Military Monday – Warrior and Family Center opens in Bethesda

The USO recently opened their second Warrior and Family Center in the DC area.  This particular one has opened its doors steps from the National Medical Center Walter Reed.  It couldn’t be a more perfect location for one to open, and trust me it has been a long time coming.  When I had the pleasure to speak with then President of the USO, Sloan Gibson, he was bursting at the seams to talk about these facilities.  It was one of my first interviews with someone like that and I was a littler nervous.  But to hear him speak about his dream of opening these immediately put me at ease.  There was a lot of thought that went into designing and building these two buildings, which started to be discussed way back in 2009.  Warriors and their families were interviewed concerning design, and the number one request (which was granted) was a learning center of sorts for transitioning.  Within these walls you can music therapy, recording area, playing area, art classes and fly fishing.  TVs, computers, quiet areas and game rooms.

And while the name Warrior and Family Center implies that this is specifically for our nation’s wounded, however this is not the case.  The USOs doors are open to all military, and I have experienced the building myself.  They are both truly beautiful and feel like home, which is the whole purpose I’m sure.

The second facility is beautiful, and I almost like the design of the second better.  It is a much more open facility, as far as the feel.  Lots of windows with very wide hallways, sort of an open great room if you will.  The ribbon cutting was a wonderful time, hearing the words of those that designed and constructed it.  How it affected them, and how many of the construction and design team have signed on to become to volunteers themselves.  It affects people and hearing that is really touching.


The excitement over the building was electric, everyone was smiling and they all spoke of the same things.  They were beyond thrilled to see this building in action, so close to where it is most needed.  I will say this, we are in desperate need of an overhaul in the way we are treating the wounded.  And we aren’t speaking of just the physical wounds.  There was a Forbes article that discussed some of the startling numbers of “Invisible Wounds” as they are referred to.  The numbers were listed as reported on the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.  The total number of TBI diagnosis by the DoD is over 290,000.  It is important to note that not all of the injuries are deployment related.  In fact 80% are the result of a non-deployment injury (ex: car accident).  But the injury is there, regardless of how it was required, and should be treated.  When broken down the study doesn’t reveal how the injuries were received, just the severity of them; however according to the Rand Corporation in a 2008 press release 20 percent of those have returned report symptoms of TBI and depression.  Most, as we are all aware, do not receive treatment because of the stigma attached to physiological issues; but for those that do, only half of them receive treatment considered “minimally adequate”.  This is one of the reasons why I believe what the USO has to offer is extremely valuable.  This is a chance to make things right.  To operate off the concept that I heard repeated over and over that day – a 360 degree concept of care.  I wish there was one of these centers at every single base.


With the President of the USO DC Metro                  My total geek moment with Miss America!!!!

It’s a step in the right direction; and when you hear those in power express understanding and an actual concern for what is happening it helps.  I wish they would talk about it more, all the time, every day.  This will change, I know it will.  Soon, the stigma will be less and less.  It won’t happen overnight, because it took longer than that for the problem to happen.  But this is an opportunity for those in power, either at the National Level of the military and individual unit leaders, to really effect change.  I’m excited at the possibilities for our military members.
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Military Support Series: Lone Survivor Foundation

With the release of the movie, by the same name, this past weekend I thought it only fitting to run Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor Foundation as this week’s “Military Monday” post.  It wasn’t until several days ago that I had heard about the organization, and I wanted to take the opportunity to share.


First let me share some thoughts from those that help run the Lone Survivor Ranch and Foundation, as well as those that have benefited from this organization. 

The Lone Survivor Foundation provides specialized education and healing retreats to those injured, both physically and psychologically by war.  What I absolutely love about this foundation is that it recognizes that injuries received in war, are far deeper than physical; and while addressing the wounds and issues facing those with physical injury is important, helping those with non-visible injuries is vital to force retention, the overall health and well-being of our service members and their families.

For far too long we have shoving this aside, and not really addressing it as a problem, while service members and their families struggle to make it through the day.  The military prepares them, and to some extent we as family, for war; but where is the real training and understand for the war that wages as home?

Along with these healing retreats the Lone Survivor Foundation is committed to assisting in the healing process of these “Invisible Wounds”, by educating the service member, their spouses and children.  With the aid of specific therapies, and implementation of coping mechanisms, the Warrior and their family members can move forward on a positive path towards healing.  A unique aspect of the treatment and education process is done through Equine Assisted Learning.

You can watch one of the Board Members of LSF, doctor of clinical medicine at Harvard University, and Commander in the Naval Reserve, speak about some of the statistics, as well as the desires of what the Foundation is looking to accomplish.

If you get a moment please visit the Lone Survivor Foundation website to learn more about this, and spread the word to those that are in need.  More importantly I believe every military family should be educated about the options available to them should they ever find themselves in a situation where this would be needed.  Education is the truest path to avoid a breaking point and the quickest to healing and recovery.

LSF website

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#MilitaryMonday The Wingman Project and Real Warriors Campaign

It’s the last day of September, therefore the last day of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month (check out my post here); so now do we just move on to the next awareness month?  I get the idea of awareness months, but sometimes I worry that after that month passes, it will be forgotten.  People tend to take up the mantle of a cause when its cool or profitable, and then it eventually falls by the wayside.  For those that are living through these sorts of things, one month of recognition just simply isn’t enough.

I wanted to highlight some resources that concentrate on keeping this issue at the forefront all the time.  It isn’t until issues of mental health because a concern all the time, that things will change.  There shouldn’t be a negative stigma attached to someone living well.  As someone that has personally struggled with depression and anxiety

The Wingman Project, of the Air National Guard – 

was created in August 2007 by the Deputy Director of Safety of the Air National Guard as a collaborative solution, including chaplains, family support, medical community, and safety, for all Airmen and their families to address suicide intervention. Since then, the project has been endorsed by the US Air Force and the Department of Defense, receiving an HQ Air Force “Best Practice” in July 2009. 
On their website you can access ACE training for family and friends, and also request comprehensive ACE training, where you could then train others to be a Wingman.  
The New StepUp Campaign encourages everyone to spread the word about the Wingman project and suicide prevention awareness.  Learn ACE, download the mobile app and find your local DPH.  Talking about it, and not sweeping it under the rug is the way to make it “normal” and acceptable!

I met some of these wonderful people this summer at the National Training Seminar for Military Child Education Coalition.
The Acadia Military Support Services Program is specially designed to help our Active Duty Service Members and their families focus on healing from the trauma of living through life-threatening events and human tragedy while courageously performing their military duties to maintain our freedom.  Our highly qualified professionals stand ready to provide first-class mental health care, and unequaled substance abuse recovery and rehabilitation through  our network of TRICARE certified facilities.
There’s a wide range of resources and treatments available through this program, and they are prepared to handle anything that comes their way.  They have compassion and love for our troops and their families; and providing care in a stress-free and safe environment is their goal.  They have residential treatment facilities scattered about the US, and provide assistance to the service member and their families from all five branches including the Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.
The Real Warriors Campaign is a multimedia public awareness campaign designed to encourage help-seeking behavior among service members, veterans and military families coping with invisible wounds. Launched by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) in 2009, the campaign is an integral part of the Defense Department’s overall effort to encourage warriors and families to seek appropriate care and support for psychological health concerns.
What I love the most about the Real Warriors Campaign is that they feature, and regularly talk about, real service members that have sought out mental health and psychological treatment.  I think that really is 
the best way to address this issue.  These real warriors have continued on with successful military careers, maintaining security clearances and learning coping skills to do all those things.  They also provide confidential assistance through phone, live chat and email in partnership with the Defense Centers of Excellence Outreach Center.
Service Members can log into service member forums to talk with men and women who have 
been where you are.
I wish I could post every single video and PSA.  I urge you to watch more of them, spread the word, show them to your friends, husbands, wives, friends….

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It’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Month….now what?

There are many months of the year that are dedicated to some sort of cause or awareness, some of which are great, some of which you’re thinking “okay, we need a specific month to think about this?”  Some, like September and its Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, make me stop and think.  We have this month, to think about it,  but so what?  I mean, its great that we’re thinking about it, but what are we actually DOING about it?  I think we are just now starting to really pay attention to this, things are just starting to move, and people are admitting we have a problem.   Resources are being put out there, by Veterans and civilians alike, because I think the realization that the numbers are becoming staggering is coming into play.  Too many military members are committing suicide because its their only way out, and their only way to deal with things.  And what about all the people who are left behind, and the trauma they have now experienced by a friend or family member, or just a fellow soldier in their unit ending their life?

The statistics are there, we see them in every article.  In the 2011 DoDSER (DoD Suicide Event Report) it cited the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, and its report that stated 301 service members died by suicide, and a staggering 915 attempted it.  Programs are created, talks are given, and even last year the Army had an entire ‘Stand Down’ day, where no one (except essential personnel) worked.  Instead they all attended training.  The numbers keep on rising despite all this, and the military seems to be baffled.  But what is the answer?  I was talking to few friends, originally wanting to get their thoughts on where the disconnect might actually be.  Is it fear, is it lack of training and resources for family members, is it lack of the right resources, or is it something else.  As I began to think about it, in the five seconds it took me to ask the all, I wondered something.  Maybe its the fact that there isn’t one right answer.  Maybe that’s how we operate, or how the military operates.  There is a solution to the problem, you apply it, its fixed.  One of my friends was thinking the same thing I was.  There isn’t one right answer, “there’s as many reasons for suicide as there are people,” one of the my friends said.  You know, I think she’s right.  Maybe its not the solution that we should be looking for.  Maybe we should be looking at how we get the solutions (plural) to the people they need to go to.

In a conversation with Major Ed Puldio ( and Dr. Dan Reidenberg ( the focus wasn’t on a specific program, but making sure those that needed help, go the help they needed.  In 2004 Major Pulido was injured by an IED.  He realized that despite what he wanted for himself, to go on with his military career despite his physical and emotional injuries, there were other things for him to do out there.  He hopes that others won’t be scared to finally get that help either.  Fear of losing your career isn’t worth the long term loss to yourself, your friends and your family.

There seems to be a multi-solution for all of those involved in the conversation last week.   Peer-to-Peer mentors, education in the workplace (for National Guard and Reserve), raising awareness for general medical providers, for law enforcement and giving tools to family members.  One of the most unique of these programs was the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, a unique program that has set its sights on changing the face of mental illness and suicide.  Their program, Working Minds, provides tools and training to enable business to battle suicide head on.  Please read more about the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, a Colorado based organization, on their website.   It’s organizations like these that are realizing, like I did, that there is no one way to “solve” the issue of suicide.  There’s a magic pill that everyone can take a suddenly everything will be okay.

How is your community, base and/or state tackling the issue of mental health and wellness?  How would you help those dealing with thoughts of suicide?

You can find a growing list of resources by clicking on the Military Mental Health tab at the top of my blog.  See that I’m missing a resource, please let me know!

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#MilitaryMonday “Keeping It In”

**I would like to say a special thank you to Blue Star Families, and Colonel Anthony Henderson, United States Marine Corp. 

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Blue Star Family, Military Lifestyle Survey Release.  If you have never been or heard of it I definitely urge you to go and check it out here.  See if what is important to you was important to other military families.  If you aren’t military, reading this survey might give you insight into the military life.  The invisible divide between military and civilian worlds was something of special note on the survey.  There was a fairly high number of those surveyed that felt, while civilians as a whole are supportive of the troops, they don’t understand them.  Its pretty hard to understand something that you don’t live, but how does that feeling affect our lives…that, I guess, is something to think about.

I could go on and on about all the things that were talked about that day.  It was so much information, insight, thoughts and feelings that I wish I could ramble on for pages.  But who wants to read that.   There was one particular thing, that stuck out to me that day.  It came in the form of Colonel Anthony M. Henderson, USMC, Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I’ve never seen him before (although I heard some rumblings in the crowd) and most of my experience with Marines in high authority has been, well, basically terrifying (insert nervous laughter here).  

He touched briefly on the subject of PTS/TBI/Suicide, which was in the top five concerns among military families today.  Twenty-three percent of service members surveyed, and 24% of spouses surveyed, reported PTS symptoms regardless of diagnosis.  Nineteen perecent of service members said they had actually been diagnosed.  From those number, 57% reported that treatement was not saught out, which issues of “confidentiality/career concerns” being the main reason for that.  When broached about these numbers Colonel Henderson spoke of a culture of keeping it in.  We are a nation that has been at war for over a decade and we weren’t ready, and still aren’t ready, for what that means.  The culture of the military is a “keeping it in” culture, he said.  Steps are being taken, but we won’t likely see the results for years to come.  It didn’t become this way overnight, and it won’t change over night either.  My husband had been able to attend that day.  That struck a chord with him.  He 1000% agreed with that statement. When something is so wrong – PTS, high suicide rates and the like – we want to find a way to fix it instantly.  It just doesn’t work that way.  It really sucks, but its true.  

So how can we help?  Educate yourselves.  Know the signs and know what to do about it.  Its really difficult to force a spouse to get help, especially when they don’t want to, for whatever reason.  I have to say that after having used Military OneSource, and helping friends use it, it is completely confidential.  Nothing ever got back to anyone that we/they didn’t want it to.  You are referred to civilian doctors, for free, who only have your typical reporting duties.  Even a baby step in the right direction is a step.  But no one can do it on their own, no matter what their uniform looks like, no matter what their rank is.  Those in positions of authority that only encourage and feed this culture of “keeping it in” are doing a great disservice to their country and to the men and women who wear the uniform.  You have to start somewhere.  Find friends who are real.  Surround yourself with support of all kinds.  Find “battle buddies” who are there for you.  Don’t be afraid to get help, as a service member or a spouse.  

Together we can help change the culture of “keeping it in”.  

**all statistics stated above can be found in their entirity in the Blue Star Families Survey.  Visit the above mentioned link, as well as for more information
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