September 13, 2016

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft
I know that there has been a tremendous effort lately aimed at suicide prevention, but is anything being done to intervene while our troops are still on active duty. It seems that the earlier the powers to be intervene, the better off everyone will be.

Edward J,
Via the internet

Dear Ed.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is launching a new nationwide campaign to focus on mental wellness within the military and veterans’ communities. Joined by three high-profile national partners, Give an Hour, One Mind, and PatientsLikeMe, the campaign kicks off during a joint press event inside the National Press Club’s Lisagor Room at 2 p.m Today, September 13.

The VFW Mental Wellness Campaign, commissioned by VFW National Commander Brian Duffy and VFW Auxiliary National President Colette Bishop, leverages the power, influence and reach of nearly 1.7 million members in more than 6,600 VFW Posts around the world with the nation’s leaders in mental health care, research, and peer-to-peer support. The campaign’s goal is to raise awareness, foster community engagement, improve research, and provide intervention for veterans, service members, and their loved ones who may be suffering from invisible injuries or emotional stress.

“We are proud to be joined by the nation’s leading mental health organizations to help change the veteran’s narrative — the veteran’s brand — which right now has America regarding us more as individual heroes instead of strategic assets in every community,” said Duffy, who is the first Operation Desert Storm veteran to lead the 117-year-old VFW.

Bishop, who leads the 102-year-old VFW Auxiliary, echoed the VFW national commander’s sentiment, and said “the community is where our troops come from and where our veterans return, so it benefits everyone to know what resources are available and where to turn to for help.”

The VFW is already working closely with Give an Hour to train VFW-accredited service officers and state leadership to “Know the Five Signs” of emotional suffering as a way to better serve clients coping with invisible injuries, and to help change the narrative on mental health in America through its Change Direction campaign.

Give an Hour Founder and President Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen said, “We are honored to join the VFW in this historic effort. VFW Posts can serve as important anchors in communities across the country – and around the world – to engage, educate and inspire veterans from all eras to learn the Five Signs and to reach out to those who are suffering.” Dr. Van Dahlen added, “Our veterans are assets in our communities and they can help lead the way as we change the culture so that those in need receive the care and support they deserve.”

In addition to the upcoming press event, the VFW and Give an Hour are hosting a “Day to Change Direction” on Saturday, Oct. 8. Individual VFW Posts and state departments will work hand-in-hand with Give an Hour’s nationwide network of mental health providers and volunteers, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs, to help facilitate peer-to-peer discussions on mental wellness, as well as participate in a community action or event designed to empower Americans to “Change Direction” on mental health and well-being.

Over the coming months, the VFW will also work closely with Seattle-based One Mind to encourage VFW members to participate in online communities to better understand and improve their own brain health. They can also volunteer patient and caregiver input to research aimed at developing new evidence-based diagnostic and treatment options.

According to One Mind’s CEO, retired Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, “It is imperative for us to find better and lasting treatments for our veterans, their families, and caregivers who are affected and suffering from brain injuries and illness. We have an amazing ability to save soldiers on the battlefield, but we must extend that support beyond active duty and aggressively address their invisible wounds. We are honored to be part of this new and sustainable VFW Mental Wellness Campaign.”

The inclusion of the peer-to-peer perspective via PatientsLikeMe is equally important to the VFW’s campaign. The online network helps people living with any one of 2,500 conditions, including post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, to compare treatments, symptoms, and experiences; connect with others like them for support; track and learn what impacts their health; and give data for research. The tools and support provided by PatientsLikeMe are invaluable to patients, potential patients, and their families.

Though this is a joint campaign commissioned during the one-year leadership terms of Duffy and Bishop, the VFW’s goal is to build a sustainable program through which all levels of the organization can remain proactive advocates for those coping with emotional stress, which will build upon the VFW’s century-plus legacy of veterans’ advocacy, service and assistance to others.


Blue military style mailbag with BAVF red letters stenciled on it. Below the BAVF is a tag that says SGT. SHAFTShaft Notes
Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) and Scott Perry (PA-04), co-chairs of the Congressional Post 9/11 Veterans Caucus, introduced a bipartisan House resolution marking the 15th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, honoring the more than 3,000 innocent men, women, children, and first responders killed on 9/11 and the more than one million men and women who have served in the U.S. military since 9/11, including more than 6,800 who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The resolution also honors the sacrifices made by military families and reaffirms the responsibility of the U.S. Congress to honor the generation of post-9/11 veterans. Reps. Joe Heck (NV-03), Ryan Zinke (MT), Ted Lieu (CA-33), and Adam Kinzinger (IL-16) are original cosponsors.

Members of Congress also gathered on the House steps this morning to remember the victims of 9/11 and hold a moment of silence in their memory.

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