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VFW Magazine January 2017 : Page 15

“THIS ISN’T ABOUT DIAGNOSING. IT’S NOT ABOUT JUDGING. IT’S NOT ABOUT LABELS. IT’S RECOGNIZING WHEN PEOPLE ARE HURTING.” —BARBARA VAN DAHLEN, GIVE AN HOUR responding so far in the United States think that embarrassment or shame is an extreme or moderate barrier to veterans seeking care for medical conditions such as PTSD or [traumatic brain injury].” But Duffy said there is “no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed.” “The brain is no different. It’s an organ,” Duffy said. “It’s no different than somebody who has a kidney prob-lem or thyroid problem. At times, they get sick. There are therapies available to make them well again. We want people to understand that.” To do so, VFW launched its mental wellness campaign in September. Duffy said VFW “can make a big difference” due to its 1.7 million members among VFW’s Auxiliary and Posts. “[It] doesn’t matter if you were there in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War or the current conflicts,” Duffy said. “We all can relate to what it means to be on the pointy end of the spear.” reach that age bracket, “there’s poten-tially a tsunami of mental health issues coming,” according to Duffy. Referring to the widely cited 2014 VA statistic that an average of 20 veterans died from suicide every day, Duffy said his “biggest fear” is that statistic increas-ing and “we may look back someday and wish to get back to that number.” VFW’s campaign will focus on six key areas over the course of the year: Building partnerships; providing train-ing and resources to VFW personnel; creating templates for VFW Posts and Departments to raise awareness and host community events; offering opportuni-ties for VFW members to share expe-riences; contributing to research; and advocating for federal legislation. Duffy said the biggest item VFW will need to advocate for is additional fund-ing and resources, “mainly into the VA.” Having that monetary backing will allow VA to prepare resources and pro-fessionals for the time when VFW begins directing veterans there for assistance, Duffy said. Service officers, according to Duffy, are “quite often” the first point of contact for veterans returning from a war zone or who have developed a mental health challenge. Ensuring that VFW’s service officers are equipped with additional tools and training “is imperative to making this as big a success as we can,” Duffy said. Such tools, according to Duffy, will be a combi-nation of in-house efforts alongside that of Give an Hour, PatientsLikeMe and One Mind. Duffy said he would like to see VFW Posts viewed as a “base camp” where resources are available for those facing mental health concerns, regardless of a person’s veteran status. LAUREN GOLDMAN/VFW GIVING BACK THROUGH SERVICE Post 7397 Commander Mike Petersen, who served in Iraq from Nov. 2005-Nov. 2006 as part of a personal security detail with the 2nd Bn., 137th Inf. of the Kansas National Guard, has been a service offi-cer for five years. Petersen said he was “volun-told” to take on the role, but the timing was perfect. “I had just navigated the VA system myself, and I didn’t even know there was such a thing, someone who could help you go through,” Petersen said. “So my mission is I make sure guys get to the right place, whichever VA they choose to go to, make sure they’re getting with their service officers to file a claim if they need a claim filed and also just make sure they get in the VA system period.” Petersen said about half of the cases he handles on a yearly basis are relat-ed to the topics of PTSD and TBI. In one case, an Afghanistan veteran sought financial help and Petersen said they dis-covered he “wasn’t even registered in the VA system.” “I was able to get him into the VA sys-tem and get him help that he needed for his PTSD,” Petersen said. While deployed, most of the soldiers Bakke worked with dealt with depres-sion or family and personal problems. “I had a lot more conversations and ‘A CONDUIT OF EDUCATION’ To educate the masses, VFW has part-nered with three organizations — One Mind, PatientsLikeMe and Give an Hour. “We bring the numbers,” Duffy said. “We bring the troops. We bring the physical buildings in most cases with the 6,600 VFW Posts that we have. What they bring is the expertise and give us a conduit of education.” Duffy said the “biggest thing” he has learned about mental health is that the majority of veterans committing suicide are not of the younger generation. VA data released in July states that in 2014, roughly “65 percent of all veterans who died from suicide were aged 50 years or older.” “So what it’s telling me is that some of these things coming back from war, these mental health issues coming back from war, take a long time to percolate,” Duffy said. If VFW doesn’t engage at this stage, when Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans WITHDRAWAL: WITHDRAWN OR ISOLATED FROM OTHER PEOPLE; PULLING AWAY FROM FAMILY AND FRIENDS. POOR SELF-CARE: HAS STOPPED TAKING CARE OF THEMSELVES AND MAY ENGAGE IN RISKY BEHAVIOR. HOPELESSNESS: SEEMS OVERCOME WITH HOPELESSNESS AND OVERWHELMED BY THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES. JANUARY 2017   • WWW.VFW.ORG • 15

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