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Creating a Global Veteran Community
Deputy Director of Military Service Initiative Kacie Kelly recently spoke at an international veterans’ mental health conference: “Evidence, Innovation, and Practice” hosted by Kings College London and the Forces in Mind Trust Foundation.
The U.K. and the United States are collaborating on how to best support post-9/11 veterans who are dealing with the invisible wounds of war. The long-standing relationship was further cemented in 2016 at the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida. At the event, the George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative hosted an international symposium addressing the invisible wounds of war, specifically traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and other psychological health issues.
His Royal Highness Prince Harry joined President George W. Bush for a conversation about the importance of reducing the barriers to care. In addition, leaders, experts, medical professionals, warriors, and caregivers from across the globe came together to help break the stigma of the invisible wounds of war. Since that time, there have been advancements in each country to identify innovative solutions for mental health challenges some veterans face.
In the U.K., the Royal Foundation provided funding to establish Contact – a consortium of best in class non-profit organizations devoted to supporting veteran families. Contact is a collaboration of military charities working with the National Health Service (NHS) and the Ministry of Defense to help members of the veteran community access mental health and wellbeing support.
To help veterans and military families’ transition, in the U.S. the George W. Bush Institute established the Warrior Wellness Alliance which was built upon the framework of Recognize-Connect-Deliver. The Alliance brings together veteran serving non-profit organizations, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and private sector organizations to connect warriors to effective mental healthcare by linking veteran peer networks to high quality mental health providers.
Further, there have been investments within NHS and the VA to hold clinicians accountable for delivering evidence-based mental health care and to encourage veterans to seek mental health services when needed.
Despite these investments, mental health challenges still persist in both countries. The U.K. and U.S. healthcare systems are structured and funded differently, but common themes permeated throughout the discussions in London and are consistent with the Recognize-Connect-Deliver framework established by the Bush Institute:
- Continued need to understand the “customer,” and reduce negative perceptions associated with seeking mental healthcare services. For example, social media can be used to better understand how veterans talk about mental health challenges and where they are going to find resources. Ultimately, it can help veterans connect with the right resources at the right time.
- Elevating the quality of mental healthcare available and look for opportunities to make this an international effort.
- Make more efficient use of available funding through public and private partnerships to more comprehensively address the challenges associated with the invisible wounds of war.
- Veterans are leaders and want to continue to serve even after they have taken off the uniform. Opportunities exist to empower veterans to lead the transformation of mental health systems internationally.
While the transatlantic collaboration to increase access to effective mental healthcare for military families is fairly new, we have a shared commitment to identify innovative solutions for military families dealing with the invisible wounds of war. Further, we are hopeful that such partnerships will lead to more thriving veteran communities in our two great nations and around the world.