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NEWS | June 15, 2011

Mullen announces initiative to support veterans, families

By Karen Parrish American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - The nation's top military officer spoke here Tuesday at a press conference announcing the "Community Blueprint," a resource designed to help local leaders focus support on veterans and their families.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was joined by his wife, Deborah, at the event.

"It's an honor for both Deborah and I to be here ... and to speak with so many people who obviously care passionately about the cause that we have felt strongly about, certainly over the course of these wars," Mullen said during his keynote address.

In its 10th year of conflict, the country is still just beginning to recognize how long and how deeply war can affect the military population, the Mullen said.

The Mullens have traveled the country periodically since April, talking with community members and leaders about mobilizing local resources aimed at helping veterans and their families find education, work, health care and counseling.

Today marks "a terrific beginning," Mullen said.

"There are so many people now, both in government and out of government, in the public and the private sector, who recognize the challenge that's there, and recognize there isn't anybody who can do it alone."

The only way to marshal the support needed across the country for hundreds of thousands of military members, veterans and their families, Mullen said, is for the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments to work together with communities throughout the nation.

"Through a little investment in their future, in education and health and employment ... we will reap the benefits of these young people for decades to come.

In initiatives such as the Community Blueprint, Mullen said he has witnessed organizations, leaders and individuals step up in ways that a few years ago I couldn't have imagined.

The military has changed rapidly in recent years to better support families, develop cutting-edge medical treatments, counter suicide risk and effectively treat traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress, but those needs still are increasing, he said.

"We are living in a time where change just continues to accelerate, so none of this is going to be easy."

Stress issues associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan occur among the entire military and family member population, Mullen said.

"When we use the term 'invisible,' we typically focus on the wounds," he said. "[However] I think a lot of what we've been through is invisible to our nation."

Communities simply don't know the stresses military members and their families have borne, Mullen noted, during a deployment cycle that still deploys troops away from their families, often in tough combat situations, as often as they are at home.

"The country knows we're at war, knows we're losing people, but doesn't have any kind of in-depth understanding of what that means."

When the admiral's wife visits military families, she sees post-traumatic stress symptoms in military spouses and children.

"This is an enormously complex problem that ... continues to change and grow," he said, adding that the solution to such a problem set can't be created solely in Washington.

Communities must not only be aware and prepared to meet military families' needs, Mullen said, but also must hold themselves to a high standard of service.

"There are tens of thousands of people, who want to make a difference, whose hearts are good," he said. "But what organizations are actually making a difference? We should be very mindful of that as we look at our investments, how we spend our time, and we should share best practices."

The idea of the Community Blueprint is to make those best practices available in the places where they're needed.

"You can customize this locally, which is what I think absolutely has to be done."

Leaders across the country, local and national, must work collaboratively "so we can all move this together," Mullen said. "That, to me, is the formula ... to succeeding in addressing the challenges that are there."

"There is a way ahead here, but it's got to be led."

Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist here and founder of Give an Hour, a national network of mental health professionals who provide free care to service members, veterans and their loved ones, explained the Community Blueprint was developed through the efforts of 15 nonprofit organizations.

About a year and a half ago, she said, a number of nonprofit and government leaders got together to discuss the need for a guide to help communities organize and direct resources toward helping service members and their families.

That gathering led to the Community Blueprint, she said, which is designed to help community leaders focus military family support efforts in areas from behavioral health and education to family strength, legal problems and homelessness.

Noting many of those involved in creating the blueprint attended today's event, Van Dahlen said, "We are all here because we care very deeply about helping those who serve."



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