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Not From Government, Here to Help (4): Giving an Hour for Troubled Vets

October 07, 2013

By Howard Husock

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Fourth in a series about the 2013 Manhattan Institute Simon Prize and Cornuelle Award winners for social entrepreneurship

When Jennifer, who joined the U.S. Army in 2000 at the age of 20, came home from Afghanistan, her adjustment to civilian life did not go well. She quickly concluded that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One might well expect Jennifer to have sought help at the Veterans Administration (VA), the federal agency that devotes over $6 billion annually to providing mental health services for veterans. But she was reluctant to take advantage of the VA’s services, fearing repercussions if she were ever to reenlist. Once she overcame that reluctance, however, Jennifer was dissatisfied with the therapist to whom she was assigned. She was not in a position to ask for a change. Her downward spiral continued into homelessness and drug use, bringing her into the legal system. It was through a special drug court that she was referred to an organization that would link her to someone who could actually help and would one day offer her a job.

Give an Hour, the organization founded in 2005 by Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, a Washington, D.C.-area clinical psychologist, was built on the idea that a great many mental health professionals would be willing to volunteer their time and services to help veterans like Jennifer if offered a way to do so. At first, Van Dahlen worked outside the system, but Give an Hour, based only on her insight and those drawn to it, has gone on to gain the official cooperation of the Department of Defense and to gain special recognition from the White House.

"The idea," recalls Van Dahlen, "was that we could each do a little" to advance what she describes as a "mission to heal." It’s a mission that she believed could not be served fully by the VA, notwithstanding the resources that it brings to bear annually on mental health programs. A great many others—veterans and mental health professionals—have agreed. Starting with rudimentary computer skills, Van Dahlen has, with a volunteer "staff" of just 14—mainly military spouses scattered around the country—built a network of more than 6,000 psychiatrists and psychologists. They have collectively provided a staggering 400,000 in volunteer hours.

A number that large reflects the size of the need: 2.3 million troops have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, and more than 1 million active-duty troops will be transitioning back to civilian life as these wars wind down over the next five years. Not all—or even most—veterans struggle with the stress disorders that tend to garner disproportionate attention. But for some, the problem is real. The VA estimates a PTSD rate of 20 percent among veterans returning from combat duty. In addition, 20 percent of troops have suffered a traumatic brain injury with all the physical and emotional cost that such an injury entails. Nearly 550,000 of these troops have been deployed more than once. Yet returning veterans are not routinely seeking mental health treatment for combat-related stress. A RAND study reports that only 53 percent of service members with PTSD or depression sought help over the past year.

Not seeking help can have awful consequences, as Major Mark Graham (retired), former director of U.S. Army Forces Command and a member of the Give an Hour board, makes clear. (He led all training and operations for army forces in the continental U.S. in 2009–12.) Major Graham lost two sons in an eight-month period in 2003 and 2004: one to a roadside bomb in Iraq; and the other, an ROTC cadet, to suicide. Major Graham has spoken, with great pain, at events organized by Give an Hour, of his own failure to heed the signs of his son’s spiral into depression and the decision by so many veterans in their own pain not to seek help.

There are many reasons for not seeking care through the VA, says Van Dahlen. They include a fear of jeopardizing a career because of perceived stigma. Sometimes it’s an unwillingness to expose any vulnerability to counselors who are part of a military system emphasizing courage and bravery. Or, in light of an unemployment rate for veterans (12 percent) that exceeds that of the general population, veterans may well be focused on finding or keeping a job and have little time to join the formal VA system. But even for those who would seek the VA’s services, often the wait for care through a VA hospital is just too long. Sometimes, it is not the veterans themselves but those who are close to them who need help. Family members typically do not qualify for government help. They might include the young military spouse (still, usually, a wife) with a child suffering from nightmares during her husband’s deployment or a father struggling with his son’s loss of a leg in Iraq. At a time when fewer than 1 percent of households have a member in the military, family members may well lack a circle of friends and family to help.

Give an Hour not only guarantees confidentiality but will provide help to veterans as well as their families. The overall goal goes beyond providing counseling for an individual: the program aims to build a healthy support system for returning troops and to lower the risk of prolonged dysfunction in military families.

Therapists see special advantages to Give an Hour. McLean, Virginia, psychologist Brenna Chirby, a professional acquaintance of Van Dahlen and a Give an Hour volunteer, had shied away from pro bono work in other instances because she was turned off by "red tape," especially pertaining to insurance claims and medical records. She calls Give an Hour, by contrast, "brilliant in its simplicity." One of her recent cases was the mother of a veteran. The son had PTSD and substance abuse issues and was resisting any form of treatment. Through Give an Hour, Chirby was able to help the mother to "support, but not enable" her son as he ultimately got back on his feet.

The VA, says Chirby (who provides free care for up to a year and help on a sliding scale thereafter), is "overwhelmed and can’t meet the immense need" among vets. She adds that the Give an Hour model may have implications beyond the veterans population: after medical confidentiality issues are worked out, Give an Hour will be in the forefront of "tele-mental-health," utilizing providers to counsel people via Skype all over the world. Younger soldiers have proved extremely open to online counseling and often share more this way than in person. This will complement the "beautiful simplicity" of the Give an Hour model and get more help to those who need it.

Van Dahlen believes that the stakes in the relationships being forged are high, and she has focused Give an Hour specifically on preventing suicide among veterans struggling with depression and PTSD. She states: "We need to be able to recognize when someone is struggling or in emotional pain, and we need to know what to do to ensure that person’s safety…. I am absolutely positive that we can save many. And that opportunity is worth fighting for."

Van Dahlen and the volunteers who choose to "give an hour" are doing just that. From its modest beginning, less than a decade ago, the organization now works with some of the highest-profile veterans assistance organizations in the country: the Wounded Warrior Project, historically focused more on physical injuries; and "Got Your Six," the star-studded campaign of public-service announcements and script "integrations" for TV and film led by former Blackhawk helicopter pilot and army officer Chris Marvin, which aims to engage ordinary Americans with vets and their families. To reach veterans, Give an Hour uses its very modest budget ($1.6 million) to work "outside" and "inside" the military for maximum visibility. It studiously avoids being associated with any views about the wisdom of Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The organization’s admiration for and support of veterans and their families have earned the group many fans in the Department of Defense. With institutional buy-in, Van Dahlen has built many avenues to reach vets in need. They have identified key individuals involved in post-deployment troop processing. Collaborative relationships with the commanding officers of returning troops allow for a comfort level and awareness of Give an Hour services. Each service has its own transition assistance program and reintegration events. Providers attend up to three such events per month in many states.

Barbara van Dahlen, in the tradition of Clara Barton and so many Americans who have come up with their own approaches to addressing our common problems, has something distinct to give.

Since 2001, I’ve helped direct the award program at the Manhattan Institute that recognizes top social entrepreneurs—those who develop effective and original approaches to dealing with social problems and who rely mainly on private funding and volunteers to see their idea to fruition. They are leaders of our civil society, doing the things that government can’t do—or can’t do as well. We grant up to five $25,000 awards, named for the libertarian thinker Richard Cornuelle (who coined the term "independent sector"), to promising, growing programs. An annual $100,000 lifetime achievement prize, the largest such award for an American nonprofit leader, is named for William E. Simon, the investment finance pioneer and U.S. Treasury secretary, whose book A Time for Truth sounded an alarm about the growing dependence of nonprofit organizations on government funding. Simon Prize winners have included Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone; and Brian Lamb, founder of C-SPAN.

All award winners direct organizations that they founded themselves—and that rely minimally, if at all, on government funding. They are more than just "points of light," however: many seek to extend their reach, whether by growing larger and branching to other cities, or helping others to start similar organizations elsewhere.

Award winners are nominated by donors who have seen the nominee’s work firsthand, and they are selected by a panel that includes: Les Lenkowsky, professor of philanthropic studies, Indiana University; Adam Meyerson, president, the Philanthropy Roundtable; William Schambra, director, Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal; Anne-Marie Burgoyne, former program officer, Draper-Richards Foundation; and James Piereson, president, William E. Simon Foundation.

This year’s award presentation will take place in New York on November 5. This is the second profile of this year’s award winners.

Here’s the list of winners from years past:

2012

BUILD, Suzanne McKechnie Klahr, Redwood City, Calif.
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention, Daniel Reingold, Riverdale, N.Y.
Getting Out and Staying Out, Mark Goldsmith, New York, N.Y.
IDignity, Michael Dippy, Orlando, Fla.
Simon Prize: Brian Lamb, C-SPAN, Washington, D.C.

2011

English @ Work, Maile Broccoli-Hickey, Austin, Tex.
Glamour Gals, Rachel Doyle, Commack, N.Y.
Work Faith Connection, Barbara Elliott and Sandy Schultz, Houston, Tex.
Improved Solutions for Urban Systems, Ann Higdon, Dayton, Ohio
MedWish, Lee Ponsky, Cleveland, Ohio
Simon Prize: Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone, New York, N.Y.

2010

Cristo Rey Network, Rev. John P. Foley, S.J., Chicago, Ill.
REEO, Scott Stimpfel, South Pasadena, Calif.
The Mission Continues, Eric Greitens, St. Louis, Mo.
Civic Builders, David Umansky, New York, N.Y.
SquashBusters, Greg Zaff, Roxbury Crossing, Mass.
Simon Prize: Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, The Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History, New York, N.Y.

2009

Rocking the Boat, Adam Green, New York, N.Y.
Cincinnati Works, Dave and Liane Phillips, Cincinnati, Ohio
National Kidney Registry, Garet Hil, Babylon, N.Y.
United Neighborhood Organization, Juan Rangel, Chicago, Ill.
Simon Prize: Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), San Francisco, Calif.

2008

C-CAP (Careers Through Culinary Arts Program), Richard Grausman, New York, N.Y.
Beacon Hill Village, Susan McWhinney-Morse, Boston, Mass.
Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, Robert L. Woodson Sr., Washington D.C.
St. Bernard Project, Zack Rosenburg and Liz McCartney, New Orleans, La.
GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), Rachel Lloyd, New York, N.Y.
Simon Prize: George T. McDonald, The Doe Fund, Inc., Ready, Willing & Able Program, New York, N.Y

.

2007

A Home Within, Toni Vaughn Heineman, D.M.H., San Francisco, Calif.
More than Wheels (formerly Bonnie CLAC), Robert Chambers, Lebanon, N.H.
Friendship Circle, Rabbi Levi and Bassie Shemtov, West Bloomfield, Mich.
Reclaim A Youth, Addie Mix, Glenwood, Ill.
Prison Entrepreneurship Program, Catherine Rohr, Houston, Tex.
Simon Prize: Daniel A. Biederman, Bryant Park Corporation and 34th Street Partnership, New York, N.Y.

2006

Inner City Neighborhood Art House, Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, Erie, Pa.
Project K.I.D.—Responding to Kids in Devastation, Paige T. Ellison, Fairhope, Ala.
Project Lead the Way, Richard C. Liebich, Clifton Park, N.Y.
Taproot Foundation, Aaron Hurst, San Francisco, Calif.
Volunteers in Medicine Institute, Amy Hamlin, Burlington, Vt.

2005

Mexican Institute of Greater Houston, Jose-Pablo Fernandez, Houston, Tex.
RISE (Resources for Indispensable Schools and Educators), Temp Keller, San Francisco, Calif.
Philadelphia Futures for Youth, Joan C. Mazzotti, Philadelphia, Pa.
Shreveport-Bossier Community Renewal, Reverend Mack McCarter, Shreveport, La.

2004

Bridges To Life, John Sage, Houston, Tex.
Center for Teaching Entrepreneurship, ReDonna Rodgers, Milwaukee, Wisc.
Reading Excellence and Discovery Foundation, Al Sikes, New York, N.Y.
Upwardly Global, Jane Leu, San Francisco, Calif.

2003

The First Place Fund for Youth, Amy Lemley and Deanne Pearn, Oakland, Calif.
Living Lands and Waters, Chad Pregracke, East Moline, Ill.
Think Detroit, Michael Tenbusch and Daniel Varner, Detroit, Mich.
Working Today, Sara Horowitz, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Year Up, Gerald Chertavian, Boston, Mass.

2002

Shepherd’s Hope, William S. Barnes, Orlando, Fla.
College Summit, Jacob Schramm, Washington, D.C.
New Jersey Orators, James G. Hunter, Somerset, N.J.

2001

JUMP: Junior Uniformed Mentoring Program, John and Catherine Dixon, Buffalo, N.Y.
Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union/Credit Where Credit Is Due, Mark Levine, New York, N.Y.
The SEED Foundation, Eric Adler and Rajiv Vinnakota, Washington, D.C.
Steppingstone Foundation, Michael Danziger, Boston, Mass.

Original Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/howardhusock/2013/10/07/not-from-the-government-here-to-help-4-giving-an-hour-for-troubled-vets/

 

 
 
 

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