By Kenny Allred, NAMI Veterans and Military Council Chair, LTC, US Army (Retired)
The National Alliance on Mental Illness Veterans and Military Council (NVMC) advises NAMI leadership on issues of importance affecting the mental health of warriors, veterans and their families. Our nationwide network of members and supporters offers both a window into issues and an opportunity to support, educate and advocate at all levels. It is through these efforts that we attempt to raise awareness, improve quality of life and save lives of those who have served or are serving in the military and now suffer from or are at risk for mental illness.
The month of May has been designated by Congress as Military Appreciation Month. On Armed Forces Day, May 19, and on Memorial Day, May 28, and every day, we should recommit ourselves to increase awareness and advocacy at all levels.
Opportunities for advocacy and collaboration are all around us, and here is one example of success:
Recently, I attended a conference where those who have contributed to national advances in social work were presented with awards for their work and leadership. These awardees are people at the top of their profession, and I sometimes wonder if those “at the top” are in touch with those “in the trenches.” The evidence that many of them are both in touch and care about people came quickly
As I watched the awards ceremony, I received an email from a young veteran, Joe, who lost his legs in combat. His recovery and upbeat attitude, including his selfless volunteer work that originally brought us together a couple of years’ ago, has been the subject of my continuing admiration. He is seemingly the model of recovery, but his email revealed the despair that often follows physical and mental wounds of trauma. In short, he needed a job to, as he said, “keep from going crazy.” He was reaching out for help. With veteran unemployment being double that of non-veterans across the nation, having a job and being productive is particularly important to both physical and mental health, financial well-being—and all the things, good or bad, that follow for veterans and their families.
On my mind was a feeling of personal failure at not being able to derail the part of a recently passed law in my home state of Tennessee that eliminates the hiring points preference traditionally offered to veterans and spouses seeking state jobs.
I feared that Joe and his family were among the first military victims of that unfortunate legislation.
As I considered the email, I looked across the table and there sat a senior Veterans Health Administration (VHA) manager who had just received an award. I showed her the email, and she asked that I forward it to her and she would help.
By the time I returned home, the evidence of her help and caring heart was immediately evident. I first received an email from a manager at Northrup Grumman, a company that provides jobs and job counseling to injured veterans and their family members. Secondly, I received a call the next day from a Veterans Administration counselor who helps veterans find housing and jobs. Joe and I talked about both of these opportunities and he was heartened with the speed, care and concern evident in those who were reaching out to help him.
Probably the best part of this story is that Joe will help others and “pay it forward.” When he was injured, his wife and one baby girl were at home waiting. Now, Joe has two young daughters entering school, does more volunteer work than most of us, and looks forward to life and helping others. He is a true hero.
The lesson for all of us is to constantly look for opportunities to advocate for warriors, veterans and their families, take action, never be intimidated and never get discouraged. I was surprised that so many people responded so quickly to Joe’s request.
There are a lot of “Joes and Janes” out there. Many people are willing to help, but they cannot help if they do not know about them.
I urge all of us to fervently advocate not just on the “special” days, such as Memorial Day, but every day! Write a letter or email, make a call or visit, share where you work or worship, and help reverse the epidemic of veteran unemployment and suicide and erase the stigma of seeking help for invisible wounds.
Please share your thoughts and the happenings in your area either on the NAMI Facebook page or by participating in NVMC conference calls held the third Friday of each month at 1:00 p.m. EST. Call: 1 (888) 858-6021, and enter 739264#.
I look forward to meeting many of you at this year’s NAMI Convention, June 27-30 in Seattle. In addition to our Veterans and Military Council meetings, there are several very interesting and informative presentations by and for veterans, including the “Parity for Patriots” rally on Thursday, June 28. Please join us and show support for warriors, veterans and their families.
On Armed Forces Day, please remember those who serve our country—and on Memorial Day those who sacrificed their lives in that service!