In order to track how our efforts are doing in providing free mental health care to military service men and women and their families, Give an Hour conducts surveys every three months, asking our volunteer mental health professionals to let us know how many hours they have contributed. We are excited to report an increase of nearly 8,000 hours donated, not including volunteer hours spent on operations, between April and June 2012. This is a huge increase over previous quarters, when an average of 3,000 hours have been reported as donated, and no doubt reflects our efforts to reach out to members of the military, raise awareness, reduce stigma, and recruit and engage providers. Some of the ways that Give an Hour is conducting outreach are:•Creating a series of public service announcements that have been aired on radio and television stations and on a jumbotron in Times Square in New York City.•Working with branches of the military and Department of Veterans Affairs to reach their personnel. For example, GAH has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line.•Participating in resource fairs that target military families. In addition, Give an Hour has received publicity attracting more volunteers and requests for service due to the honors garnered over the past few months. The White House’s Joining Forces Initiative recognized Give an Hour as one of five winners of the Joining Forces Community Challenge. Also, Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen was named one of the one hundred most influential people in the world by Time Magazine for her work as Founder and President of Give an Hour. In addition to the tremendous honor we feel because of this recognition, we also believe that the attention surrounding these awards will allow GAH to recruit more mental health providers, reach more military families and persuade more to seek care if they are in need. Attached is a link to one of the PSAs that has appeared in Times Square this summer.
Give an Hour™ now has over 6,300 mental health professionals enrolled as volunteers, ready to give an hour a week in free confidential counseling to military family members in their communities. Every provider who volunteers allows GAH to reach more communities and more people in need, such as the military spouse who sent in the following testimonial. "When my husband came home from his 5th deployment he finally recognized everything I had been saying for the past 6 years and decided to seek help. The Army mental health system is so bogged down they could only see him once every 2 months since he was not high risk i.e., he wasn’t engaging in binge drinking or beating me or the kids. However, he exhibited extreme examples of PTSD suffering and was self-medicating with alcohol so I went on the offensive and started looking for resources away from the military and stumbled onto Give an Hour. We were connected with a wonderful woman who assisted us in the reconnection process. We finally let our defenses down because we were no longer looking at home a year, gone a year like it has been the past 11years. She helped us to take time to simply adjust. Give an Hour is a wonderful organization and it is an amazing thing you are doing. I advocate for this service EVERY chance I get! "
Here are reports from two of Give an Hour's volunteers, who provide free counseling through GAH's program to members of military families who seek help. We are so grateful to these and their fellow volunteers who with our donors make Give an Hour's work possible.
Tiffany explains: “One lesson I learned was that mental health problems are endemic to every war particularly symptoms of PTSD. I recall talking to both soldiers and their wives about when they came home from war in the forties with 'shell shock' which is what they called PTSD then.” Tiffany says that World War II veterans back then described symptoms exactly like what she sees today in soldiers who are young enough to be their grandchildren. “They were emotionally withdrawn, volatile, unable to bond with their kids, unable to sleep. These are the same symptoms soldiers who have seen combat have today.” Tiffany remembers listening to a Marine who had served in the Pacific and who “just wanted to talk with me before he died. He told me how he had been in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor happened and how he had enlisted right away. He described how harrowing and difficult it was when his company landed at Iwo Jima. The water was so rough that some of the men were crushed between the boats as they disembarked and drowned before they even got to shore. He remembered every detail.” Currently it is the wives and mothers of soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan who she helps as a Give an Hour provider. “One young woman’s husband was finishing up basic training, and they were both afraid he would be deployed to Afghanistan because he was in the Infantry,” she says. “Another of my GAH patients was a mom whose son had committed suicide after returning from war with both PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. She had a younger son whom I was able to refer to another GAH provider since it was inconvenient for him to come to see me.” Tiffany sees the mental health problems stemming from the current conflicts as only getting worse. “You know the military gives these kids months of training before they deploy, but only a week of training when they are returning to civilian life. It’s just not enough when, after several deployments, the soldiers are facing failing marriages and financial problems with full-blown PTSD. The system makes transitioning back pretty tough, which is one reason I feel so good about being able to help as many as I can as a Give an Hour provider.”
Charles heard of Give an Hour through e-mail over three years ago and immediately signed up to offer pro bono support: “I . . . always keep time open for my Give an Hour work.” He often gets to know the military families in the community through wives of soldiers who come to him with anger management issues. “At first I see the spouse and then if all goes well, we progress to couples therapy. The adjustments post-deployment can be huge for these young couples.” Military Academy, a small military boarding school for students from sixth grade through twelfth is twenty minutes away.
Charles spends one morning a week seeing cadets for mental health and behavioral issues and is always on call for them. “A good number of these children come from military families and have issues because of moving around so much and having parents deploy more than once. My wife’s father was in the military so she gives me insights that I myself might not have about what they go through.”
Most of Charles’s clients are young people, high schoolers and college students, but he has also counseled the occasional older veteran. “I recently worked with a Vietnam veteran in his sixties. He contacted me because I had worked with his daughter in the past. It seems he was at a bank one day and the teller was giving him the runaround, and suddenly he felt an overwhelming rage. Then he began to have flashbacks. He said, 'I had no idea that I would remember half this awful stuff.'” Charles is an ardent supporter of Give an Hour. “These folks do so much for us, at the very least we should give them the help they need,” he says.
Based on responses to Give an Hour's recently conducted quarterly survey of our wonderful volunteer mental health providers, they have provided over 3,000 hours of counseling since August, 2011. Give an Hour is grateful to its volunteers who give their professional services to our country's military veterans and their loved ones, allowing them to receive free, confidential, easily accessible counseling. Following is an excerpt from an interview with one of GAH's volunteeer providers which shows the direct impact that each provider has on saving lives:
One of Sage's cases is a 24-year-old active duty Marine who has returned from deployment to Iraq in 2008 with severe PTSD. One of his duties was to search and defuse the area around his Forward Operating Base for buried landmines. He was routinely besieged by mortars and grenades both inside and outside "the wire." When he returned home to Pendleton and sought help, he was given a mild anti-depressant and told to "buck up and shut up." His wife had divorced him for another man, and he was barracked right smack in the middle of a highly active training facility that ran training exercises 24/7. By the time a battle buddy referred him to Give an Hour™ and ultimately Sage, "he was experiencing a lot of symptoms," she says. "He goes to bed with two guns and two knives but seldom sleeps. He has so many triggers . . . the sound of vehicles, the smell of fuel, the firing range, the munitions. Pendleton is on the beach, and the sight of sand makes him anxious so that his hyper-arousal goes through the roof. He has an extreme startle response and is constantly on edge. He can't be in the moment because he is continually scanning for the enemy." Besides giving him some tools to cope with his PTS, such as self-talk and meditation techniques, Sage has set two long-term goals for her patient. She is trying to get him into a Navy PTSD program and urging him to act upon his own desire for a discharge. "We'll see," she says. "But no matter what happens I feel like I'm making a difference. I know we professionals need to fill our hours with paid clients, particularly in a recession, but if we have the opportunity to be a part of something as important as Give an Hour™, we should go for it. The benefits of giving back are incalculable."
Since posting the project description at GlobalGiving, Give an Hour’s volunteer mental health providers have increased in number from 5,500 to almost 6,000. Give an Hour is effective due to the simplicity and speed by which free counseling services can be provided to a particularly needy population that is spread across the United States and U.S. Territories. Free to recipients, the services require a minimal infrastructure of paid staff to support the program: Last year services were provided at a cost to GAH of $17.88 per hour. If billed at a standard rate, they would have cost a minimum of $100 per hour, not including coordination, outreach, and other costs such as overhead.
We hear from military officials and others that our volunteers are making a difference in improving the lives of our service members and their families. One example of how GAH works occurred when GAH was contacted by a colleague at Walter Reed’s Wounded Warrior Mentor Program about whether we could get help to a family in N.C. There a suicidal veteran with TBI who is also a single father was in need of counseling, as were his children. They had not been able to get care from the VA. Our staff located a GAH volunteer nearby who networked among her peers to coordinate free care for the whole family. We field requests like this and connect those in need to those who can help as often as once a week—in addition to the connections made directly via our Web site.
Give an Hour is successful because it harnesses the widespread desire to help and support our nation’s military. We believe that most people value the opportunity to respond to a worthy cause and that the act of giving has a powerful and positive effect on those who give and those who receive. But we also know that people are more likely to donate their time if it can be done easily. We are making it easy for mental health professionals to donate their valuable skills by joining the GAH network. In this way we are harnessing their urge to volunteer and their clinical knowledge to provide the care our military community needs and deserves while educating the larger public about the mental health issues this community faces.
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