Wednesday night, Give an Hour, an organization dedicated to providing free mental health care to our returning military men and women, held its inaugural gala in Washington, D.C. with renowned and respected journalists Steve and Cokie Roberts as Masters of Ceremonies.
People in the nation’s capital—a flashpoint for social and political action—often speak of gala fatigue because of the number of worthy organizations, activities, and causes that gather to celebrate, recognize, and fundraise.
Energized to serve
There was no such fatigue at this event. GAH is a groundbreaking organization, sparked by a conversation between its founder and president, Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, and her then nine-year-old daughter, Gracie, who was outraged that veterans were homeless on the street. She could not fathom how men and women who had given so much could be so marginalized.
Her mother agreed. As the child of a World War II veteran, Dr. Van Dahlen was familiar with the effect silence can have on returning veterans of foreign wars, and she spoke about her childhood experiences during the gala. Her father served proudly, but returned to a community bereft of resources to help him reintegrate to his civilian life, and he talked to no one about his experiences. As a practicing psychologist she also knew that war takes a tremendous toll and that many wounds, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, were invisible.
In response, Dr. Van Dahlen, as perfectly described in Time magazine, when she was named one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” in April, “mobilized thousands of mental-health professionals to volunteer countless hours of counseling for those in need, at a time when there is a critical shortfall in the military and throughout our country.”
No small feat, but through GAH, Van Dahlen has amassed more than 6,100 mental health providers who have given nearly 50,000 hours of free–FREE–mental health care to America’s returning wounded warriors.
During Van Dahlen’s appearance on CNN two days after the gala, John King reported that one U.S. veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes. “In fact, the number of U.S. soldiers who have died by their own hand is now estimated to be greater than the number (6,460) who have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq,” according to Newsweek. Clearly, GAH is providing help that is sorely needed.
The gala was filled with high-wattage Washington dignitaries from business and government, including GAH Commitment to Service Award Recipient, philanthropist Jean Case, President and CEO of the Case Foundation, but the night belonged to the military men and women. Two of whom, who were also award recipients, took the podium, enthralling the gala guests with their experiences and highlighting the importance of GAH.
Military service award recipients
First, was Jennifer Crane whose first day of basic training was September 11, 2001. She found herself deployed within a year of completing basic training, sent to Afghanistan as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom at the age of 20. The effects of the war left her with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which led to homelessness and drug use. Now, she advocates for others, working for GAH. Aptly describing the effects of war she said, “Not all scars are visible to the human eye. We all have them inside.” Please read here for more about Crane.
Justin Constantine, who joined the U.S. Marine Corps two years into law school, was the final GAH award recipient. Returning to the military as a reservist, he was in Iraq in 2006, when he was shot in the head by a sniper while on a combat patrol just six weeks into his deployment. Constantine has never let his combat injuries be a barrier to his success. He has had essential family, health, and community support. He continues to serve, currently working on an FBI counterterrorism team, is a Major in the Marine Corps Reserve, and educates as a speaker at military, civilian, and corporate events. Please read more about Major Constantine here.
Got Your 6
The gala ended with previews of upcoming public service announcements, including one for the “Got Your 6” campaign. “Got Your 6” is a military term used in combat that means “I’ve got your back.” The campaign, backed by the entertainment industry, provides an array of opportunities for returning veterans to facilitate their converting training into civilian roles. GAH is the lead partner for the Got Your 6 health component and has pledged to lead a program to educate 100,000 graduate students in mental health fields by the year 2014.
Get help; give help
If you or someone in your family would like to talk to a GAH provider please look here. If you are a provider, interested in supporting this important work, please look here. There is something each of us can do, if you are interested in volunteering, look here. To make financial contributions, look here.
We have an obligation to be here with open arms and hearts when our veterans return, doing whatever it takes to make them safe for a change, tending to their injuries—both visible and invisible.
More information about GAH from the website: Currently, GAH is dedicated to meeting the mental health needs of the troops and families affected by the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. We provide counseling to individuals, couples and families, and children and adolescents. We offer treatment for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, sexual health and intimacy concerns, and loss and grieving. In addition to direct counseling services, our providers are working to reduce the stigma associated with mental health by participating in and leading education, training, and outreach efforts in schools and communities and around military bases.