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Making Progress in Serving Those Who Serve
10/2/2012

Barbara Van Dahlen

I am frequently impressed—and often touched—by the many efforts that currently exist to support and assist service members, veterans, and their families. So many organizations and citizens have stepped up over the last decade and have given so much time and so many gifts to assist those who serve.

It is this outpouring of compassion that lead Admiral Mike Mullen to speak to community after community during his tenure as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about what he called the “Sea of Good Will,” explaining to stakeholders and leaders the important role that we all have in welcoming service members home. It is the powerful desire expressed by so many to support our military community that led First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to develop the Joining Forces Initiative (www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces), an effort that encourages the development and implementation of partnerships across our nation in support of military families. It was the recognition that we have an untapped pool of resources in our communities that can be harnessed if we have the will and the expertise that led several of my colleagues and me to develop the Community Blueprint concept (www.handsonnetwork.org/community-blueprint). And it is the awareness that our entertainment industry can change the conversation in our country about veterans by using celebrities to deliver a powerful message that engages and educates—one that reminds us that veterans are assets to the communities they come home to—that led to the development of the Got Your 6 campaign (www.gotyour6.org).

Two recent examples of how far we have progressed in the last several years come to mind. Two men came together in Philadelphia recently in an effort to support veterans in their community, one with experience in the television industry and the other in music. Neither had served in the military, but both had fathers who had. They wanted to do something to address the needs they saw, and so they created a project called Bands of Brothers (www.bandsofbrothers.org). They invited veterans with musical ability from all over the Philadelphia area to audition for one of three bands that would be featured in a new weekly online reality program. The goal of the program is to raise awareness about an issue that affects many who come home from war—post-traumatic stress—while creating an opportunity for twelve veterans to pursue their passion of playing music. The program’s first episode premiered on September 13. The final episode will air on the Tuesday following Veterans Day and will broadcast footage of the Veterans Day concert to be held in Philly featuring the three bands.

Bands of Brothers contacted Give an Hour and offered an opportunity to partner on this interesting and exciting project. Of course we agreed and are so proud to be involved in an effort that showcases the talent of these veterans and helps raise awareness about important issues such as post-traumatic stress. As the Lead Activation Partner for the Health pillar of the Got Your 6 campaign, Give an Hour is excited to spread the word to our partners and through our networks about a program that engages, educates, and supports our veterans.


My other example takes place in Fayetteville, North Carolina, one of a handful of Community Blueprint demonstration sites currently up and running across the country. Give an Hour received a generous grant from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation in 2010 to implement and refine the Community Blueprint concept in Fayetteville and Norfolk, Virginia. It has been such a powerful and moving experience to witness the compassion and dedication that these communities have for those who serve and their families. We have had the pleasure of working with numerous local organizations that were dedicated to providing opportunities and support to those in the military but often had neither the resources nor the tools to accomplish their goal. Our work in these communities brought human resources to bear and, with our community partners, we set about developing a strategy to organize community efforts, employ promising practices, and engage the military and veterans’ community.

The impact of the Community Blueprint work has been seen at the community level with more and more organizations working collaboratively, sharing information with one another, tackling problems in their community, and putting on numerous events that provide critical information and valuable resources to those in need (see the recent article at http://fayobserver.com/ articles/2012/09/23/1206021?sac=fo.military). And the impact has been felt on the very personal level. The following is a note I received Labor Day weekend from one of our Blueprint Team members. She lives in Fayetteville and is herself a veteran and a military spouse:

I have a great success story that I had to share with you. Today was one of those days that proved that the Community Blueprint is truly making a difference. First, one partner reached out to us to find behavioral health providers for the family of one of her students. And then a staff member from the Fayetteville VA Medical Center called me to discuss a client with a family of five that as of tonight had no place to live and had been homeless—living in motels—since April. The veteran and his wife have three children, ages 8, 5, and 3. The VA staff member had tried finding a shelter for them using many of her connections, such as the Salvation Army, Operation Inasmuch, and the Fayetteville Housing Authority. No one picked up the phone as it is a four-day weekend. So having nowhere else to turn, she contacted her "Community Blueprint Network" to ask for assistance. As it happens, yesterday our Vista volunteer and I had a meeting with the Executive Director for Fayetteville Urban Ministries. He provided us with a great overview of what services they offer. Because of this meeting, I was able to connect the VA staff member with the Executive Director for Urban Ministries, and I am happy to report that this veteran and his family are now set up with temporary housing for the next week and are getting help in securing a long-term living arrangement. Plus, through another connection we were able to secure really nice, gently used clothing for the children of this veteran. Today was one of those amazing days that we were able to see first hand how the Community Blueprint "links" people together to reduce barriers and make access of care easier to navigate for our military.
Clearly the Blueprint is working, and many who need opportunities, support, or assistance will receive it because of the generosity of organizations and citizens who have decided to join this movement.

Just as communities have stepped up to coordinate efforts to provide more effective care, the military itself continues to develop and implement creative and innovative programs designed to improve support for those who serve. General Dana Pittard, the commanding general at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, has implemented numerous programs designed to end all “preventable soldier deaths.” General Pittard has opened the base to the community and is relentless in his efforts to change the culture to one of acceptance and support for those in need of assistance. General Pittard’s perspective has received considerable attention from and the support of high-ranking officials in the Army, as it is seen as a possible model for other installations.

Finally, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, and his impressive staff have picked up the thread and, with renewed commitment and urgency, are refining and furthering the important work done by Admiral Mullen and his team. They are identifying, encouraging, and supporting community-based efforts that must be engaged if we are to create a truly comprehensive and integrated system of care.

Are we making progress? Yes, it seems clear that we are and that there is reason for hope and optimism. But there is still so much to be done—in our communities and agencies, on our bases and installations—that we cannot rely on momentum. We must continue to push through barriers, remove obstacles, and eliminate stovepipes, silos, and other artificially created structures that prevent collaboration and discourage coordination.


Dr. Van Dahlen, founder and president of Give an Hour™, is also a contributing columnist for Veterans Advantage: www.veteransadvantage.com. We encourage you to visit that site for additional news of interest, updates on charitable activities (which include support of Give an Hour™), and its nationwide benefits program for those who served and their families.

Give an Hour™ occasionally publishes columns of general interest by guest writers. The suggested length is 750 words, but we will consider submissions of any length. To submit a column, please e-mail it, along with a brief author bio, to info@giveanhour.org.




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