This post was written by Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D. on behalf of the Case Foundation:
As 2014 gets underway, our military is preparing to mark the official end of the Afghanistan war as all but a handful of U.S. troops are set to come home by year’s end. This is by far the longest war that America has ever fought and the cost has been great.
And while most Americans are relieved that the war is coming to a close, many of my colleagues who work with the military and veteran community — those who serve in the government as well as those who work in the nonprofit sector — are concerned about the end of the war. They are worried that with the final drawdown, some of our citizens may lose interest in the ongoing needs of those who fought this war. It isn’t that we Americans are uncaring. On the contrary, we are the most compassionate and generous nation in the world according to the 2013 World Giving Index, published annually by the international nonprofit organization, Charities Aid Foundation. But war is brutal, and it is difficult to tolerate a sustained focus on the pain and suffering that sometimes affects those who come home — even if they are coming home to a grateful nation.
Give an Hour, in its eighth year, is proud to continue our efforts to serve returning troops, veterans, their families, and their communites. The past year has been a very busy and successful one for our growing organization. Our dedicated mental health volunteer providers now report donating an average of 1,000 hours of critical mental health services every month. In October, the cumulative total of hours donated since we began tracking in 2008 surpassed 100,000. We know that the mental health services that our providers offer will continue to be needed for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, those of us in the mental health profession have learned from prior conflicts that the tail of any war is very long indeed.
In addition to our core mission of providing free mental health care, Give an Hour is increasingly being called on for its community organizing and volunteer management expertise. Our collaborative approach to tackling problems is being adopted by others and has resulted in large numbers of partnerships with organizations including Got Your 6, The Mission Continues, Team Rubicon, and the Wounded Warrior Project.
We are also very proud of our new program with the Army National Guard — a program that will harness GAH’s expertise in coordination and collaboration to make all Guard units aware of the Give an Hour services available to them, as we work directly with local communities to create a comprehensive system of care for Guard families.
One of the most significant developments over the last few months has been Give an Hour’s partnership with Google on the launch of the new Google Helpouts platform. Using the power of live video conferencing, this new capability will change the way mental health care is delivered. Because of this HIPAA-compliant, secure technological advance, it is now possible to reach those in need who are unable to leave their homes or located in areas of our country where few mental health professionals practice.
In addition to the power and effectiveness of our ongoing programs, we have seen the importance of gathering our larger community together to share lessons learned and best practices. Thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and partners, including the Case Foundation, we were able to hold such a gathering last June in New York City. Give an Hour’s second annual Celebration of Service events exemplified our collaborative approach and honored the accomplishments of those who serve — those who wear the uniform and those who serve in the civilian sector.
The celebration began on June 2 with a service project that brought 100 veterans and students together to work side-by-side to create a community garden and paint classrooms at PS 197, an elementary school in Harlem. Our June 3 conference, entitled “Serving Those Who Serve: Training the Next Generation,” held at Columbia University’s Medical Center, represented the public launch of Give an Hour’s commitment to Got Your 6 and the Clinton Global Initiative to train 100,000 students by December 2014 on the mental health issues affecting those who serve in the military and their families. The conference included six panels, each devoted to a mental health issue affecting the military community, and concluded with a performance by Theater of War and a reception.
The conference audience consisted of over 200 graduate students in mental health disciplines and others from the military, government, corporate, educational, and nonprofit worlds interested in helping military families. In addition, the events were live streamed, allowing students to participate from across the country. During the conference, 380 watched the event live and 1,706 visited the event website.
We are proud of all that we accomplished in 2013, but we know that the real work is just beginning. We know that over one million service members will be separating form the military over the next five years and some will struggle with the transition home. But we are confident in our ability to meet the needs if we continue to knit together the resources available in communities across our great nation. And we are proud and appreciative of the amazing partners and friends who have stepped up to help.