Mental Health for Military Families:
The Path to Resilience and Recovery
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The nightmares of war don’t always end when our loved ones return home. . . . Sometimes the deadliest wounds are the ones you cannot see, and we cannot afford to let the unseen wounds go untreated.
U.S. President Barack Obama (2009)
The ongoing U.S. military deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan has adversely impacted the mental health of returning service members and their families. The extent of the impact is complex and extends far beyond combat-related mental health problems. Fortunately, much has been learned in recent years regarding effective methods of preparing for, and responding to, the complex issues faced by service members and their families. Prevention- and recovery-oriented systems of care that build on the personal responsibility, strengths, and resilience of individuals, families, and communities are essential to achieving positive outcomes. However, to ensure that approaches promote social inclusion, we must also examine and address the issues of the system as a whole.
Mental health approaches must be customized to address the specific needs of the individual and family. For example, there are issues unique to female service members and service members with preexisting mental health problems. Also, the issues that service members and their families face depend on the stage of deployment; issues are unique to before, during, and after deployment, and different strategies are required to address the unique issues faced at each stage. Reintegration approaches that focus on the whole person and address the wide range of challenges affecting returning service members (e.g., housing, education, employment, justice system involvement) prove to be most successful.
Approaches that are strengths-based and recognize the value of veteran-to-veteran supports and family supports, as well as the range of self-care options available, are key components of both prevention and reintegration efforts. It is also important to examine the impact of and seek to implement changes to address systemic issues, including the impact of multiple deployments, stigma within the military, and the need to increase access to services. Addressing systemic issues like these ensures that approaches go further than resolving individual needs by fostering a new, systemic perspective of social inclusion.
Support for our service members and their families and communities is one of SAMHSA’s 10 Strategic Initiatives. SAMHSA has demonstrated that prevention works, treatment and services are effective, and people recover from mental health and substance use problems. SAMHSA has been very active in this area, partnering with the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Defense (DoD), as well as others, to implement a host of initiatives: the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline; Building Bridges: Veterans Mental Health Dialogue Meeting and the resulting report; Policy Academy to Promote Behavioral Health Care Systems for Returning Service Members, Veterans and Their Families; national conferences; workshops; trainings; newsletters; magazine articles; Web-based resources; and many others.
This training teleconference will cover the evolution of mental health services for service members; mental health problems faced by returning service members and their families; and effective strategies for preventing, reducing, and addressing mental health conditions—strategies such as resilience training and veteran-to-veteran support. A few of the questions that presenters will discuss during this teleconference include, How can we increase U.S. service members’ and their families’ access to the mental health services, supports, and treatment they need? What systems-level and policy changes need to be implemented? What resilience-building, self-care, or preventive measures on an individual or systems level should be considered and implemented prior to deployment to reduce the frequency and/or severity of mental health problems during and after combat? What solutions might increase the likelihood of successful community reintegration upon a service member’s return home?
- Gain an understanding of the complex mental health problems faced by U.S. service members and their families, as well as barriers to seeking and receiving mental health services.
- Gain knowledge of the treatment, services, and supports that are available to increase resilience and help lead to recovery for service members and their families.
- Hear from three individuals with unique perspectives on the mental health problems faced by U.S. military personnel and their families—a policy expert, a veteran, and a military family member.
- Learn the historical context of U.S. military mental health services, and explore recommended improvements and policy changes.
- Current or past recipients of mental health services, peers, family members, providers, researchers, administrators, advocates, and mental health organizations
- U.S. service members and their families
- VA health providers, veteran advocacy organizations, and family and peer support personnel within DoD and branches of the military (including the reserves)
Tom Berger, Ph.D., Dr. Tom Berger will provide the historical context for the evolution of mental health services for military families and will also discuss policy issues and recommendations for systems-level improvements. Dr. Berger is a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and founding member of VVA Chapter 317 in Kansas City, Missouri. After serving as chair of VVA’s national PTSD and Substance Abuse Committee for almost a decade, he joined the staff of the VVA national office as Senior Policy Analyst for Veterans’ Benefits & Mental Health Issues in 2008 and was appointed Executive Director of the VVA Veterans Health Council in June 2009. Dr. Berger is a member and former chair of the VA’s Mental Health Consumer Liaison Council and is also a member of the VA’s Mental Health Quality Enhancement Research Initiative Depression Executive Committee (MHQUERI). Additionally, Dr. Berger holds the distinction of being the first representative of a national veteran service organization to be a member of the VA’s Executive Committee of the Substance Use Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (SUD QUERI). Dr. Berger served as a Navy Corpsman with the 3rd Marine Corps Division in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968. Following his military service and upon the subsequent completion of his postdoctoral studies, he held faculty, research, and administrative appointments at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, the State University System of Florida in Tallahassee, and the University of Missouri–Columbia. His professional publications include books and research articles on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Berger now devotes his efforts full time to veteran advocacy at the local, State, and national levels on behalf of VVA.
Mrs. Sheri Hall, a military spouse, will share her perspective on mental health problems faced by service members and their families. Mrs. Hall married Jeffery Hall in January 1991 and moved to Kitzigen, Germany. She followed Jeff through Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at Emporia State University and has spent most of her time as a military spouse volunteering for various organizations both on and off military installations. She was a Family Readiness Group Advisor for two year-long deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She and Jeff attended the Deployment Health Clinical Center’s Specialized Care Program Track II to address the effects of PTSD. They have also participated in many conferences for the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. These include the Annual AMSUS Conference, Force Health Protection Conference, Real Warriors Resilience Conference, and VA/DoD Suicide Prevention Conference. Both Sheri and Jeff have been involved as panelists with the Theater of War, and they also work closely with the Real Warriors Campaign helping to break down the walls of stigma associated with getting treatment for PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Mrs. Hall’s awards include the Molly Pitcher Award and the Commander’s Service Award. She and Jeff have two teenage daughters, Tami (17) and Courtney (16).
Steve Robinson will discuss positive steps veterans are taking to find wellness, including veteran self-care and veteran-to-veteran peer support programs. He will also discuss public policy issues, focusing on issues at the unit and individual levels. Robinson is a retired Non-Commissioned Officer and Gulf War veteran who served 20 years in the U.S. Army. After retiring in October 2001, he became an advocate for veterans. As a subject matter expert, Robinson has testified numerous times before the U.S. House and Senate on matters pertaining to suicide, PTSD, and the mental health and resiliency of U.S. service members. He also shared his knowledge and experience in the PBS documentary This Emotional Life. Additionally, Robinson has served in director-level roles for several nonprofits, through which he monitored the programs and policies of the DoD and VA. Robinson has also served in a program outreach and development role with the Swords to Plowshares Iraq Veteran Project. His military decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Army Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Army Achievement Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Humanitarian Service Medal, and many others. Robinson strongly believes that self-care and veteran-to-veteran peer support programs are essential to improving mental health outcomes for service members.