anything else you would like to add?
    If you are interested in learning more about our Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service, or any of the Foundation’s programs, please visit us at garysinisefoundation.org.

    U.S. Veterans Magazine would like to thank first responders, veterans, service members, medical professionals, and everyone on the frontline fighting COVID-19.

    How Military Training Prepares Doctors for COVID-19

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    American Soldiers Saluting US Flag

    Dr. Alice F. Healey, a College Professor of Distinction at the University of Colorado Boulder, has studied and crafted her expertise in translatability in training—the transfer of knowledge from past experiences into new scenarios.

    Through her studies, she has found that skills taught in one kind of context doesn’t usually transfer to a different scenario. However, Dr. Healey recently ran one test of this experiment that has shown otherwise.

    In a study done in collaboration with NASA, Dr. Healey ran an experiment in motoric and perceptual aspects in which test subjects were called to use one hand to study a sequence of numbers and use the other hand to solve the sequence. The results proved that in, at least, motoric and perceptual aspects, knowledge can be transferable.

    The ability to transfer knowledge between fields might not come across as surprising, but it does serve as evidence for COVID-19 medical workers who previously served as veterans. Military veterans fight to protect people every day knowing they are putting their lives at risk, while medical doctors are normally confident that the ailment that they treat their patients for will not be a danger to themselves. With the arrival of COVID-19, medical professionals are now fighting to save their patients while dealing with the new stress to protect themselves. Military veterans turned medical professionals, however, are believed to cope with the stress of possible infection more effectively than those without a military background.

    Former veterans turned medical professionals Matthew Groth, Kevin Manusos, and Jason Wood expressed to Forbes magazine that they believe their military background has helped them to better manage time, make sacrifices, adhere to discipline, and think quickly and critically under stressful circumstances.

    “Getting yelled at brings you to a stress level you’re not comfortable with. You actually get used to that stronger stress response,” Manusos told Forbes of his military experience. “I think if you did well in combat, if you could mentally handle the stress, you would transition well into stressful situations anywhere.”

    Tips for Military Veterans Going Back to School

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    Notebook, diploma and pencils on white table image for military education

    With one semester ending and another school year approaching, many active and former military personnel might be considering how to best use their education benefits.

    No matter what area of study you decide to pursue, going back to school can be difficult to manage, even if the benefits are extraordinary.
     
    Here are the best tips on how to successfully transition from military life to college life:
     

    • Have a Plan and a Back-Up Plan
      1. Most college campuses have an abundance of majors and areas of study, but which one is going to work best for you, your interests, and your schedule? Before you step foot on campus, contact an academic advisor to find out more about the programs you’re interested in. What have past students in your field done after graduation? Is this the best place to receive my degree in this field? How do the professors teach and what are the time slots for these classes? You want to make sure you are able to pursue your degree that will best suit your needs in a way that is as stress free as possible. Creating a back-up plan is also helpful in the event that you decide to switch majors, or the program isn’t as incredible as it was made out to be.
    • Develop a Good Study Schedule
      1. In the military, you are taught to learn quickly and on a schedule. If this is the method you have become accustomed to, then it can be an easy transfer to study skills. Scheduling how long you study, break times, and how much material you are going to recover are all great ways to get the most out of your study time. However, remember that not all people study the same. How were you best able to learn and succeed while in the military, and how can this be transferred to your classes?
    • Stay Organized
      1. This may seem self-explanatory, but the way that you kept your space tidy and clean in the military is the same way you should keep your workspace clean. Keeping a clean workspace not only allows for students to easily locate all of their study materials, but it also limits messy distractions and increases concentration.
    • Use Your Resources
      1. One of the most amazing things about universities is the abundance of resources you have. Tutors, libraries and career counselors can help you in your study habits, but schools also provide medical facilities, access to therapy, gyms, and veteran-specific support groups that can all aide in personal endeavors and mental health.
    • Communicate
      1. In the end, you and your classmates have quite a bit in common—you both want to graduate. Working on a team to study, much like how military personnel work on teams to accomplish tasks, can be highly effective in schoolwork as well as utilizing office hours, academic counseling, and even school clubs. Getting involved with your new college community will provide new opportunities to learn, study, make friends, release stress and enjoy socialization, all of which help your academic and personal lives.

    Empowering Veterans to Address Mental Health Challenges

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    America's Warrior Partnership Operation Deep Dive-team members stand together in front of poster board for support group

    By Jim Lorraine, President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership

    May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and while veterans and their families are leaders in navigating stressful situations, there are times when they can use some help to overcome a challenge. Whether the severity of a mental health issue ranges from mild to critical, there are programs and services tailored to help veterans navigate their unique situation.

    During times like this, it is important to connect with resources that are available to help.

    Accessing Mental Health Support

    First and foremost, as I have, you should memorize the number to the Veterans Crisis Line. Any veteran who is experiencing an urgent crisis should call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text 838255. The Veteran’s Crisis Line enables veterans to reach caring and qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs. These counselors can help veterans who may be feeling anxious, lonely, or are thinking about suicide. Veterans in crisis or need of help can reach out to the hotline for connection and immediate support.

    For situations that are less urgent but no less severe, there are physical and virtual resources that veterans may be able to use. For example, in your community, there could be a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, Community Based Outpatient Clinic, or Vet Center. In addition to these programs, there are community behavioral health and health centers that can address many less urgent stressors. A great point of contact in the local community would be your local County Veteran Service Officer. They likely know of local resources and can facilitate your connection. Lastly, you may seek peer support from local Veteran Serving Organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Team Red, White, and Blue, or the American Legion.  However, if you are unable to navigate your community resources, you can contact the America’s Warrior Partnership Network, who will reliably connect veterans with a service provider from outside of their community, such as Vets4Warriors or the Cohen Veterans Network that specialize in peer and mental health support.

    Advocating for New Resources and Programs

    In addition to raising awareness of existing resources, one of the most important things that veterans can do this month – and throughout the rest of the year – is to advocate for new policies that will better support their brothers- and sisters-in-arms who live with a mental illness. One of the most cutting-edge pieces of legislation is Senate Bill 785, also called Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019. This bill unanimously passed the Senate and is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to improve mental health and end veteran suicide. We strongly encourage a bipartisan and bicameral approach to make this bill law.

    Advocacy is especially critical in the national fight to reduce suicide and self-harm among veterans. One of the initiatives contributing to this effort is Operation Deep Dive, a four-year study currently being conducted by America’s Warrior Partnership and researchers from The University of Alabama with support from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. The project is examining community risk factors involved in suicide and non-natural deaths among veterans in 14 communities across the country. By the study’s completion, researchers will develop a methodology that any community can implement to identify the unique risk factors of suicide among their local veterans and then address those factors through a customized support program.

    As part of this study, Operation Deep Dive researchers are currently interviewing individuals who have either lost a loved one, friend, or acquaintance who was a veteran to suicide or a non-natural cause of death. These interviews will enable researchers to examine how a veteran was engaged within their community before their death, and more importantly, what can be done to better support veterans in the future.

    To participate in an interview, individuals must be 18 or older and live within one of the 14 communities where Operation Deep Dive is taking place (the veteran must also have lived in that same community before their death). More information about the interviews and details on how to participate are available online.

    By advocating for new policies and supporting essential programs, veterans can ensure their fellow service members who struggle with mental health challenges can build the quality of life that they have earned through their service.

    About the Author

    Jim Lorraine is President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership, a national nonprofit that empowers communities to empower veterans. The organization’s mission starts with connecting community groups with local veterans to understand their unique situations. With this knowledge in mind, America’s Warrior Partnership connects local groups with the appropriate resources to proactively and holistically support veterans at every stage of their lives. Learn more about the organization at AmericasWarriorPartnership.org.

    A Military Wife’s Guide to Suicide Prevention

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    Depressed soldier leaning against the window covering his face with his arm

    Aleha Landry is one of the many people who has a military spouse suffering from a form of mental illness from military experience.

    Through her personal experiences tending to her husband’s mental health conditions and her knowledge of the rising suicide rate among military personnel, Landry does everything in her power to help those suffering from these conditions.

    Through her husband’s struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, Landry has had a look at the various military-implemented mental health programs that help military personnel in these specific instances. Though in place for good reason, Landry has expressed her husband’s distaste for the programs, as they claim to be a solution for an issue that is as complicated and complex as mental health. To bring awareness to what veterans are actually feeling in times of mental health issues, Landry writes letters to Air Force leaders and members of Congress.

    Though she is yet to receive a response to her letters, Landry does offer three helpful tips that she believes should be implemented into the mental health programs for military personnel.

    • Therapists working through these programs should either be stationed to stay in one place or at least have a five-year commitment to where they are currently located. Many of the therapists that Landry’s husband has seen have relocated in a short span of time, forcing him to retell his story and rebuild trust over and over again. Lancey believes that having one therapist who is guaranteed to stick around would allow for trust, understanding and healing to be better implemented.
    • Guarantee off-base counseling. This would allow for those seeking therapy to have a wider range of choice in finding the right counselor, rather than feeling the pressure to have to talk with a specific person.
    • Reduce the redundancy in progress questionnaires. Many questionnaires given to track the mental progress of military personnel are redundant and frustrating, according to Landry, who believes asking the questions once and having them answered to a therapist rather than on a sheet of paper would decrease frustration and give patients the sense of being cared for.

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