Elizabeth Dole Foundation
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Voice Awards Blog Week: Supporting Military and Veteran Families and Caregiver (May 25)

Voice Awards Blog Week: Supporting Military and Veteran Families and Caregiver (May 25)

On Thursday, May 25, we’re focusing on Community Champions for Awareness and Education for the military family and military caregiver community. Today we pose this question to our bloggers:

Who has championed awareness and education about mental health and/or addiction issues in the military and veteran communities? Tells us how they are making a difference in your local community.

Check out these blogs by Dole Caregiver Fellows Jeannette Davidson-Mayer, Corrine Hinton and Mel Collins from Operation Higher Ground.

Juggling Water Balloons: How Churches, Community Can Support PTSD/TBI Sufferers” by Dole Caregiver Fellow Jeannette Davidson-Mayer


Give An Hour” by Dole Caregiver Fellow Corrine Hinton

“Don’t just treat the symptoms; treat the cause.”

This adage initially developed within members of the medical community to remind physicians that the underlying or inciting event or issue should be the focus of any patient’s treatment. Over the years, the saying has evolved to suggest that any problem, if it is to be solved, must be addressed at its root.

The long-term viability of many military families is in jeopardy, but there is an organization trying to help treat one significant cause.  

Founded by psychologist Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen in 2005, Give an Hour is a nonprofit organization with a mission to meet the mental health needs of troops and their families affected by post-9/11 conflicts. One of Give an Hour’s primary goals is to develop a volunteer network of mental health professionals who agree to provide services to military veterans or their immediate family members for free. Currently, its network includes “nearly 7,000 psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, marriage and family therapists, drug and alcohol counselors, pastoral counselors, and other professional counselors” (https://www.giveanhour.org/AboutUs.aspx).  Through Give an Hour’s network, service providers can counsel individuals, couples, families, children, and adolescents, any of whom may be directly or secondarily impacted by the trauma of wartime service.   

Improving access to quality mental health care services for military veterans and members of their immediate relations is an essential part to helping maintain healthy military families. For example, veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are at a higher risk of experiencing marital or family problems, parenting difficulties, and family adjustment issues. Likewise, the partners, spouses, and caregivers of veterans with PTSD can be at greater risk for intimate partner violence, caregiver burden, divorce, and developing their own mental health concerns (e.g., depression, anxiety). Thus, connecting veterans with mental health or substance abuse issues to reliable mental health services is only the first step in supporting them effectively. Spouses, partners, caregivers, and children must also know that mental health support is available to them in order for them to work together as a healthy, productive, mutually-supportive family. Give an Hour dedicates itself to improving the mental health of military families.

Give an Hour, however, does not limit its efforts to providing services directly. The organization also seeks to reduce the stigma associated with mental health by raising public awareness through its own efforts and in collaboration with other veterans organizations (like the VFW and Wounded Warrior Project), civilian-based nonprofit agencies (like United Way), and other national mental health initiatives (like the Campaign to Change Direction).  

Last year, a faculty colleague of mine invited me to check out Give an Hour and their work. As a licensed counselor, he had already signed on to donate his time in support of the effort, but I didn’t think there was much I could do to help the cause. I’m an English professor, and I’m fairly certain Give an Hour didn’t want me mucking around with their services (as it turns out, they have a clear system in place to make sure every service provider is vetted accordingly). However, Give an Hour makes a space for anyone who wants to donate their time to the organization’s efforts, and as someone with skills in writing and research, I have helped them locate current mental health research with veteran populations. Helping Give an Hour learn the latest about what the findings of treatments, therapies, or studies aids them in their goal to help change the way we think and talk about as well as respond to mental health concerns among our veterans and their families.

Give an Hour’s network of service providers continues to grow every year but they always need more licensed mental health and substance abuse experts to add to their cadre. As Dr. Van Dahlen’s efforts and successes continue to receive public attention, even more military families stand to benefit from their support.

So – what do you say? Can you give an hour?  


Operation HighGround” by Mel Collins

Operation HighGround  was started in 2005 in response to an invitation from a fellow Patriot Guard Rider to participate in the Chaplains tent at a “Stand Down” event at the Minneapolis area Army Reserve site for offering assistance to homeless Veterans. The experience brought me to my knees. I witnessed Veterans from all levels of society. Some with disabilities, some with broken marriages, some with sickness, some with all the things we hear of on a daily basis, and unfortunately many become desensitized to the struggles because no one seems to know what to do. Throwing drugs and money at the issues seem to be the only option that many in society have and upon study of the situation, the only successful option is no where near that solution.  

True community is an option that is highly successful but has not been utilized because there is nothing available to teach.

People want to help, but they don’t know how. There are many organizations that have their own missions and though you can come alongside them, you rarely know the issues outside of the individual mission. We feel that by knowing the issues, it will generate individual or corporate creativity based on the strengths and the tools available to individual, churches, civic groups, and even communities. Most of the Service Members we have met have no desire to be welfare recipients, they would rather finish the mission they were trained to do. The name Operation HighGround came from that. Everyone knows that the High Ground is the most defendable position, but time is not on the side of the High Ground. The High Ground needs supplies and support to hold it, and it is our job as a society to link arms with these Service Members and supply the High Ground. Help them to finish the mission, which in many cases is simply coming home.  

Passing the Baton, (PTB) is a series to assist in the knowledge and development of unique and individual programs that are created by those who desire to go beyond thinking that a thank you, is enough. For some it is, but to many more, a great deal more is needed. Society is divided up in “silos” where each group goes to be with like minded people. We need to build bridges and connect with those so we can go past the isolation of people and reach out. We have focused on the Chaplains of the Military as they have their fingers on the emotional pulses of the Service Members more than anyone. We have taken that knowledge and parlayed it into a series to share with the churches across the country. Hence the name Passing the Baton. This is not a religious work, but has religious flares as it is the Chaplains telling their stories and sharing their experiences, something that would fit in with most church infrastructures as that is their mostly universal calling. We have also reached out to Civic groups like VFW, American Legion, MOPH, and DAV. The Mpls chapter 1 of the DAV helped in the development and funding of this series. It is our hope that we can “build a bridge” between the churches and the above mentioned organizations to make sure that a proper understanding is reached in the development of new programs as is crucial that both sides interact.

This video project consists of 6 training videos to include a training video for facilitators. After each video a training manual/question/participant note sheet will be included so that the facilitator(s) can lead the discussion after the video session. The series are as follows:


  • Video #1  (The Long Journey Home),  Video #2  (The Veteran and Emotional Trauma), Video #3  (The Veteran and Addiction), Video #4  (The Veteran and the Family), Video #5  (The Veteran and Society), Video #6  (The Veteran and Our Responsibility)



Our original plan was to bring the Service Members story to the public but upon sharing different aspects of the filming with Veterans we found that it was a powerful resource to the healing of many wounds that were never dealt with. By understanding this we have adapted the worksheets to have one for the Veteran and another for the civilian. It is our goal that it will be brought together for sharing within the group. These are all available in pdf form on the video for download.

100% of the funds go to the project.

There is so much attention to “awareness” currently and most people think that awareness is enough. Again, it is not. Awareness without some type of action plan or understanding becomes nothing more than organized complaining and that burns out real fast and people lose interest very fast and give up on the issue. If you want to truly help someone, you must understand them, and laugh and even cry with them sometimes. A friend of this project said in the video, that “you sometimes need to dirty your hands with the soil of humanity.” It is not always easy, and sometimes painful, but if we truly want to help we need to start somewhere and this series starts the journey. It is Not a roadmap, but it is a start in the right direction. It is a start to develop creative ideas, to some on an individual basis, to others in a corporate or communal setting. All are necessary and a step to healing a big wound in this country. We have decided not to charge for this as enough people have made money on the backs of our Heroes. We will serve those who have served us, away, and at home.

I have felt the pain of the Chaplains and decided to finish the mission by building bridges to those who have sacrificed so much to the care of our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, friends and neighbors. It is our turn now and with your help we can start to turn the page to a new season of doing.