Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Soldiers Project - Part One: "One of the Nation's Top 20 Military Service Organizations that Supports Military Families"

As with so many issues of social/political justice or of wellness, the designation of a given day or month of remembrance, celebration, or call to action sometimes feels so inadequate in comparison to the magnitude of the cause de jour. And certainly, Veteran's Day is no exception.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan coming to their respective conclusions and with the continual draw down and removal of troops from those wars, the physical as well as mental health needs of our military service members and veterans require an uncompromising commitment to and sustained support for our soldiers and their families. The Soldiers Project, named by the White House in 2011 as "One of the Nations Top 20 Military Service Organizations that Supports Military Families, was established in 2009 "to provide free psychological services to military personnel who have served during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and their loved ones". In addition to free and confidential counseling, The Soldiers Project also "educates the community regarding the psychological effects of war, and provides in-depth training on combat trauma to our volunteer therapists" (The Soldiers Project ).

I first heard about The Soldiers Project (TSP) several years ago when I had the privilege of attending an introductory workshop for therapists. The workshop was led by Becca Bettis - Director of the TSP, Sacramento, CA (Please listen to our interview on W4CY Radio  The Soldiers Project - Part One-). Not being from a military family and having limited contact with individuals serving in our military, I must shamefully admit that I was taken back by the degree of severity and longevity of injury - psychologically and emotionally - that our military service members and our veterans endure. The following is a quote from TSP:

"Hundreds of soldiers - men and women, most of them young, of all races, colors, and creeds - are coming home every day from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Many are not coming home whole, ready to resume their lives within the family and in the workplace. Instead, they're coming home in pieces, shattered by the wartime experiences no other American troops have ever been forced to endure. While physical injuries may be horrific, the mental and emotional effects can be even longer lasting and more pervasive. They can take a toll not only on the soldier, but on his family members, friends, and even the community at large, as well."

Complicating the presenting issues of many soldiers is their reluctance to share their fears and doubts about their mental health well-being and/or to reveal signs of reduced capacity. Soldiers who are looking to advance their careers are justifiably concerned about disclosing psychological and emotional wounds, and in fact, feel a great need not to show vulnerability because of shame. Tragically, diagnoses such as Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder do not resolve by themselves, and service men and women often suffer silently and severely for long periods of time before seeking and obtaining help. Although Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are two of the many different manifestations of post-war adjustment difficulties, veterans and military members are at risk for depression, substance abuse, aggressive behavior problems, and the spectrum of mental illnesses precipitated by the stress of war ( Brohl and Ledford, 2013 *).  

One of the most healing aspects of TSP is that its services are confidential, thus removing the fear of superior officers learning of the military members involvement in seeking psychological assistance.  Also, as quoted from Dr. Judith Broder (Founder and Board President of TSP),

  "The most important component of healing is making a human connection with someone who can hear what the person has gone through. That human connection reconnects the person to other human connections"The Soldiers Project ).

The therapists who volunteer their time and their services to TSP undergo specific training to prepare them to work with our military population. Along with providing that vital human connection which honors that individual's voice and experience,  therapists are also qualified to address the unique, diverse and on-going needs of their military clients, their partners/spouses and their families. 

Veteran's Day will come and it will go.

 Let's acknowledge and remember that there are organizations such as The Soldiers Project who
remain committed day in and day out to the wellness of our service members and our veterans.

Let's remember that for many of our service men and women who have returned from war and who are yet to return, their physical, emotional, and psychological battles are far from over.  

For more about The Soldiers Project, please listen to my interview with Becca Bettis - Director of TSP, Sacramento, CA.
The Soldiers Project - Sacramento Chapter
For more information email
Call 916-792-3728 or toll-free 877-557-5888

TSP National number 877-576-5343

Next time, we will discuss The Soldiers Project- Part Two: "A Therapist in the Trenches with our Wounded Soldiers"
The Soldiers Project: Part One

*  Kathryn Brohl, M.A., MFT and Rene Ledford, MSW, LCSW
The Returning US Veterans of Modern War: Background Issues, Assessment and Treatment (Elite Continuing Education Course, 2013)

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