Benjamin Miranda, CMSgt (Ret-USAF), is the Deputy Senior Director of Operational Business Development at Endeavors and a 2022 Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program Scholar. He addresses why it’s more important than ever to elevate the work of organizations supporting veterans and their families.
I recently read a troubling statistic from a Brown University study estimating that over 30,000 active-duty veterans of post-9/11 wars died by suicide.
As a 24-year Air Force veteran, I see how our country’s loneliness epidemic and escalating mental health issues are having heartbreaking and dangerous impacts on the military community, which is experiencing the long-term effects of the more than 20 years our military has spent in recent combat.
In uniform, we had mission, comradery, and purpose. We also had injuries, both visible and invisible. Now, as we transition out of the military and begin navigating the civilian world, we’re facing issues from choosing education pathways and careers to experiencing challenges with our mental and brain health.
Without direct and convenient access to resources like affordable housing, job support, mental health care, wellness services, financial planning resources, and social opportunities, many of our veterans are finding themselves facing homelessness, unemployment, substance disorders, and diverse mental illnesses. I believe we can do something about this. I believe we can save lives.
Here’s the thing – when people feel supported, equipped, and valued, suicide no longer looks like the only option. I’m proud to work for Endeavors, a leading organization in veteran suicide prevention, job supportive services, housing services, mental health care, and holistic wellness services. As a community, we can join forces to ensure that our veterans and their loved ones aren’t stranded after military service. We can help them put conflict, crisis, and combat in the past, and instead enter the workforce, go back to school, raise families, and serve their communities.
We also need to remember that military service impacts the entire family. Often, the spouse becomes the de facto therapist during military service, and military children can suffer the effects of living with a parent who has PTS or another mental health challenge. But unlike veterans, dependents don’t qualify for many of the post-service government programs. Organizations like ours need to step up to fill that gap in care. That’s why Endeavors offers comprehensive wellness services and programming to the entire military family, including dependents, partners, and caregivers.
The wellness model at Endeavors stands on the belief that mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s inherently tied to every aspect of our lives from financial stability and employment satisfaction to physical activity and social interaction. That’s why we built the first Veteran Wellness Center in San Antonio, Texas. We provide a brick-and-mortar space for like-minded organizations to come together and create a one-stop hub for wellness care. We have on-site fitness training, licensed counselors, lawyers, financial advisors, medical providers, and childcare so that our military families can find all the services they need in one easily accessible place.
A collaborative approach is key to elevating resources for the military community. Combined Arms, a nonprofit that connects transitioning military to services, is a great model of this effort. It brings together veteran-focused nonprofits and agencies from across the country to continue to serve those who served. Another action-oriented veteran service organization collaborative is the George W. Bush Institute’s Veteran Wellness Alliance, which includes organizations like Combined Arms, Wounded Warrior Project, and other veteran nonprofits and clinical providers. The alliance has worked to create the Check-In tool, which connects veterans, service members, and their families to high-quality mental and brain health care. It’s through these collaborations we can provide the level of support to those who need it.
But for collaboration to succeed, we need to build trust across agencies. Whenever we consider bringing services to a new community, Endeavors conducts a needs assessment to ensure that we are not competing with preexisting programs. This process allowed us to collaborate with the Cohen Veterans Networks and bring three Cohen Clinics to serve the Texas military community. It’s also allowing us to build a second Veteran Wellness Center in El Paso, Texas, and analyze growth areas in other communities across the country.
We never say “no” to someone who needs help. If we can’t provide the service they need, we find someone who can. We work with the Travis Manion Foundation and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to connect our clients to the best organization for their needs. That’s always been our mission: fill in the gaps to save families, marriages, and lives.
But you don’t have to work at a service organization to support the suicide prevention mission and foster change. Anyone can help by volunteering with a local organization, educating your employer on the benefits of hiring veterans and military spouses, or joining your local chapter of a national veteran’s service organization like the Disabled American Veterans or Veterans of Foreign Wars and advocating through them.
Numbers speak. Collaboration fosters change. People looking out for each other saves lives.