NASW Supports Give an Hour’s Efforts

Jan 12, 2009

The organization provides mental health services separate from the military establishment.

By Heidi Sfiligoj, NASW News Staff

NASW has endorsed Give an Hour, a national nonprofit grassroots organization with the goal of creating a national network of licensed mental health professionals who can offer free mental health services to military personnel and their families.

NASW first announced its endorsement of Give an Hour in the July issue of the NASW News, but joined the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Association of Pastoral Counselors at the Reserve Officers Association on Nov. 10 in Washington, D.C., to show support for the effort. The event took place prior to Veterans Day as a way to honor the service of the nation’s military members and their families.

“NASW is proud to endorse the Give an Hour program and is committed to increasing the number of social workers who volunteer to help mitigate the impact of war on our nation’s families and communities,” said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark.

Mental health professionals who join the Give an Hour network set aside one hour of their time every week to provide the services for free.

“Need has outpaced resources, which is why Give an Hour is so important,” said Clark. “It allows licensed mental health professionals from multiple disciplines to be a part of a community service movement that can close the gaps public funding cannot. We are honored to work side-by-side with our allies in the fields of psychology, psychiatry and pastoral counseling to serve those who served us all with such dignity and courage.”

Mary Ragan, a board member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors; Carolyn Robinowitz, immediate past president of the American Psychiatric Association; and Randy Phelps, deputy executive director and practice directorate of the American Psychological Association, also presented at the Nov. 10 event and announced their association’s support for Give an Hour. Stephen Xenakis, a retired brigadier general for the U.S. Army, moderated the event. Other presenters included: Donald C. Arthur, a former surgeon general for the U.S. Navy; Barbara Van Dahlen Romberg, founder and president of Give an Hour; and Jennifer Crane, a veteran of Afghanistan.

NASW President Jim Kelly said he is excited that NASW is backing Give an Hour’s efforts to assist returning veterans. Kelly did post-doctorate work at UCLA’s School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry. After his training, he spent a decade helping mentally-challenged Vietnam veterans who did not have access to treatment. “I know the important role social workers can provide to veterans with chronic mental health issues that have been directly linked to war experiences,” Kelly said. “I worked at a time when post traumatic stress disorder was not taken very seriously. I am now happy to see the leadership the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is providing to returning veterans.”

Everyone at the press conference recognized the stigma associated with receiving mental health help. Clark said that the problems military personnel and their families experience are “often accompanied by a reluctance to seek help for fear of being stigmatized or being thought of as weak or unable to cope.”

“The greatest challenge for all mental health professionals to offer effective services to returning servicemen and women will be overcoming the stigma associated with seeking psychological intervention at all,” said Clark.

Offering services separate from the military establishment may help reduce the stigma, according to the Give an Hour mission statement. “Many fear that seeking mental health services will jeopardize their career or standing. Others are reluctant to expose their vulnerabilities to counselors who are often military personnel themselves, given the military culture’s emphasis on strength, confidence and bravery,” the statement says. “Servicemen and servicewomen might be more inclined to seek help if they know that the services provided are completely independent of the military.”

Clark said that hundreds of social workers have already agreed to volunteer for Give an Hour and hundreds more are expected to sign up in the near future.

“Social workers were first hired to assist members of the armed forces in 1926 and have since helped millions of veterans from every war and in every military branch, to get the services they need to not only survive, but to also thrive, in their post-war lives,” Clark said.

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