Spouses, Mental Health and the Civilian Divide
(Written 4/10/2014) This week, I attended a Mental Health Conference Sponsored by Give An Hour on treating the needs of military members, veterans, and their families. You may have not heard of Give and Hour, or some of the many other amazing non-profits that are working hard for military and veterans- and that is the reason I’m writing this. We (referring to those of us in the military culture/bubble) need to have a serious discussion on the services that are available to the military and veteran community and why you don’t know about them. Before you log off, this is not a VA/government bashing post, but a truthful effort to expose a very big problem called “endorsement”.
As a fellow military spouse and off-post therapist that is contracted with TRICARE and Military OneSource, I have committed my talents to serving the military beyond supporting my husband’s selfless service to his soldiers. In the past several years, I have paid attention to the civilian community (individuals, corporations, non-profits) desire to love on our military families by providing free or discounted services. We have developed a skewed perspective of the civilian’s support of us and it is not our fault.
As I advocated and attempted to be a voice for military spouses in DC, I met countless organizations (Home Depot, Habitat for Humanity, Lockheed Martin, Give an Hour, and numerous others) who were excited to tell me all they were doing for the military and how they wanted to do more. There was a deep sadness and frustration in their eyes when I was one more military member that told them I had not heard of their efforts.
My best kindergarten description of the problem is this: “Endorsement” is when one entity specifically supports another entity. When you see a commercial with a celebrity mentioning a specific product, they are endorsing that product. The Military makes it a point to make sure they that do not “endorse” specific companies or corporations. The original intention is good, in that it keeps soldiers and families from being taken advantage of. They are very strict on for-profit companies, saying that an organization is more likely to be promoted to the military culture if they are non-profits- as they are not making money off of the military or military family. However, when a non-profit offers to help, they refuse to refer families to them as well so as to not “appear” that they are sponsoring, or showing favoritism. This is a big problem for the non-profits that want to be part of the solution. That means that families are not told or made aware of any civilian services either way. The military’s answer to the problem is, (and seems to be set on) to take care of their own- which is great… if the military funded services are good quality and can meet the demands of those who need it (that’s a topic for another day).
Let me provide a real example from my personal experience. I worked at a non-profit organization that offered counseling to military families and even took TRICARE and Military Onesource- meaning it ends up free for the soldier and/or family. We had open offices and counselors ready to receive. For six months I traveled around on post to close to 30 leaders and post employees I could think of that might need to know that this resource was available just 5 minutes outside the gate. I was hung up on repeatedly and not one person called me back- the fear of endorsement on the ground level and fear of losing their job was clearly a real issue. Money should not have been the problem, considering TRICARE covers the costs of therapy. They told me they would maybe get the word out if it was free, so I began to offer free education and services to alleviate the 6 week waiting list soldiers had for mental health services. When they realized I was also a military spouse, I was told “Understand this. You are no longer considered a military spouse to us, you are a competitor. We will not make referrals out because all the services and money need to stay in-house.” I don’t know if I was more upset at the personal betrayal I felt or for the many families that were not going to get the referrals they needed.
This is an epidemic issue, friends. There are non-profits and small businesses outside your door step that are suffering because they want to serve military families, but no one is walking through their door. Even worse, they are discouraged and considering not offering those services anymore because the system doesn’t work- there is great need, but no way to direct those in need to the services. Did you know that Habitat for Humanity has a non-profit connection that will help you budget and buy a house within your price range? Did you know that they provide a service where a veteran can call and speak with another veteran and spouse speak to another spouse to get financial/budgeting advice for free? Did you know that veterans have to hand write their resume rather than be educated oh how to develop a LinkedIn page because it is endorsing LinkedIn? Did you know Give an Hour has a network of 7,000 mental health therapists waiting to donate free weekly counseling to you, your soldier, and even your mother-in law without the red tape of TRICARE or getting permission from post? Thousands of civilian volunteer their time and energy to reaching out to veterans and families, but you will not here about it, or often hear them thanked for it, because it could be seen as endorsement/sponsorship. Meanwhile, we feel like America has forgotten us.
Let me give you a few examples of how this affects you:
For those of you who have a soldier struggling with Combat Stress and PTSD, it means that you will not hear about the new, amazing, techniques and treatments that are making huge strides in reducing symptoms and restoring families.
It means that your soldier may be forced to wait on a waiting list on post if he needs counseling and finally decides to ask for it
It means that when the community wants to welcome home our soldiers, they won’t be allowed on-post so they can say “thank you”
For those of you who are getting ready to get out of the military, you won’t hear about the hundreds of organizations that are waiting to hire you both or help you transition into the civilian world.
For those of you who feel alone, you may not hear about the non-profits who are making an app to help locate other veterans close to you.
If you are a spouse struggling with employment, you won’t hear about the non-profits that want to help you promote your business.
It means that when you finally leave/retire from the military, you will be likely to go out into the world feeling like “unicorns” as if you don’t belong because you thought no one noticed you were gone- when in fact, they were trying to tell you they loved you all along.
Just as much as we need to know the amazing supporters that exist out there, we also need to be told which supporters to stay away from. This is just as important as a few years ago there was an issue of some schools taking educational funds from soldiers and not giving them the education they were expecting. Yet, I’m not sure I remember being educated on any of those either. So here is how you can be part of the solution. (UPDATE 9/10/15: Former United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has now encouraged posts to allow non-profits better access to families in order to support their efforts and military families. It is still a lengthy process and will likely be decided on a case by case basis).
#1 Care- Open your eyes to see that there is possibly quality treatment and services available for you and your family and ask for them. One size does not fit all. There are civilians and organizations that specifically care about military spouses. I am determined to find them and share them with you because I know spouses need to be tended to. The military is not required to care for the spouse, but America is standing in line waiting to.
#2 Share without fear– We (spouses) are not limited by regulations. The military may currently have a rule about not endorsing/sponsoring, but we are not held to that rule. Join me in finding them and sharing them with your fellow spouses. Spread the word so families can get the unique services their family needs.
#3 Get involved with your Community. Whatever you are passionate about, get involved outside the gates. Local businesses need the education and support that you can offer. Once you know what is available, you have influence in sharing those resources with your Commanders and family members.
America does care, let’s start spreading the word.