A Grant by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation to Assist Veterans
The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation announced a $2 million grant on June 14 to support the Community Blueprint, an initiative to help meet the needs of U.S. veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Blueprint is an online tool for local leaders providing practical instructions on how to identify and mobilize community services to support veterans in such areas as behavioral health, education, employment, family strengthening and financial guidance.
The Foundation’s support will fund implementation of the Blueprint in two demonstration sites with large military populations: Norfolk, Virginia; and Fayetteville, North Carolina. The effort will be led by Give an Hour, a nonprofit group that provides free counseling and mental health services to veterans and their families, and one of the Blueprint’s architects.
Below are three perspectives on the challenges faced by today’s soldiers and the importance of community support.
“I have all these wonderful things because of the help I received.”
Jennifer Crane (Afghanistan)
Pennsylvania Army National Guard
U.S. Army Specialist (Ret.)
213th Area Support Group
I was 17 when I enlisted in my high school senior year. The recruiter was female and I literally walked up to her and said: “I want to be like you.” My plan was to go into the law field. I knew I could get my paralegal certificate through the military so I thought that was a good place to start. That was December 2000.
My first day of basic training was September 11, 2001.
I was deployed to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan as a paralegal with the JAG Corps [Judge Advocate General’s Corps]. Bagram is in a valley surrounded by mountains. The Taliban would step out onto the cliffs and drop bombs on my base. It was that easy for them. The Afghans were killing each other as well as our people. I used to watch the trucks come onto base, with bodies hanging out of the back. One of most traumatic things was seeing the children. Kids would come out in front of your vehicles, drop their bikes down and they would explode. They had bombs attached to their bikes.
Withstanding the environment of war requires an emotional shutoff. We build this wall and we basically take everything that we’re going through and we don’t feel it while it’s happening. When I came home I didn’t know how to turn it back on. When I saw my family for the first time I had no emotions. There was nothing there. I was already having nightmares. I’d hear a sound or a helicopter would go by and I’d be back in Afghanistan. It pretty much took over my life. I started to self-medicate. I went through a two-year span of drug use, ended up homeless and getting arrested. I was told I can get my life together or go to jail. It was at that moment where I said: This isn’t me. I wanted my life and my family back.
I began seeing a therapist as part of a drug court program, someone who understood the issues of military personnel, but when the program ended I couldn’t afford to keep seeing her. Then she told me about Give an Hour, where therapists donate their time to people like me. Thanks to them I was able to keep seeing my therapist and I’ve been seeing her ever since. If not for her I don’t know that I’d be here. I’m married, my daughter is turning three, I’m going to nursing school, and I have all these wonderful things because of the help I received.
“The challenge is how to help communities understand what they have, and how to get those services to soldiers and their families.”
Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are unique in ways that have a profound impact on the behavioral health needs of our returning soldiers.
These wars have no clear front lines or battlefields, no easily identifiable enemy. When you can’t tell civilian from soldier, or front line from rear, you can’t escape stress. Extended and multiple tours of duty are another unique feature. Many of our soldiers have been back and forth two or three times, adding up to years of relentless stress under extreme circumstances. Then there’s the involvement of the National Guard and Armed Forces Reserve. Some 40 percent of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are from National Guard and Reserve, and many of them left behind families and jobs. We’ve also never deployed so many women in active combat.
At home, there’s a huge disconnect between our service members and civil society. America at large is very disconnected from these two wars. You’ve got these service members who’ve made these great sacrifices coming home to communities where they feel people don’t understand the sacrifices they’ve made or appreciate them.
There’s also a disconnect between the veterans and the many services that are available for them. The services for the most part are there, but at the end of the day they’re not getting to the veterans, or veterans aren’t using them.
The challenge is how to help communities understand what they have, and how to get those services to soldiers and their families. That’s what the Community Blueprint is all about. It’s community organizing -- giving local leaders a tool and the guidance to pull it all together. It’s the same approach that the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation has used to help bridge gaps in health care in fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa, hepatitis in Asia, serious mental illness in the U.S., and cancer in Central and Eastern Europe.
Barbara Van Dahlen
“There are a lot of people falling through the cracks.”
Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D.
Founder and President
Give an Hour
The more involved I became in veterans issues the more I started hearing the same stories. Service members, Department of Defense officials, Veterans Administration officials, and communities all agreed there were lots of great people and groups around the country trying to support those who served, but it was hard for them to coordinate their services or to even know what was being done in their own communities. It became clear we needed some kind of guide or structure for communities to help them coordinate services. And so the Community Blueprint was born.
Any community or community leader can use the Blueprint. It could be a mayor, a faith-based leader, the head of a local mental health center or some other stakeholder. It focuses on eight key areas: Behavioral Health, Education, Employment, Family Strength, Financial/Legal Problems, Homelessness, Reintegration and Volunteerism. Under each of these key headings the Blueprint will list various topics stakeholders can address. For example, under Education you’ll find the topic “Welcome and Integration: Strategies to identify and support military-connected students/families.” Each topic will have tabs for additional information and resources.
Thanks to the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, we’re going to be able to go into Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Norfolk, Virginia, implement the Blueprint and refine the model for use by communities everywhere.
There are a lot of people falling through cracks. Developing this kind of integrated, coordinated care creates a greater safety net, a greater likelihood that people get the help they need.