Give an Hour Gives Hope

by Katie De Launay, http://neovox.cortland.edu

Posted in on Friday, Nov 20

Give an Hour Gives Hope: Veterans Receive Free Mental Health Care

While driving to work with the radio on one day over the summer, I heard an ad for Give an Hour, a nonprofit organization seeking volunteers. The general idea that I gathered from the seconds-long advertisement was that volunteers donate their time, one hour at a time, to listen to veterans or family members of veterans affected by the war in the Middle East. I thought to myself, "This is great! What a fantastic idea." Having recently realized the power of catharsis myself, I recognized the great potential benefit of such an organization. "I can listen to some veterans tell their war stories," I thought. "After all, if there's anybody that needs someone to talk to it's somebody that just came back from war." I recalled the words of my eight grade English teacher: "War is hell." This was the "author's message to the reader about life" (the definition of theme that she drilled into our heads) of the book we were reading at the time. I decided to learn more about this new organization.

I did some research and found out that it wasn't as simple of a concept as I thought. It's much more organized, I found. On the home page of the Give an Hour website they explain the organization in a nutshell: "We are a nonprofit organization providing free mental health services to U.S. military personnel and families affected by the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan." Only licensed mental health professionals with malpractice insurance are recruited to treat "military personnel and their families." They "provide one hour per week of mental health support or treatment at no charge." Give an Hour asks other potential volunteers (anyone willing to volunteer that is not a doctor or mental health professional) to place themselves in the "team" that best suited for their "skills and interests"--The Green Team focuses on "administrative operations, including recruiting other volunteers," the Orange Team focuses on "outreach to the mental health community," the Purple Team on "outreach to the military community," the Blue Team on fund-raising, and the Red Team on "marketing, local media relations, [and] event coordinating."

My first choice, when filling out the application, was the Red Team. Weeks later, although it has little to do with "marketing, local media relations, [or] event coordinating," I was researching military culture for mental health care providers, educators and employers, "gathering information about the military culture, as a way of increasing the cultural competence of employers and educational programs." In an e-mail to the volunteers, Celia Straus, the project manager, and Pam Woll summarized the objective of our task:

Basically, the purpose of this project is to make it easier for returning veterans to be educated and employed, by getting a concrete and conceptual handle on the resources that are out there for increasing access to and effectiveness of education and employment for veterans--and what remains to be done in this area. Our special focus is on veterans with operational stress injuries such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety, and on veterans with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and mild TBI.
Through the study of military culture--a culture completely unique from our civilian culture--Give and Hour along with The National Organization on Disability, with whom Give an Hour works closely, can explore and develop "ways of educating the organizational or educational culture so they can understand and accept people coming from the military culture and experience," "good ways of welcoming veterans back into the school or workplace," "common characteristics of the veterans who will be coming into their systems, and how those characteristics may have been fostered by the military culture," "possible ways in which military culture may clash with workplace or educational cultures," "positive elements of the military culture that they might choose to weave into their organizational or educational cultures," and "ways of avoiding or de-escalating war-related political conflicts that might arise in the workplace, classroom, or dorm." Even to be such a small part of this project was an enlightening experience.

A "proposal to address certain aspects of the growing crisis associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) among severely injured U.S. Army soldiers and veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan" was "advanced by the National Organization on Disability (NOD), which, with foundation funding, is operating the Army Wounded Warriors (AW2) Career Demonstration Program under a Memorandum of Understanding between NOD and the U.S. Army." The U.S. Army created AW2 in response to the medical needs of soldiers due to the Global War on Terrorism. The program helps injured soldiers and their families until they no longer require the medical care. Of course, there has been much controversy over the Army's treatment of wounded veterans.

The role of Give an Hour within this proposal is to maintain the care and support needed for veterans to "successfully heal from their physical and psychological injuries" even once they have returned to work. Give An Hour has shown "commitment to a holistic, comprehensive support system for our wounded warriors and their families." The organization has gone beyond "its original mission by galvanizing its volunteer network to address the plethora of needs experienced by those warriors and their families" and acknowledges "that mental health is inexorably linked with the successful pursuit of those activities that comprise a productive life, including employment and/or education."
Give an Hour's mission, as explained on their website, "is to develop national networks of volunteers capable of responding to both acute and chronic conditions that arise within our society." Their "primary focus will always be to attend to those in need by linking them to individuals in our society best equipped to respond effectively." It is also part of their mission to "develop research and educational programs to further promote the value and importance of a new kind of volunteerism" and "to encourage an increase in shared responsibility for those citizens who are suffering." Veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families comprise the "first target population." But there will always be something affecting our society, something that requires the efforts of many to combat.

It's rare that a nonprofit organization would engender so much excitement in a person, but that's exactly what Give an Hour did for me. I've volunteered with many organizations and supported a lot of causes in my day, but Give an Hour seemed different. The issues it addresses are current, they are urgent, and they are now. Don't get me wrong, I love the work I do with, for example, Habitat for Humanity, and there will always be a need for more affordable, decent housing. But our fellow citizens who have been fighting over seas need us now or never. The sense of urgency that accompanies the issue of veterans' and their families' mental heath is really what got me so excited I think. So I told everyone. "I just got involved in this great new organization. It's called Give an Hour. Have you ever heard of it?..." Despite my excitement, though, I feared that my friends, all hippies at heart like myself, would misinterpret my enthusiasm for such a cause as support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or even war in general. But of course, in case such accusations were to be made, I was prepared with a response, which, were anyone to actually make such accusations, would have gone something like the following:

It's not about war or politics. It's not even about patriotism. It's about people, human beings. Simple as that. Trust me, I'm as pro-peace as it gets. And I would never, ever, amuse the idea of letting someone that I care about--be it friend or family--go off to war without putting up a fight of my own. I once threatened to disown my partner if he even thought about joining the army. That's just me. Other people hear their lovers declare that they're going off to war and shed tears of pride and love, even if they are mixed in with tears of fear and sadness. That, it just so happens, is not me. Either way, though, the soldiers requiring the aid of Give an Hour have already experienced the hell of war. It is too late to beg them not to leave or to see them off with a nod of approval and appreciation. And whether or not we can all agree that they have in some way served us by fighting, I think we can all agree that it is our time, as fellow human beings, to serve them in whatever way we can. As it says on Give an Hour's website, "We have not only the potential but the duty to help one another in times of need."

Want to help out? Know someone who could benefit from Give an Hour? Go to
Give an Hour. Doctors, click "For Providers" on the left hand column. Other volunteers, click "For Volunteers." Veterans and loved ones, click "For Visitors" to find a provider in your area. Other great sites to check out include:
http://www.ivaw.org and http://www.iava.org.


All quotes came from the Give an Hour website and personal e-mails.

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