Why this new program is the smartest thing the VA has done recently
Let's be completely honest: Getting veterans the help they need is a tricky task. What works for one person may not work for another. Simply telling veterans they have the option to seek help if they need it is important, yes, but it's not going to pull those who are blind to their own struggles out of the shadows.
There are many veterans who can personally attest to the successes and benefits of the fine mental health professionals within the Veterans Administration. There are others, however, who end up opt for heart-breaking alternatives to talking about their feelings with a stranger. There's no easy solution to getting help to those who don't seek it and there's no magic wand out there that can wish away the pain that our veteran community suffers daily.
But the first step is always going to be opening up about the pain.
A new pilot program within the Veterans Health Administration called "Operation Resilience" aims to get veterans who've been lost since exiting the service to open up to the people who understand their struggles most: their comrades.
The idea behind Operation Resilience is simple. The VA has partnered with an advocacy group, The Independence Fund, to create events that bring veterans who served in a unit together again. Of course, one of the topics on the agenda at these events is a group therapy session, but it's much deeper than that.
Dr. Keita Franklin, executive director of the department's suicide prevention efforts, said in a statement that of the roughly 20 veterans who commit suicide a day, most have little-to-no contact with official VA programs. Finding at least one avenue of approach where someone is willing to talk is the key.
Having those who were there with a troubled veteran during the moments that still haunt them can help on countless levels. And surrounding it all with an event that's legitimately appealing to veterans makes it a hard opportunity to pass up. When you frame event as a chance for veterans to, let's say, go drinking at some all-expenses-paid ski resort or something — who could say no?
The group dynamic of the event also plays into the stubbornness of most veterans who have a disdain for seeking help. Now, it's not just about helping yourself, it's about helping your brothers- and sisters-in-arms — even if they are the one most in need of help.
As a community, we're trained to never, ever be a burden on anyone else while also being willing to move Heaven and Earth if it means saving our comrade. At its heart, that's what Operation Resilience is about.
(U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.)
The details of the events are still being worked out, but the pilot event will be with Bravo Company, 2-508 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division this coming April.
It looks like the VA has caught onto the human element of what brings a group of combat veterans together. If, at the end of the day, a single veteran is able to be pulled out of the hole because their guys came together and got them to talk, well that's a victory in my book.
There's no one on this planet that veterans would rather talk about what's on their mind than with their fellow veterans.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace)
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