One-Stop Videos for Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans

I am not a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, so I can only listen to those who have been there and share what they find is helpful for transitioning home. Several such voices can be heard on videos at My Reboot Camp .  For instance in the video above, veterans talk about their struggles to get over “the hump” in returning to civilian life.

Returning veterans struggle with a sense of guilt when they leave the military because others have stayed. Many go through multiple tours and upon returning to civilian life find few are aware of their sacrifice.

The website gives individuals a chance to explore those and other feelings, but it also offers suggestions on how to move forward. Veterans, family and friends can self-navigate through the support page with topics ranging from finding your learning style to finding your education benefits. There also is a resources page. The My Reboot Camp website is funded by a grant from the Florida BRAIVE Fund and Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice.

I encourage you  to explore the videos, listen to the stories. Even if you do not know an Iraq or Afghanistan war veteran, as a citizen it is important to understand their experiences and sacrifices. “It’s a shock to kind of go back to your life … my life was a time warp … you stand there with your bags and say okay what do I do now?”

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The “Collateral Damage” of the Wars on Florida Families

More than 500 soldiers and family members from the 1-153 Cavalry, Florida National Guard, showed up to learn more about services and resources to help them transition from deployment to civilian life. This Yellow Ribbon Program was in Panama City February 2011. Photo courtesy of the Florida National Guard.

What are the needs of Florida’s military families? How well are government agencies and private organizations meeting those needs? Those two questions are asked and answered in a new study to be presented by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, and Dr. Susan MacManus, a distinguished professor at the University of South Florida.

As imporatant as the questions and answers are the solutions. The study offers “explicit recommendations for improving struggling government programs … and for increasing the role of private philanthropic programs.”

Later this morning, the study, “Collateral Damage: Floridians Coping with the Aftermath of War”, will be released detailing the impact the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and multiple deployments have had on Florida military families and veterans. The results are embargoed until after the announcement in Tallahassee.

When the study is made public, I will provide links and details. The research was funded by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, the largest community foundation in the state, and the James Madison Institute, a non-partisan think tank dedicated to limited government and increased individual responsibility.

Reaching Military Families

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter during her opening remarks at the Carter Center Nov. 3, 2010.

This was a very special week for me. I returned to the Carter Center in Atlanta more than a decade after I was awarded the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship For Mental Health Journalism. Back in 1999 I was working in broadcast journalism and had convinced my employer WTSP-TV (a Gannett owned TV station) to support my application so I could get a $10,000 grant from the Carter fellowship to help produce a multi-part TV news series and a documentary about depression and suicide. This week I returned not so much as a journalist but more so as a military wife to speak to the 26th Annual Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Symposium.

The symposium’s topic this year was “A Veteran’s Journey Home: Reintegrating Our National Guard and Reservists into Family, Community, and Workplace.” “National Guard and reserves make up approximately one-third of all military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are more likely than other military to face multiple deployments. Yet, once their job is finished, guard and reserve service members return to civilian life instead of a military base, and do not have the same access to health care services as their active duty colleagues,” said Dr. Thomas Bornemann, director of the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program.

Liisa Temple giving the military families and social media presentation.

I was asked to speak at this event from the perspective of a military wife who greatly benefited from my husband Rex’s access to social media while deployed. Rex wrote a blog called Afghanistan – My Last Tour the entire time that he was gone; the blog also turned into a popular radio series on our local NPR affiliate, WUSF, here in Tampa, Fla., where Rex is stationed at MacDill AFB. Both my husband and I think the blog was a crucial lifeline for us and our family and friends; it ultimately made our marriage stronger and gave us something to share even though thousands of miles and multiple time zones separated us.

The audience at the Carter symposium was made up of mental health experts and military members as well as those who advocate for military families. My job as a speaker was to highlight how social media can be harnessed to help inform military families about mental health services that are available. So I made sure to highlight MILblogging, Blackfive, Bouhammer, YouServedSpouseBUZZ and many other popular milblogs; my goal was to show how working with military bloggers can be very effective in disseminating information to younger troops and their families. But to be honest I think I’m not sure I was entirely effective in reaching the audience when I got into the nitty gritty of Facebook, Twitter and using the #MilitaryMon hash tag in your tweets.

I met so many wonderful experts who are passionate about caring for the returning troops. However, there was one who just really impressed me with her energy and the services she provides through a non-profit called “Give an Hour.” Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, a psychologist in Washington, D.C. with a military family background, founded the organization in 2005. “ The mission of “Give an Hour” is to develop national networks of volunteers capable of responding to both acute and chronic conditions that arise within our society. The nonprofit, which is a licensed 501c3, provides counseling to individuals, couples and families, and children and adolescents and is dedicated to meeting the mental health needs of the troops and families affected by the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dr. Van Dahlen was on the same panel with me and during her speech she said her organization provides confidential treatment for free to anyone who loves someone who has deployed.  “We mean parents, cousins, girlfriends – we don’t turn people away,” she said.

“Give an Hour” offers treatment for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, sexual health and intimacy concerns, and loss and grieving. I thought I was a pretty well informed military wife and I had never heard of this group. But I am so glad I did. And I plan to tell every military family I know about it because I have a hunch there are lot of people who could benefit from its free services.

There was also a booklet someone gave me titled “South Florida Military Family Peer Guide.” It’s a 58-page guide to deployment and I was amazed by its effectiveness; I read it twice cover to cover on the flight home from Atlanta. It is entirely based on confidential interviews with actual military families and it’s full of deployment related advice and tips in a very easily digestible format. The tips are color coded to indicate which ones are from the spouses and which ones are from the military member who deployed; each point of view is priceless and I wish I had had a chance to read this marvelous booklet before going through my first deployment. I truly hope the Florida BrAIve Fund, which sponsored the booklet will find a way to make it available online soon. However, the fund provides a magnificent web based guide for services for Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans living in Florida – just click on this link to get started.

I also had a chance to take with me to Atlanta a video I have been working on about a special new “hands free” wheelchair being developed at the University of South Florida by a dance instructor. This chair is of particular interest to injured veterans and if all goes well, the USF researchers and students working on the chair will soon get it in commercial production. You can watch the video by downloading a copy from USF’s i-Tunes U site here. Or by simply watching the YouTube link below.

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