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Thursday, November 12, 2009

What Can Civilians Do? Show Them They Are Not Alone Beyond Veterans Day.

Veterans Day is over.

Most people have moved on from yesterday's momentary pause to recognize those with military service. Many have by now returned to their usual concerns. Meanwhile, others continue the work they do, 365 days a year, reaching out to the veterans and military families in their communities.

Which camp are you in?

Well, if you're reading this blog, chances are you have a pretty clear interest in issues concerning vets and returning troops. You may even be someone others look to in your area as a leader, bringing those with military service (and those without it) together to foster new dialogue and form new bonds.

But, if you're a seeker and not yet a sage, this post is for you.

To begin, allow me to introduce you to NotAlone.com.

Its founders are building a unique online space for "warriors and families dealing with combat stress to come together, where they can spend time with others and start the healing process."

Now in its second year, NotAlone will offer some dynamic member tools that I've not seen bundled under one roof anywhere else. These include: social networking, community forums, online PTSD assessments to track your progress, and live online workshops that really sound cool. Learn more (fast-forward to 6:00 for a run-down on how the site will work) in a video clip in extended.

Be sure to take some time to listen to a few of NotAlone's clips, and good luck in extending yourself to our nation's service members beyond the usual designated days.


In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.



A burgeoning library of recorded interviews with notable veterans, military family members, friends and advocates, psychologists and authors like myself has already been uploaded, and I'm excited to have my interview with Jenny Andrews included among them.

One of the issues we talked about was how average citizens might get engaged by doing something, anything, to help their local vets.

From Jenny's Corner:

Even if we empathize greatly with the suffering of others, sometimes it’s hard to do something about it. We think it’s not our place to comfort the stranger sobbing in the airport. More to the point, us non-military folks feel like we can’t even begin to understand what it must be like for Warriors who have been out on multiple deployments and witnessed first hand the kind of stuff that gave me nightmares just hearing about. What the hell could we possibly do to help those with combat PTS?

Turns out, we can do a lot. Ilona Meagher, subject of this week’s featured interview, has done more as a civilian to bring awareness to the issue of military PTSD than most mental health professionals. What makes Ilona so special is her absolute fearless warmth and compassion. She intuitively took up a mission that people like Edward Tick have insisted is our duty as civilians under the protection of the military, and that is the mission to serve the Warriors and families of this nation in whatever ways we can.

Warriors serve because that’s what they are compelled to do. It’s what they’re good at, it’s what they’re trained for and most of them would say that they are glad to shoulder that burden. All Ilona would have you do is the same thing, only in your own way. She is good at writing, so that is what she did–she wrote a book and began a blog to raise awareness about PTSD. But almost anything you can do can be creatively applied to help Veterans, and if you’re a civilian, that talent should be applied to do just that to whatever degree you are capable.

Each individual and community has the power to exact change. Collectively, we are a powerful force. But sometimes we as individuals simply do not know what we can or should do, or perhaps we worry that our efforts will be squandered or our valuable time will be wasted.

Or maybe what keeps us from reaching out is the belief that the problem is simply too large to fix.

To counteract these concerns, set a goal to reach out to one or two veterans in your local community to keep from feeling overwhelmed by the entire nation’s needs, and tailor your volunteer efforts to your own personality, profession or skill set.

A few brainstorming ideas...

  • Writers: Write articles on PTSD in national and local newspapers, magazines. Pen letters to the editor. Interview veterans, military family members and the people who help them. Review books that tell of wartime and service and civilian reintegration.

  • Lawyers: Consider helping local veterans with their legal questions -- they have many.

  • Yoga, meditation, or other physical fitness instructors: Provide a special class geared to military veterans and families; they could use the stress relief! Add yourself to the Yoga for Vets list.

  • Readers and booksellers: Seek out and invite military veteran authors to talk about their work and experiences; buy their books!

  • Entertainers: Arrange a concert or show, donating the proceeds to a veterans’ charity or nonprofit whose work you most want to support.

  • Construction workers: Donate a weekend of time to an organization which builds complimentary custom-built homes for wounded soldiers.

  • Poets and songwriters: Write and perform verses to highlight the pain of PTSD. Be sure to post these offerings online so they can be viewed and comfort many more beyond performance day.

  • Civilian social workers or counselors: Contact your local VA and ask if you can donate a couple of days a month. Or if you are in private practice, offer your services pro bono to returning vets and their families by listing yourself in the Give an Hour database or getting involved with The Soldier's Project.

  • Firemen and police officers: Reach out by organizing events like a neighborhood BBQ or softball tournament in honor of our troops; though your stress events vary somewhat, commonality can be found. You are also familiar with a 'chain of command' mindset and are natural allies to our returning veterans. Be a good ally, by training your forces to better prepare for possible police calls from veterans in a PTSD crisis.

  • Vietnam (or other) veterans and other concerned community members: Continue to share your experiences and extend yourself to your newest brothers and sisters. Find ways to let them know you're there if they want to talk or hang out. You'll not only help them, you'll be doing a load of good for yourself, too.

  • Artists: Donate time at the VA teaching therapeutic art classes, shown to help many who cope with PTSD. Join with Vet Art Project to help expand their important programs across the country.

  • Students and teachers: See if your local college campus has a veterans club, and reach out to them. Check out Student Veterans of America for a few leads.

  • Frequent flyers: Donate your extra miles to Operation Hero Miles, and make it possible for OEF/OIF troops to fly home on leave for free.

  • People with deep (or shallow, but generous) pockets: Donate, if you can't afford to actively do, to any number of organizations whose work you most favor.

  • Childcare workers: Find a military family in your community and consider donating a day or two a month of free babysitting. Our military families are stressed and could use a few hours of relief from the daily grind.

These are just a few thoughts; I'm sure you get the idea.

The aim is to find what it is that you can and wish to do, and just go out there and find a way to deliver those gifts to those in your backyard who most need it. If you prefer to join a group already in place providing support and services to military families, go for it!

I'd love to hear what you're doing in comments.

William James said, "Of all the creatures of earth, only human beings can change their patterns. Man alone is the architect of his destiny." True, but while we have the power, we've also got to muster the will...and then, finally, act. "Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives," James continued.

I'd add, if they change their outer actions, the inner aspects will be transformed, too. What are you waiting for?


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