Give an Hour Provides Free and Confidential Mental Health Care

Posted August 27, 2012

By: Barbara Van Dahlen, founder and president of Give An Hour

Barbara Van Dahlen, a Washington, D.C.-area psychologist, is the founder and president of Give an Hour, a national nonprofit organization that pairs volunteer mental health professionals with members of the military, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, their loved ones, and their communities.  Dr. Van Dahlen was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2012.

 

Over 2.6 million troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 11 years. All will be affected by their experience. Some will return with a renewed commitment to service and will continue to lead their communities and our nation. Some will come home with understandable mental health consequences of their exposure to the brutality of war. Many will find that their experience directly affects others within their social networks — spouses and significant others, children, mothers, fathers, and friends.  Clearly millions of Americans may need assistance with the complicated process of reintegration as service members come home.

Locating and accessing this assistance is not always easy. Cost is often an issue as is availability of appropriate care within communities where service members, veterans, and their families live. While there is more acceptance of the importance of mental health care for those who serve and their families today, there are still many who are suffering unnecessarily because they lack an understanding of the issues that affect them or they are unaware of options available to them.

In our role as activation partner for the Health Pillar of Got Your 6, we at Give an Hour have the opportunity to lead a program to train thousands of students in mental health professions about the unique psychological and emotional issues affecting service members and their loved ones.

Some of the men and women returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan have visible wounds, but more commonly those directly affected endure invisible injuries, including traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. There has been an alarming increase in suicide, domestic violence, divorce and behavioral difficulties among military children over the last decade of war. Give an Hour provides services to assist in the treatment and care of all those affected, for as long as it is needed.

Founded in 2005, Give an Hour has created a network of volunteer mental health professionals pledging an hour a week of their services, free of charge, to members of the military—including active duty, reserve, and guard—veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, their families, and their communities. Their services range from one-on-one counseling to substance abuse treatment, addressing the many needs of the individuals and families of the armed services. Give an Hour providers are also available to consult to other organizations about the mental health issues affecting those who serve. And they are available to give presentations at community gatherings and reintegration events. The approximately 6,300 licensed mental health professionals working with Give an Hour have contributed 57,000 hours in support of our troops and their families.  These volunteers include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, pastoral counselors, and other mental health professionals.  Providers are located across the country—in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam.

In addition to providing counseling and mental health services, Give an Hour is administering the Community Blueprint Network, a collaborative effort to help communities address the needs of veterans and military families on a local level, in Fayetteville, N.C., and Norfolk, Va.  Led by the Points of Light Institute, the Blueprint provides community leaders with specific guidance regarding precise areas of focus:  employment, education, behavioral health, housing stability and homelessness assistance, financial management/legal assistance, family strength, integration, and volunteerism. The Blueprint tool and approach continues to be shaped and developed by an even larger coalition of military and civilian organizations.  To learn more, visit: www.communityblueprintnetwork.org.

Give an Hour’s Web site, www.giveanhour.org, allows service personnel, veterans, and families seeking support to enter their zip code and search for available providers in their area; even if there are no mental health professionals volunteering in that region, there are services available by telephone.   Recently, Give an Hour launched a companion Web site, connected.giveanhour.org and a mobile app, available as a free download on iTunes, as a forum for members of the military and veteran community, as well as those interested in supporting them, to connect on the issues of mental health and community collaboration.

I am proud of the opportunity to bring the military, mental health, and entertainment communities together as we strive to provide critical services to these deserving men, women, and families.